Friday, June 25, 2010

The Angelus



Yesterday, praying the Angelus gave me a few insights.

For those of you not familiar, the Angelus is a traditional Catholic prayer celebrating the Incarnation. It is prayed at 6 am, noon and 6 pm. Church bells will often ring extra at these times because they're calling Catholics to prayer.

First I was thinking of the name of the prayer: "Angelus." Angelus is the Latin nominative for "angel" or "the angel" (Latin doesn't use an article). Many prayers and documents in the Church are titled by their first word or few words. In this case, the first few words are: "Angelus Domini nuntiavit MariƦ," literally: "The angel of the Lord announced (declared, etc.) to Mary." (c.f. Luke 1:28,30,35) The prayer is a reminder of the Angel Gabriel coming to announce the incarnation to Mary, but also to all mankind . . . to "us." I find it funny how in English, the name Angelus, if divided to "Angel-us," can be another reminder of what the prayer is about: the "angel" announcing to "us" the news of the Incarnation.

Beyond a mere English play on the Latin name, I was also thinking about the three verses we pray in the first half of the prayer. They are three statements, taken directly from scripture. Each one reveals something particular about Mary.

"The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary."
Here, we affirm Mary's dignity even before Jesus was in her womb. The angel called her "full of grace" (kecharitomene in the Greek manuscripts). Mary, we affirm, wasn't simply a woman with some grace, she was full of grace. The Church has understood from early on that Mary was holy--so holy, in fact, that eventually the Church understood well enough to dogmatically define that Mary was conceived free of Original Sin (this is the Immaculate Conception). As Jesus is the New Adam, she is the New Eve. Adam and Eve were created without sin, but they fell. Similarly, Jesus and Mary were sinless from the first moment of their conception. All other humans inherit Original Sin from Adam and Eve, but God protected Mary so that she would be an even more fitting vessel to contain Our Lord. Obviously Jesus, being God, also never had any sin. Mary, even before her connection to Jesus, was model servant of God. That was all the more evident in her acceptance of the responsibility to bear God:

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord."
Mary said yes to God. Granted, at first she was confused and wondered how God was going to make her (an engaged, but unmarried woman) the mother of the Son of the Most High [c.f. Ibid. 31-34], but she didn't doubt. She merely stated: "I am God's servant. I'll do whatever He wants." [c.f. Ibid. 38]. We honor Mary for being open to God's will and saying yes. Her yes was that which allowed our Savior a womb in which He could grow, be nourished and a mother from whose flesh He would take His.

"And the Word became Flesh."
Mary's yes was the opening of the gate of salvation. In fact one of her titles is "Gate of Heaven." Mary actually housed God within her womb. She is the ark of the New Covenant. She was already holy, but this makes her even more holy. No other person in all of history had such an intimate relationship with God. Mary is due honor as the particular human vessel through whom Jesus came into the world.

So Mary is due honor both: as a woman born sinless (and remaining sinless), as a woman who says yes to God's plan, and as the woman who actually bore God in her womb.

This event is special. It is worth contemplation. That is why the Church prays it three times a day. The Incarnation is the moment when, God took on the flesh of man, His greatest creation, in order to redeem all of mankind and renew all of creation. Jesus, the God-man (100% God and 100% human in one person), loved us so much that He deigned to lower Himself to the point of becoming one of us and eventually suffering and dying as a sacrifice to buy us back from the punishment which our sins deserve. God's infinite mercy is available to all of us, no matter how badly we have rejected Him--just look at what great lengths He went through to make that mercy available to us! The Angelus is a great reminder of that mercy, that love . . . and it is a great reminder to honor Our Lady, who was so instrumental in that love and mercy being made available to us. She, in turn, encourages us to look to her Son and tells us: "do whatever He tells you." [John 2:5] I encourage you, to deepen your value for Our Lord's Incarnation, to develop a habit of praying the Angelus devoutly.


The text of the prayer has numerous translations from the Latin original into English. Here is the one I pray:

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

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. And the Word became Flesh.
R. And dwelt amongst us.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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.

Here is Gentileschi's depiction of the annunciation--perhaps my favorite (a great piece to use when contemplating this holy event).


Contemplating the Incarnation,
- Casey