Concerning the Angelus

In the sixth chapter of Matthew, we read that Jesus of Nazareth, the expected Jewish Messiah, taught the multitude that had come to hear Him how to pray. He told them to Whom to direct their prayers and even provided an example for them to model their own words.

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. - Matthew 6:9-13

Notice that Jesus did not tell the assembly that He was providing a liturgy but He presented a framework upon which the faithful are to build their prayers. It is not a selfish prayer: three of the six petitions are directed to God, the others address human needs. What a wonderful prayer! Beautiful in its simplicity and submission to God's purposes, plans and glory. Comparing verse 12 with the parallel passage in Luke (11:4), we see that, in context, this prayer is seeking forgiveness of spiritual debt, not a car loan. Every sinner is in debt to God for his violation of His laws. This request is the very heart of the "Lord's Prayer." It is what Jesus stresses in the words immediately following the prayer (vv. 14, 15; cf. Mark 11:25).

The plea that He lead us not into temptation should not be read as suggesting that God tempts men (James 1:13). However, He will subject us to trials that might expose us to Satan's assaults, as He did with Job and Peter (Luke 22:31,32). This request illustrates the believer's desire to avoid the dangers of sin altogether. We know from Christ's words in v. 8 that God already knows what we need before we ask. He promises that no one will be tested beyond his ability to endure and He even promises a way of escape – often by enduring (1 Corinthians 10:13). Still, the proper attitude for believers is the one so beautiful illustrated in this petition.

The message is clear. Direct your prayers to God and submit to His will. Jesus nowhere here can be found teaching that one's prayers are more effective if prayed first to the spirit of a dead man or woman. No where in this short example does He suggest that, if one prayer is good then 50 repetitions are better. He did not teach that a long prayer is superior to a short one. In other words, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity, the Savior Who's substitutionary atoning sacrifice covered the sin debt – all the sin debt – of every man, woman and child who ever lived, lives now or will live, makes it quite clear that just about every Roman Catholic doctrine or teaching about prayer to Mary or any of the ghosts of dead "saints" is not only unnecessary but actually quite inappropriate.

Why not examine a favored Roman Catholic prayer ritual? Now, I do not doubt that some who claim to speak for Rome, and not infrequently demonstrate their less-than-full awareness of the teachings and doctrine of the cult they pretend to defend, will jump up and declare that what I am about to put to the microscope is not a doctrine but a practice – as though that would make some magical difference. To that argument, I respond that, if the "practice" is promoted by "infallible" popes and earns indulgences, then it is both teaching and official and, as it were, de facto doctrine. Disagree if you will, but the truth will out.

I want to look at the ritual prayer series known within Roman Catholicism as The Angelus. In 1859, Jean Francois Millet, a French painter of the Barbizon school , created the oil painting that we know as The Angelus. This painting, which hangs in the Louvre, shows a man and a woman standing in an empty field, heads bowed in an attitude of prayer. I suspect many who read this board are familiar with the work.

The Angelus is a short practice of devotion in honour of the Incarnation repeated three times each day, morning, noon, and evening, at the sound of the bell. It consists essentially in the triple repetition of the Hail Mary, to which in later times have been added three introductory versicles and a concluding versicle and prayer. The prayer is that which belongs to the antiphon of Our Lady, "Alma Redemptoris," and its recitation is not of strict obligation in order to gain theindulgence. From the first word of the three versicles, i.e. Angelus Domini nuntiavit Marić (The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary). the devotion derives its name. - Herbert Thurston, Angelus, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. (1907), Robert Appleton Company Electronic version © 2007 by Kevin Knight

Just what is the Angelus? Well, the RCC claims the prayers honor the Incarnation, but they are prayed to Mary, not the Lord. Seems the Roman Church is always on the lookout for new excuses to render worship to Mary, while slighting the Lord God Almighty. When the bell sounds at 6 in the morning, noon and six in the evening, Catholic faithful were urged urged to stop what they were doing, drop to their knees (except on Sundays and Saturday evenings) and express their devotion to Mary by repeating the ritual prayers of the Angelus. It's a bit difficult to identify the precise wording of the Angelus ritual. I found more than one rendering as I searched around the Catholic Sites on the Web, I reckon that the wording varies with the version of the Bible being referenced. Anyway, what follows is a version of the Angelus that Catholic faithful are expected to pray thrice daily. I normally do not make a practice of posting Catholic ritual prayers, unless I believe doing so will be edifying. In this case, I believe it worth noting that, though the final prayer is directed to God and pleads to be brought to the "glory of his Resurrection," the weight of prayer is directed to Mary, who functions in Catholic mythology as "Mediatrix, Intercessor, Benefactor and Co-Redeemer." And what exactly does it mean to "be brought to the glory of His Resurrection?"

Anyway, here's one version of the Angelus:

V. The angel spoke God's message to Mary

R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit

Hail Mary ...

V. "I am the lowly servant of the Lord:

R. Let it be done to me according to your word."

Hail Mary ...

V. And the Word became flesh

R. and lived among us.

Hail Mary ...

V. Pray for us, holy Mother of God,

R. That we may become worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:

Lord, fill our hearts with your grace: "Once", through the message of an angel you revealed to us the incarnation of your Son; now, through His suffering and death lead us to the glory of His resurrection. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

It is difficult to trace the origins of the Angelus. I suppose that, like Topsy, it just growed. Likely, it began in the monasteries, with the ancient custom of reciting the "Little Office of the Blessed Virgin," which included the angel's greeting to Mary. St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, in the general chapter of the Franciscan Order in Paris in 1226, and later at Assisi, ordered the triple salutation of the Blessed Virgin, called the Angelus, to be recited every evening at 6 o'clock in honor of the incarnation.

Is it "official" RCC policy that Catholic faithful should pray the Angelus? I reckon it is, for doing so earns one of those indulgences that shorten a Catholic's stay in mythical Purgatory. Benedict XIII, on September 14, 1824, granted 100 days' indulgence for each recitation and a plenary once a month. Another "infallible" pope, Leo XIII, modified the rules a bit on April 3, 1884, by lifting the requirement that it be prayed while kneeling and the requirement that it be prayed at the sound of a bell for any "sufficient" reason

As is not uncommon when examining Catholic teaching and doctrine, there is some confusion concerning the rewards to be received for praying the Angelus. As I wrote above, Benedict XIII provided 100 days indulgence for each recitation and a plenary once a month. Another Catholic source says something different:

The Angelus brings an indulgence of 10 years for each recitation, and a plenary indulgence once a month for those who say it three times every day. It may be said standing or kneeling. The whole Angelus, as commonly printed, has to be recited. Those who do not know the prayers by heart, or who are unable to read them, may say five Hail Marys in their place. - Arthur Tonne, Talks On The Sacramentals, Didde Printing Co., (1950), Nihil Obstat, Imprimi Potest

Should Catholics indulge in ritual prayers like the Angelus, the Rosary, the Chaplet of Mercy, etc., which are little more than mantras? Or should they instead pray according to the example provided by Christ? Scripture gives a clue as to what the Lord God wants:

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. - Matthew 6:7-8

Here, Christ is telling us that prayers are not merely to be recited, nor are they to be repeated thoughtlessly, or as though replaying a recording. Prayer needs to be from the heart and should not be like the mindless droning of an Oriental mantra. These words should not be read as a prohibition against importuning. (Luke 11:1-8)

Pray to God, as Jesus taught, not to Mary as Rome teaches.

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