The Angelus and the Feast of the Annunciation
By Nicholas Ma, UF student
There is a poignant scene in the film Les Innocentes where two nuns are giving birth in the middle of winter with the assistance of their fellow-sisters, a Jewish doctor, and the protagonist, a young French intern working for the Red Cross. The nuns belong to a Polish convent, which survived a tragic rape by Soviet soldiers at the end of the Second World War. The deliveries are put on hold as the noontime bells toll from the convent. To the bemusement of the atheist protagonist and her Jewish colleague, the nuns stop and quietly kneel to pray a Hail Mary. They then resume assisting the deliveries until the bells toll again, and they halt to pray another Hail Mary. The final toll of bells is heard while one of the newborns howls her first cries, guarded from the cold in the loving arms of one of the nuns who helped deliver her.
What viewers just witnessed in this scene is the traditional devotion of the Angelus which Catholics are called to pray by the ringing of bells (whether from a belfry or the radio) thrice a day: 6:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 6:00 pm. All the faithful — whether laborers toiling in the fields, students in school, family members in a household, or consecrated religious in monasteries and convents — stop whatever they are doing for one to two minutes and pray three Hail Marys together to meditate on the Incarnation. The tradition continues every Sunday in Rome, where the Pope delivers his noontime address to St. Peter’s Square (or, at least, now video-streamed from his office) before praying the Angelus.
The prayer is recited as follows:
V. Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ (The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary)
R. Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto (And she conceived of the Holy Spirit)
V. Ecce ancilla Domini (Behold the handmaid of the Lord)
R. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum (Be it done unto me according to Thy word)
V. Et verbum caro factum est (And the Word was made flesh) *with a bow or genuflection*
R. Et habitavit in nobis (And dwelt among us)
V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray… (followed by the concluding prayer as detailed later).
Just as the Angelus may seem like a distracting interruption during the tense delivery scene in Les Innocentes, so too does the joyful celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation, which commemorates the Incarnation, seems out of place during the sorrow of Lent. Yet, this distraction may be ever necessary during the Lenten season to remind the faithful that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity descended from His transcendent realm and entered this dreary fallen world to suffer and die for our sins. Childbirth pangs, suffering, toil, enmity, discord, disease, and death all draw from the Fall, which so distorted and corrupted the harmony and order of human existence in our exile from Eden.
Out of His sheer gratuitous love and grace, God deigned to assume the form of a clump of dividing blastocyst cells implanted in the uterus, the vulnerability of fetal tissue bathing in amniotic fluid in the womb, the softness of human flesh cradled in the arms of the Blessed Mother, to be scourged and pierced with nails, His agonizing breaths crushed under His own weight and by our sins, on the cross on Calvary. And yet, despite looming before the Passion on Good Friday, the celebratory nature of the Feast of the Annunciation also points to the culmination of Lent in the redeeming joy of the Resurrection on Easter and the triumph over the sting of death and Original Sin.
The Angelus likewise teaches us to rejoice in a sorrowful world befallen by disease by interrupting our daily lives with God’s grace, just as the Angel Gabriel intruded upon and caused such a stir for the Blessed Mother with the Annunciation. Setting aside our cares and worries for just a few moments of prayer every day reminds us that God did not create us to toil and languish in this life, but rather to know, love, and serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
The chaos and trials of daily life reveal a broken disordered world, one that has recently been befallen by pestilence. As school, work, and other daily activities have now been indefinitely suspended, one may feel trapped at home in boredom and idleness, secluded from friends, community, and/or even family. Perhaps now, more than ever, the discipline and structure of the Angelus — as well as Lenten prayer and fasting through God’s grace — reorder us back into harmony with our Creator and each other. By being moved by the Holy Spirit and assenting to God’s will, just as the Blessed Mother did as we echo her Fiat in the Angelus, we grow together in sanctity and union with God. By doing so in this period without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we can ever more fervently make a spiritual communion desiring to receive and bear the True Body as the Blessed Mother had — that is, to receive the Word-made-flesh in the Eucharist once more.
For the Polish nuns in Les Innocentes, praying the Angelus amidst tragedy and trauma reminds them that there is perhaps hope for their newborns through divine providence. Such is the hope from the Incarnation, as commemorated in both the Angelus and the Feast of the Annunciation, which sparked God’s painstaking reordering of our fallen and sinful existence back towards His perfect state of grace and beauty. Amidst the coronavirus, rising disease incidence and mortality, social distancing, and deprivation of the sacraments and Holy Mass, persevering together in prayer, especially by asking the Blessed Mother for her intercession and protection, is ever essential for survival. In faithfully praying the Angelus and honoring the Feast of the Annunciation from within our homes during this Lenten season, we surpass our walls of isolation and participate together as the Mystical Body of Christ in God’s saving plan, made possible when Christ entered our world, with the fullness of His divinity and humanity, in a physical body through the Incarnation.
As recited in the concluding prayer of the Angelus: 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.