“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Spirit…” So begins the ancient prayer we know as, the Angelus. Historians speculate that the Angelus devotion originated as a result of an 11th century monastic custom, in which three Hail Marys were recited at the toning of the evening bell. Franciscan monasteries in Italy document the use of the Angelus in 1263 and 1295, and the prayer is included in a Venecian Catechism of 1560. Although some may find the history of this devotion interesting, my focus over the next few weeks, will be to look at the Angelus as a model of the spiritual life.
The three invocations of the Angelus inspired by Luke’s Gospel, 1:26-38, recall the Annunciation dialogue between the Archangel Gabriel and the virgin, Mary of Nazareth.
The Angelus immortalizes the historical dimension of their conversation, but from a spiritual perspective, it does much more. It witnesses to God’s desire to commune with his people, of whom the Virgin Mary is representative. It also invites us to participate in the work of saving souls, our own included, reveals what is required of those who accept the invitation, and what the result will be if we remain faithful to our consent.
The opening invocation: “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived of the Holy Spirit…,” applies then not only to Mary, but to all Christians. If in imitation of Mary, we offer ourselves in faith to the Lord, we too can conceive of the Holy Spirit – i.e., become “pregnant” with the presence of the Lord. Parents understand the care required during pregnancy, especially women who carry a child in their womb. Taking this to a spiritual level, we must remain attentive to the life of Christ forming in our soul, providing the proper care and nourishment to sustain the “child” within. We do this through prayer, active participation at Mass, reception of the sacraments, spiritual reading, works of mercy, etc. I want to mention however, the importance of also maintaining a healthy mind and body, which if approached in a prayerful manner, can facilitate growth in spirit. Think about how hard it is to pray when you’re distracted or sick. It seems we are best disposed to spiritual growth, unless singled about for special grace from God, when our mind, body and spirit work harmoniously, enabling us not just conceive of the Holy Spirit, but to nourish the life of Christ within, allowing him total access to all that makes us human.
The Angelus teaches us, that conception of the Holy Spirit is just the beginning of our spiritual life, one that will surely require action. Let us then look to Mary as a role model of what it means to be a follower of Christ. We can no longer afford to be passive observers in the drama of salvation. Let us go forth confidently, and with faithful conviction say with Mary, “…Be it done unto me according to your word.” I’ll pick it up from here next time.