S. Petri ad Vincula
Commemoratio: Ss. Martyrum Machabaeorum
“… the Angel of the Lord…” How wonderful it is sometimes to discover whilst visiting foreign parts that the Angelus is still rung and how unifying the Catholic Faith is that we share! That despite being in a different place and often time-zone, that same Faith is expressed in ringing symbols uniting one with Christians throughout the ages who knew that sound, that symbol, that Faith which the Angelus bell proclaims?!
It’s all about “hallowing the day to day life” of our humanity as Christians with the mystery and significance of the Incarnation. It reminds us of the reconciliation of Creation with the Godhead through Jesus Christ that is not immediately obvious to and easily forgotten by us, disguised as it is by our fallen condition i.e. sin (particularly pride/vanity); but in these signs and symbols utilising blessed material objects and actions, it is presented and reminded to us. The sonority of the bells, whether harmonious or clapped(!) alert us to the central mystery of our Faith and its purpose. They call us to prayer, to reflection, to the remembrance of our citizenship of Heaven over our worldly existence.
They also proclaim Jesus Christ as King, however irksome or disconcerting their sonorous interruption to our day might be. They wake us up out of the mundane and recall to mind the consideration of Heaven! The three bells remind us of the Trinity; the nine bells remind us for each three groupings of each person of the Trinity; the final bells… nine is also superfluous to seven, reminding us of the infinite graces from God poured out towards us in the Incarnation.
The Angelus is rung traditionally at 6am, Noon and 6pm. The Angelus often begins morning Mass whether 6am or otherwise because it recalls the Incarnation we are about to behold in the mysteries of the Mass re the Blessed Sacrament to be confected. Also, in this way is the “third hour” commemorated and our minds drawn to reflect on the possibility of the “Second Coming” that we are “watchful” and “waiting” for The Lord when He comes… day or night. Noon of course is observed and generally 6pm at the beginning/end of Vespers. Thus three times during the day do we remember the “Golden Legend” i.e. the “Annunciation” of the “Incarnation” (“Golden Legend” because the illuminated manuscripts of the monks used gold to record/highlight the account of the Annunciation in the illuminated Gospel books); r
eminding us of the ‘humility in charity’ of the Triune Godhead who in the second Person of Jesus Christ in cooperation with the Holy Ghost at the Will of God the Father, humbled Himself to share in our humanity, that we might become one with Him and share in His Divinity.
The devotion employs the “Angelic greeting” (sometimes called the “Angelic Salutation”) which are the words of the Archangel Gabriel to Our Lady, “Hail Mary, full of grace, The Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women and is blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” This prayer is recited three times after each versicle and response, recalling the “Annunciation”, the “submission of Mary” to God’s will and the “Incarnation”.
Incidentally, church bells are also “baptised” and “chrismated” [with oil, “confirmed”, if you will] and traditionally named at their “baptism” like “Big Ben” at Westminster and “Big Peter” at Yorkminster! Of course, bells were not really Baptised (the sacrament is reserved for people), but the rite bore many similarities to the sacrament: the bells were exorcised, washed with holy water, anointed with the holy oil of the sick (outside) and chrism (inside). In some places, they even had a sort of godfather. The bishop prayed that ‘at their sound let all evil spirits be driven afar; let thunder and lightning, hail and storm be banished; let the power of Thy hand put down the evil powers of the air, causing them to tremble at the sound of these bells, and to flee at the sight of the holy cross engraved thereon’ – a rather beautiful sacramental!
Catholicism is all about realising the reconciliation of God’s Creation in Christ. Anything “blessed” is made “holy” to be used for His purpose, literally realising the reconciliation of all things in Christ, the “Second Adam”. So that, though it be manmade or natural, by blessing it is “made new” which is why Holy Water is usually used to bless things, signifying the graces and benefits of Baptism instituted and made efficacious through Jesus Christ, the Incarnation etc. so things are “baptised” by Holy Water like a kind of Baptism that we as persons receive. So that which was made “unholy” by sin is made “holy” by the invocation of the Christ… the “logos”…the “ruach”…the “Word”… etc
So it is devotional and an act of worship, recalling to our minds the Trinity and the Incarnation. It is instructional as it reminds us of the meaning of the Incarnation, that we like Mary should humble ourselves to the Will of God that the significance and purpose of the Incarnation may be realised in us (the divinisation of humanity). And it is prophetically practical, drawing us to remember that we should be “ready” always to greet The Lord whenever He should come.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis.