For decades, the number of people diagnosed with clinical anxiety has been rising. While we recognize on a deeper level that fearfulness is part of the human condition, our current state of the world doesn’t help. We are overwhelmed by the number of daily decisions we have to make — anything from what to eat or what to wear or what media we are taking in — which in turn causes further anxiety, can result in a crisis of faith as well as a panic disorder. Yet, as Catholics we believe that God transforms our fear into courage when we trust in him. But how can we gain this sense of peace and calm in our interior lives?
It is through routines — specifically those centered on prayer — that we can offer ourselves the consistency we need. While not all Christians are called to the strict prayerful observances of consecrated life, there are some practices that are easy to weave into our days as lay Catholics.
One such habit is the Angelus — a traditional vocal prayer that offers peace to those who pray it daily. For centuries, in Europe and beyond, the Angelus bell was rung to call Catholics to pray at dawn, noon and dusk (more specifically, 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m.), and in Western Europe it was even called the “Peace” bell.
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Last year, I began praying the Angelus daily, and, after six months, I fell into the habit of praying it a second time thanks to its calming effect. It felt like I was surrendering to God and, over time, this has helped me to feel less anxious overall.
The prayer begins with a set of three verses, inspired by passages from the Gospels, and three Hail Marys said in response. The verses commemorate the Incarnation when the Blessed Virgin, in grace and humility, said “yes” to being the Mother of God, as God himself humbly became man:
Verse 1: The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1:26-37).
Verse 2: Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word (cf. Lk 1:38).
Verse 3: And the Word was made flesh. And dwelt among us (cf. Jn 1:14).
Finally, the collect commemorates the Resurrection as we pray “that we … may by his (Jesus’) Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.”
It’s beautiful how the Angelus summarizes salvation history in a way that isn’t pedagogical like the Creed or lengthy like the Rosary, whose mysteries are traditionally prayed over a series of days. This isn’t a comparison; it’s just to say that praying the Angelus consoles us a bit differently being that it’s so condensed.
This practice helps us to combat anxiety by rooting us in the present, for anxiety keeps our minds stuck in the past or worrying about the future. Meanwhile Catholic mysticism teaches us that we can’t hear God’s voice anywhere but in the present moment. St. Catherine of Siena says: “For a servant of God, every place is the right place, and every time is the right time.” It’s fitting to say that whenever we are anxious to hear God’s voice in the future, we are anxious because we aren’t hearing him right now.
The verses of the Angelus also offers the reminder that every new beginning is an ending: when Mary says “yes” to the message she’s receiving from God through the Archangel Gabriel, she’s also saying “no,” in a paradoxical way, to the life she lived before and the life she could have continued to live had she chosen otherwise. In one moment she places all her hope in God, and he gives her peace — a reminder that he will also give us such peace when we embrace his will in the present moment. Similarly, when reflecting on Christ rising from the dead in the collect, we are filled with hope — hope in eternal life. His resurrection has a regenerative effect on our souls wherever and whenever it’s contemplated.
When praying the Angelus, I like to conclude with the Requiem Aeternam. Also known as the Eternal Rest Prayer and the Prayer for the Faithful Departed, the Requiem Aeternam sheds light on how Christ died for us so that we may have eternal life. That truth isn’t explicitly mentioned in the words of the Angelus proper, but it’s a good reminder, especially when fear of death is at the root of our common worries about the ongoing pandemic.
Although some consecrated religious orders still pray the Angelus three times daily at scheduled times, you can pray it anytime, and once daily suffices. They may no longer ring the Angelus bell in public, but you can create an alarm on your phone if you want a concrete reminder. Here is the full prayer that I hope you will pray with me today or whenever you can.
V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
V. Let us pray.
R. 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.
Eternal Rest Prayer
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.