“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us).
One of Islam’s admirable features is the adhan, or call to prayer. Five times a day, a signal goes out from a high place in a mosque alerting all Muslims within earshot that it’s time to pause from their activities and offer one of the short daily prayers that are part of Islamic ritual duty. The regular, corporate nature of this practice fosters strong religion. It draws believers together in a habitual common act; it reminds them to place worship—as an act of justice owed to God—before the demands of life in the world.
Wouldn’t it be great if Christianity offered something similar?
Well, it does. I’m not talking about the Liturgy of the Hours, which, although accessible to the laity has through history largely been a practice of religious. I’m talking about a simple prayer, meant to be said daily, that commemorates the central Christian mystery.
At noon each day in the Catholic Answers office, the voice of our chaplain, Fr. Vincent Serpa, crackles across the intercom system (we recently had it upgraded, but it still has the audio qualities of a McDonald’s drive-thru window). All of us—at our desks, in the kitchen, conversing in the hallway—pause, stand, and recite after him:
The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord
Be it done unto me according to thy word.
And the Word was made flesh
And dwelt among us. (Here we genuflect.)
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
A Hail Mary is offered between each response, and the prayer ends with an invocation of the mystery of the Incarnation, and a petition to God that we might benefit eternally from the merits of the Cross.
This is the Angelus, and it is traditionally offered at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. every day. It is one of the simplest yet most profound prayers in the Church: daily recalling to our minds that universe-shaking moment when the omnipotent, eternal God, through the consent of a teenage girl, willed himself to become a human embryo. It is so immense and absolute an idea that the very words almost resist being typed.
By praying the Angelus, boldly repeating the same words that set our salvation in motion even as we had just been eating or playing golf or watching TV, we reflect and re-present the Incarnation’s radical parameters. A little over 2,000 years ago in ancient Judea, the world was just going about its business when suddenly the King of the world burst into it and nothing was ever the same. Yet the world continued on its course, watching and waiting for the revelation of the gospel (in Christ’s ministry, now past) and the glory of the kingdom (in his Second Coming, still future). In the Angelus we interrupt our business to recognize the import of that moment, then we, too, go back to the mundane labors and pleasures that make up regular life, watching and waiting for Christ to complete his work in us.
On this Solemnity of the Annunciation (which commemorates the Incarnation; like all things Marian its focus is ultimately Jesus), as many of us surface from our Lenten penances for one last breath before plunging into the disciplines of Holy Week, I would encourage all Catholics to make regular recitation of the Angelus a feature of your personal—and familial—prayer life. Let there never be an hour anywhere on earth when we do not recall that ineffable moment. God is with us.