Some of us are familiar with the 1859 painting ‘The Angelus’, by the French artist Millet. In the distance there is a village church spire, in the foreground an elderly peasant couple stands in the harvest-fields, bowing their heads in prayer; from the painting’s title we know this to be the Angelus, a remembrance of the Incarnation, said traditionally three times daily, dawn, noon, and dusk. In France still today the Angelus is chimed three times daily from parish churches: 3x 3x 3x 9x, a call to reflect on the wonder of the Incarnation, and a call to prayer. Here at St James’ the Angelus is prayed before Morning and Evening Prayer, and at the end of Sunday Mass. You may click to find the prayer here.
The Angelus comes largely from Luke 1, the account of the Annunciation, and, for the Hail Mary, the Visitation where Mary’s cousin Elizabeth declares ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’ The third verse and response are of course John 1.14: ‘The Word became flesh. And dwelt among us.’
I find myself drawn often to the Visitation story, so full of hope when the unborn John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother Elizabeth’s womb as he recognises the unborn Jesus in Mary. Mary then goes on to proclaim Magnificat, her song of praise and revolution, which the Church still echoes day by day at Evening Prayer.
I commend to you the practice of praying The Angelus once a day. We do well to pray that we may recognise Christ present in those around us, and for grace so to live our lives that others may likewise recognise Christ present in us. And may that recognition and welcome be filled with joy!