The Angelus prayer is a famous Catholic devotion, said 3 times each day: at dawn, noon, and dusk. It recounts the message from the angel Gabriel to Mary announcing God’s plan for her life. Praying the Angelus prayer is unique because we say it at specific times of the day. God brings our minds and hearts to Christ throughout the day.

The popes have even continued to advertise the prayer. They lead it in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by a short address to the faithful.

But where did this prayer come from? Why should we pray it?

The Angelus prayer originated as a way for workers to pray toward the evening, the end of the work day.1

The Angelus - Jean-François Millet (1857-1859)
The Angelus – Jean-François Millet (1857-1859)

This would often coincide with monks praying Evening Prayer, or Compline. At first, this only meant 3 Hail Mary’s to call to mind the Annunciation. This was a pivotal moment in history, where Mary’s yes, her fiat, began Christ’s salvific work for humanity.

History of the Angelus Prayer

By the first half of the 14th century, reciting the 3 Hail Mary’s in the evening became widespread. It was even recommended and indulgenced by Pope John XXII in 1318 and 1327 2.

The ringing of the Angelus bells accompanied the prayer to let everyone know that it was time to pray. Today, you can even have reminders sent to you online! Tradition says that the original author is Benedetto Sinigardi (or Fra Benedetto di Arezzo, 1190-1282).

Soon this also included praying both in the morning and at midday. Although not all the faithful could pray the Liturgy of the Hours like the monks, they could still surround their day in prayer.

Roman Catholic monks of the Order of Saint Benedict singing Vespers on Holy Saturday at St. Mary's Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey by John Stephen Dwyer (2009)
Roman Catholic monks of the Order of Saint Benedict singing Vespers on Holy Saturday at St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey by John Stephen Dwyer (2009)

It is so easy to get caught up in our daily duties and obligations to the point where we forget about God altogether. Although we’re called to be childlike, we try to take control of our lives and end up without peace or joy.

The Angelus is a daily reminder for us to call to mind God’s love for us. We also see and imitate Mary’s example of openness to God’s will. In fact, the all of salvation history culminates in the moment where “the Word became flesh.”
Having a set prayer at a set time each day also provides much needed structure. It shakes us out of getting caught up in ourselves, at least once per day. Pope St. Paul VI writes, “. . . despite the changed conditions of the times, for the majority of people there remain unaltered the characteristic periods of the day-morning, noon and evening-which mark the periods of their activity and constitute an invitation to pause in prayer.”

What do the saints have to say about the Angelus prayer?

Pope St. Paul VI writes in his Apostolic Exhortation Marialis Cultus: “What we have to say about the Angelus is meant to be only a simple but earnest exhortation to continue its traditional recitation wherever and whenever possible. The Angelus does not need to be revised, because of its simple structure, its biblical character, its historical origin which links it to the prayer for peace and safety, and its quasi-liturgical rhythm which sanctifies different moments during the day, and because it reminds us of the Paschal Mystery, in which recalling the Incarnation of the Son of God we pray that we may be led “through his passion and cross to the glory of his resurrection.” 3

Cardinal St. John Henry Newman even says that saying “the Angelus devoutly” every day is a part of a perfect day. 4

The Angelus Prayer

℣. The Angel of the LORD declared unto Mary,

℟. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace; the LORD is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

℣. Behold the handmaid of the LORD.

℟. Be it done unto me according to thy word.

Hail Mary, full of grace; the LORD is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

℣. And the Word was made flesh.

℟. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary, full of grace; the LORD is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

℣. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.

℟. That we might 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.

  1. Angelus – Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. Angelus – Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. (Apostolic Exhortation of His Holiness Paul VI – Marialis Cultus – Paragraph 41
  4. A Short Road to Perfection – Cardinal Bl. John Henry Newman