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For whom the bell tolls: the Angelus can slow down even the most frenzied Catholic for a prayerful pause.

I RECALL BEING OF AN AGE WHEN I WAS STILL REQUIRED to hold my mother's hand as we walked the streets of my native Manhattan. Once, when the church bells rang at noon, my mother stopped me and the gaggle of siblings surrounding us and closed her eyes. "What are you doing?" I asked. "Praying," she said. I realized that I should be doing the same. And so I did.

I only realized the importance of praying the Angelus years later, after comptemplating Jean-Francois Millet's The Angelus. The painting depicts a farming couple in a field, standing reverently as their parish bells call the community to prayer. Everything, including the pressing work of their farm, is set aside so that they can rightfully contemplate and consider the wonder of Christ's Incarnation. One can sense a certain humility and sanctity that is almost out of place for the modern urban Catholic.

The Angelus is a short prayer that is flexible enough to be used as an individual or group devotion. With a gentle ringing, the faithful are reminded to pray three times each day: 6 a.m., to commemorate Christ's Resurrection; noon, to commemorate Christ's Passion; and 6 p.m., to honor the Incarnation (because St. Bonaventure taught that Gabriel visited Mary in the evening). The name comes from the first few words of the original Latin form of the prayer, "Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae" ("The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary ..."). The whole prayer can be found at wf-w.org/angelus.html.

The complex history of the Angelus stands in marked contrast to its simplicity. The Angelus seems to be rooted in the monastic Liturgy of the Hours. Originally the prayers were said at Compline (night prayer), and over the years, midday and morning prayers were added. St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) exhorted the faithful to pray three Hail Marys every day. St. Mechtilde of Helfta (1241-1298) mentions her devotion to this practice in her Revelations. In 1269 St. Bonaventure recommended that the Franciscans recite three Hail Marys after Compline to be mindful of Christ's Incarnation.

The prayer's present form was finalized in 1724 by Pope Benedict XIV. During his administration Pope John Paul II initiated a weekly midday Angelus address in St. Peter's Square. After the prayer he offered the gathered faithful instruction on a moral or theological issue. Benedict XVI continues with this tradition every Wednesday.

The Angelus offers me a temporary respite three times a day: once upon my waking, once in the midst of my workday, and once again at the end of the workday. It offers urban Catholics like me the opportunity to put aside, temporarily, our wills, so that we might be able to experience unity with God.

The three times that the Angelus bells call me to prayer are opportunities for conversion and peace. No matter what I'm doing, it reminds me to take the time to pause and give thanks to God. The formulaic nature of the Angelus prayer offers a refreshing, mindless simplicity that allows us to be in the moment--God's moment--three times every day.

I have set my watch to alert me to the noon and 6 p.m. recitations. When I wake each morning, I start my morning prayer with the Angelus so, in essence, my bedside alarm clock serves as my 6 a.m. campanile. A cell phone also works well for those who live or work out of hearing range of a church's bell. One bell ringing is as good as the next.

BECAUSE OF MY TYPICAL AMERICAN SCHEDULE, I SOMETIMES find myself in an inextricable business meeting or socializing with friends when my phone or watch goes off calling me to prayer. Friends and colleagues aware of my devotion to the Angelus understand my need to step away. If stepping away is impractical, I simply close my eyes or look off into the distance. These moments of respite and solitude in the midst of my daily chaos are too important to pass up.

The simple action brings Christ back into my life, just as the farmers in Millet's painting set aside their pitchfork and potato basket for the sake of their love for the incarnate Savior.

By ANGELO STAGNARO, a magician and writer living in New York City.
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Title Annotation:practicing catholic
Author:Stagnaro, Angelo
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Date:Feb 1, 2007
Words:713
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