One of my favourite formal prayers is the Angelus. This prayer focusses the pray-er on the moment when God took on human flesh in Jesus, the moment of the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary.
Take a moment now to appreciate this Millet masterpiece below. Even if you have never seen the image before, you will guess that these peasants are praying.
When the one who commissioned this painting in the mid- 1800’s failed to buy the finished painting, Millet added a church bell tower and renamed his work “Angelus”.
Many of us remember the convent or church bell tolling at midday and early evening at 6. (the 6am bell was often not rung at the request of neighbours). Whatever the Catholic locals were doing when the the bell tolled, at the distinctive 3,3,3,9 ring, all would stop, mid sentence, mid activity. Catholics would stand or kneel to pray.
The bell was the the call to prayer that began without preamble: “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.”
This prayer of incarnation interrupts our routines and busyness. While it may be difficult to find others to pray the Angelus with, there is nothing to stop us praying alone.
Perhaps the near-midday ring of a nearby phone, or the moment of inserting the key in the car ignition could be for you an ‘Angelus Bell’.
The message of the angel interrupted Mary’s daily routine and life’s dreams to such an extent that ‘she was greatly troubled’. “But how can this be…”.
From the moment of Mary’s response “be it done unto me, according to thy Word”, Mary life was fulfilled. This does not mean that Mary lived in blissful earthly happiness every subsequent moment. Jump ahead 12 years to her search for a missing son, or 33 years later to the moment when she held her dead son. But always, in the depth of her heart, she was at peace in God.
This depth of peace, at a deeper level than all daily demands and regular routines, is also the deepest desire of every human person. This peace is our “default setting“.
There is a challenge in allowing God to enter our lives. It is not a simple or easy birth. In the moment of deepest desire for the fulness of God’s life, we also feel the pain of having to let go of our old attachments. While we know that our personal dreams, projects and likes can never deliver the depth of joy and peace we desire, their is a deceptive and superficial comfort in these familiar traps.
It is rare to hear the Angelus rung these days, but some creative geek has designed an Angelus App for a cell phone or ipad. I have downloaded it and use it. I am looking forward to being with a crowd of people and hearing other people’s phones joining with mine to ring this ancient call to prayer. This is a great way to learn the prayer since the words pop up on the phone as the ring sounds.