Friday, March 20, 2009

Bells and Prayer

The bells at St. Sebastian are the recorded kind, but they still peal loudly. In addition to the bells that announce the Masses each day, and the musical selections that ring periodically through the day, on Ash Wednesday we instituted a ringing of bells at three o'clock, the Hour of Great Mercy. Church bells are a way of reminding us of things that we ought to do, like go to Mass or pray during the day, or recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3pm.

There is also a very ancient custom related to bells that some say goes back to the 11th century. Bells ring at 6 am, Noon, and 6pm and people stop and pray a very brief prayer called The Angelus. As a courtesy to the rest of the world, the first Angelus bell rings at 8am rather than 6am in most Catholic parishes, but in monasteries they usually stay with the earlier hour -- the monks and sisters have been long up anyway.

The bells ring three times, pause, ring three times again, pause, and ring three times again and pause, followed by nine single peals.

When I was a child on a trip to Rockaway, our favored and affordable vacation spot, at Noon you could hear the peal of the Angelus bells from the churches. As the first bell sounded people would stop what they were doing and stand, reciting the Angelus privately to themselves. Within an instant the whole beach crowd was on its feet, only to go back to what they had been doing after the last bell sounded. It made an impression on at least one young boy!

The point of a prayer like the Angelus is the sanctification of time. In much the same way as priests, deacons and religious women and men, and an increasing number of lay people recite The Liturgy of the Hours throughout the day, everyone could adopt the practice of privately reciting The Angelus every day.

The Angelus

V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary:
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among 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. Amen.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
R. Be it done unto me according to Your word.

Hail Mary . . .

V. And the Word was made Flesh:
R. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary . . .

V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:

Pour forth, we beseech You, O Lord, Your grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Your 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.

Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven)
(This prayer takes the place of the Angelus during the Easter Season.)

V. Queen of Heaven rejoice, alleluia.
R. For He whom you merited to bear, alleluia.
V. Has risen as He said, alleluia.
R. Pray for us to God, alleluia.

V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
R. Because the Lord is truly risen, alleluia.

Let us pray : O God, who by the Resurrection of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, granted joy to the whole world: grant we beg You, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may lay hold of the joys of eternal life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.