Praying the Angelus

The basics

Detail, "The Angelus" by Jean-François Millet, 1857-1859. Photo: Public Domain
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Can I lead?” This is the question I hear from my children almost every time we pray the Angelus as a family. In the last few years it has become a very important devotion for us. It unites us and refocuses our attention on the true center of our lives together: Christ.  

It takes only a few minutes. Even our younger children can learn the prayers or at the very least pray the Hail Marys with us. They even remind us to pray when I miss the reminders on my phone at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m.  

The prayer has become a habitual part of our day, just as it was for centuries among Catholics. In the last few decades, however, the devotion has fallen out of practice, and only in recent years has it started to make a comeback within the Church.

Since starting a website to promote the prayer and publishing a book about it, I’ve heard from people all over the world who are bringing it back into their daily lives. Families, communities, and schools, like the one our daughters attend, are including it as a part of their daily routines. Stay-at-home mothers and fathers also find it to be a great way to pray with their kids at noon each day.

What makes this prayer so unique and beneficial in our world today? Why should we start (or restart) praying it as individuals, families, and churches? Let’s begin with a little history.  

A quick history 

Just a couple of generations ago, Catholics would have considered the Angelus to be an essential part of their daily routine. The bells of nearby Catholic churches would ring, and they would stop, pray the Angelus, and then return to whatever it is they were doing. 

In fact, the Angelus was a common part of Catholic life throughout the Church for centuries. The devotion has its origins in the Middle Ages when illiterate laity found it to be a great way to imitate the monks and nuns who were praying the Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day. Just as the religious would stop everything throughout the day and pray together the Divine Office, the laity in the nearby towns and villages could stop and pray together in unison when hearing the bells ring at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m.  

The devotion evolved over time, so there is no one saint we can look to as the originator of the prayer. The devotion includes a collection of prayers taken right from the Bible and ends with a petition we hear during the Fourth Sunday of Advent. At its core, as a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we pray three Hail Marys. The triple Hail Mary is actually a very ancient practice recommended by many saints, including St. Anthony of Padua, St. Mechtilde, St. Gertrude the Great, St. Bonaventure, St. Louis de Montfort, St. Gerard Majella, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and St. Josemaría Escrivá. The Blessed Virgin Mary, appearing to St. Mechtilde, told her, “I want you to say three special Hail Marys to me every day.”  

In 1742 Pope Benedict XIV asked that the Regina Caeli be prayed in place of the Angelus during the season of Easter, a practice we still follow today. The Regina Caeli, which is an even more ancient devotion than the Angelus, shifts our focus from the Incarnation and Annunciation in the Angelus to the Resurrection and the great Alleluia we get to proclaim from the Lord’s rising.  

A brief meditation on the prayers 

To understand more fully the impact this devotion can have on your daily life and the life of your family, let us meditate briefly on each of the prayers within the devotion. The prayers express beliefs we can put into practice throughout our days.  

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Interruptions are difficult. When the bell rings or the notification on your phone pops up to remind you it is time to pray the Angelus, you have to stop whatever you are doing and focus your mind and heart on God. I imagine this was a similar experience for Mary, whose unexpected visit from an angel set her on an unbelievable journey with God. 

Likewise, we encounter frequent “Angelus moments” in which God speaks to us in unexpected ways. Look for and welcome the interruptions in your days, both small and large. Whether it is a phone call or message from a friend, a request from a coworker, or a comment on social media, God may be calling you in unique and unexpected directions. Are you willing to set aside your plans and open yourself up to the working of the Holy Spirit in your life as Mary did?  

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done to me according to thy word.

The self-help authors and speakers of the world often motivate their audiences with strategies to take control of our lives by setting big goals and taking intense action to reach them. They suggest the latest “life hacks” to reach these goals as quickly as possible. 

By echoing the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Angelus, we take a different approach. We let God know that his will for us is our priority. We seek to align our desires, dreams, and goals with his Word. We seek only to serve him as simple handmaids. Can we, like Mary, open ourselves up completely to the Word of the Lord?  

V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.

The biggest challenge we face from our culture today is the misguided notion that God is either distant or dead. From atheists to agnostics, the idea is that God is not here because we cannot physically see his existence. With this prayer we remind ourselves that our God did become flesh and walked this very earth, and God continues to be present among us. Where will we encounter God today, and how can we bear testimony to these encounters to those who may not see God’s presence in their lives?  

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the
promises of Christ.

The most common way for us to pray is to ask God for help. These prayers often focus on our personal desires, needs, and wants. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but through this petition to Mary, we seek something different. We ask her to pray for our worthiness. Could we ask Jesus directly? Sure, but here we turn to Mary as the perfect model of humility. Though she was the Mother of God, she sought to be just a simple handmaid, and that is why she has been crowned queen of heaven. What areas of your life need to be made more worthy of unity with God?  

The concluding prayer  

We conclude the Angelus with an appeal to the Lord to pour forth his grace into our hearts. We also remind ourselves of the significance of Christ’s entire life from his incarnation to his passion, death, and resurrection. Not only that, we also remind ourselves of our shared destination with Christ: to rest in his glory. With the grace of God in our hearts, what can we do for the people around us?

An invitation to pray 

Maybe you already pray the Angelus daily, or maybe this is an opportunity to start praying it again. Maybe this is the first time you’ve really heard of the prayer, and that’s OK, too. It was completely new to me before I started praying it. 

Why did I start? It was very simple: Someone invited me to pray it. In turn, I invited my wife to pray it with me. Then we invited our children to pray it with us. The Angelus is a devotion meant to be shared with others. Let’s pray it together, whether physically present together or united in spiritual prayer.  

My question to you is: 

Will you lead?  


The Angelus

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary. 

R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. 

Hail Mary … 

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.

R. Be it done to me according to thy word. 

Hail Mary . . . 

V. And the Word was made flesh.

R. And dwelt among us. 

Hail Mary . . . 

V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.

R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. 

Let us pray: 

Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.  

Sources: EWTN.com and USCCB.org

“The Annunciation” by Joos van Cleve, circa 1525. Photo: Everett-Art/Shutterstock

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