Angelus Domini — Excerpts From Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, Principles and Guidelines on the Vatican Website.
195. The Angelus Domini is the traditional form used by the faithful to commemorate the holy annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary. It is used three times daily: at dawn, mid-day and at dusk. It is a recollection of the salvific event in which the Word became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, through the power of the Holy Spirit in accordance with the salvific plan of the Father.
The recitation of the Angelus is deeply rooted in the piety of the Christian faithful, and strengthened by the example of the Roman Pontiffs. In some places changed social conditions hinder its recitation, but in many other parts every effort should be made to maintain and promote this pious custom and at least the recitation of three Aves. The Angelus “over the centuries has conserved its value and freshness with its simple structure, biblical character […] quasi liturgical rhythm by which the various time of the day are sanctified, and by its openness to the Paschal Mystery” (231).
It is therefore “desirable that on some occasions, especially in religious communities, in shrines dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, and at meetings or conventions, the Angelus be solemnly recited by singing the Ave Maria, proclaiming the Gospel of the Annunciation” (232) and by the ringing of bells.
History of The Angelus
The Angelus is a short devotion in honor of the Incarnation, repeated three times each day, morning, noon, and evening, at the sound of the bell. It consists essentially in the triple repetition of the “Hail Mary”, to which in later times have been added three introductory versicles, and a concluding versicle and prayer. During the Easter season, the Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven) is said as the concluding prayer.
The devotion derives its name from the first word of the three versicles, Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ (The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary).
The origins of the Angelus are somewhat obscure, but it seems clear they are rooted in monastic prayers of the hours, and even in its earliest form included the three “Hail Marys”. Originally the Angelus prayers were said at Complin (night prayer), and over the years mid-day and morning hours were added. By the early seventeenth century the formula of prayers exactly as we know it today was complete.
The triple “Hail Mary” was closely associated with the ringing of a bell. The bell seemingly belonged to the monastic tradition of Complin.
The three interrupted peals of the Ave bell probably served as a sort of introduction to the continuous tolling of the curfew that preceded Matins (morning prayer).
Bells dedicated to the Angelus can be found throughout Europe — inscriptions include: Ave Maria and O Rex Gloriæ Veni Cum Pace (O King of Glory, Come with Peace). A number of European Angelus bells are dedicated to Saint Gabriel, with inscriptions including: Dulcis instar mellis campana vecor Gabrielis (I am sweet as honey, and am called Gabriel’s bell) and Missus vero pie Gabriel fert læta Mariæ (Gabriel the messenger bears joyous tidings to holy Mary.)
With regard to the manner of ringing the Angelus — the triple stroke repeated three times with a pause between seems to have been adopted from the very beginning. In the fifteenth century constitutions of Syon monastery, it is directed that the lay brother “shall toll the Ave bell nine strokes at three times, keeping the space of one Pater and Ave between each three tollings”.
A fifteenth century bell at Erfert bears the words: Cum ter reboo, pie Christiferam ter aveto (When I ring thrice, thrice devoutly greet the Mother of Christ). Though the practice of saying the Angelus declined in the latter half of the twentieth century, many parishes continue the tradition of ringing the Angelus bells, traditionally at 6:00 a.m., noon and 6:00 p.m.