The bells booming from Gasson Hall ring across campus every day from 8 AM to 8 PM. Ringing every fifteen minutes, it is easy for them to slip into the back of our minds as just another part of life here at Boston College.
At noon and 6 PM, they ring out the Angelus. Maybe you have heard in the news about comments the pope has made during his weekly Sunday Angelus. Like me, maybe you thought the Angelus was just a fancy name for a speech. Maybe you recall the beautiful painting by Jean François Millet of a farmer and his wife pausing from their farm work that goes by the same name. Gasson, the Holy Father, and Millet’s masterpiece are all related.
The Angelus is an ancient prayer, the roots of which can be traced back over 700 years. Arising at a time when most of the faithful were illiterate, the Angelus allowed them to join together in prayer at set times throughout the day without needing to know how to read the Psalms. At the hours of 6 AM, noon, and 6 PM, the Church bells rang a special tone to remind the faithful to pause and pray the Angelus, so too do the bells here at BC. Intentionally set at the busiest times of the day, the Angelus is a prayer that requires us to set aside what we are doing for a few minutes and remember why we are doing it.
The Angelus is a contemplative prayer that focuses on the Incarnation of Christ, and Our Blessed Mother Mary’s great fiat: her willingness to bear Christ. We are all called to accept Christ in the same way. The name Angelus comes from the first word of the prayer in Latin. The prayer is divided into three sections, or versicles, each of them relating to the Incarnation, and each of them followed with the Hail Mary. The versicles are written in a call-and-response format, but if one is praying alone one can read it through by themselves.
The first versicle focuses on Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary. “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary. And She conceived of the Holy Spirit.” This versicle is followed by a Hail Mary. Through it, we are reminded of how the Angel addressed Mary, and what Mary’s cousin Elizabeth exclaimed at the Visitation when she miraculously knew that Mary had conceived of the Holy Spirit. We ask for our Mother’s intercession.
The second versicle focuses on Mary’s response to the Annunciation: “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word.” This serves to remind us of Mary’s great submission to the will of God with her fiat; thus we pray that the Blessed Mother intercedes on our behalf so that we may have the same strength to accept God’s will and be handmaids and servants of the Lord.
The third versicle focuses on the Incarnation and is traditionally prayed with head bowed, or kneeling as we humbly recognize the great mystery of Divine Love made flesh: “And the Word was made flesh. And dwelt among us.” The Incarnation proves to us that no matter how far we stray from God, He is always working to bring us back to Himself, going as far as sending His only begotten Son to walk amongst us. The Incarnation is the great precursor the Crucifixion, the means by which we might hope to attain eternal life.
Following the last Hail Mary, we ask our Blessed Mother to make us worthy of Christ’s promise of eternal life. We ask, “Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.” We conclude the prayer by asking God the Father to give us the grace to die in Christ so that we may share in His Resurrection: “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.”
Read straight through, the Angelus takes less than three minutes to pray, but this short prayer is a good way to stay close to the Blessed Mother and her Son in the pell-mell of our earthly lives.