I recently cracked my knee on a pew in church, thanks to the Blessed Mother and the Angel Gabriel—who conspired with former football player Vince Papale to teach me a lesson in prayer.
It happened just before our parish’s 12 noon daily Mass. Prior to the celebrant’s entrance, the lector asked the congregation to rise for the Angelus.
I looked around, confused. I normally went to an earlier Mass, and we never said the Angelus. What was the Angelus, anyway? I flipped through the missalette but I couldn’t find any text that matched what the congregation was now reciting. An inner voice clucked the standard reproof for graduates of parochial education who falter at the altar:
“And you went to Catholic school.”
Given my tendency to daydream during class, the lapse wasn’t surprising. The congregation then knelt as they prayed:
“And the Word was made flesh,
And dwelt among us.”
And that’s when, genuflecting in haste, I cracked my knee on the pew.
Later (nursing a small bruise) I researched the Angelus. Fittingly, the prayer takes its name from the Latin word for “angel.” The text combines verses from the Gospels of Luke (1:26, 28, 35, 42) and John (1:14), followed by a closing prayer:
The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary:
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee …
Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.
Hail Mary …
And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary …
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
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.
The Angelus developed in Europe during the Middle Ages, taking its current form at the end of the 16th century. As bells marked the liturgical hours, both religious and laity would pause — morning, noon and evening — to recite the prayer, which celebrates the incarnation of our Lord.
Jean-François Millet’s 19th-century painting “The Angelus” captures the simple piety of a peasant couple, heads bowed in a field at the time of prayer. And since 1950, Irish public broadcasting network RTÉ has marked the Angelus on radio and television (although this custom has recently been challenged by atheists).
Intrigued, I tried to incorporate the Angelus into my day.
During the morning rush, I’d forget to say it. Noon would pass, and I’d be halfway through lunch before realizing I’d again missed my cue. After a long commute home, I was so tired that I would promise the Lord I’d start fresh tomorrow.
Considering the prayer takes two minutes to recite, these excuses weren’t valid. So what was the real reason for my trouble with the Angelus?
Truthfully, when I did remember the Angelus times, I was slightly annoyed at being “interrupted.”
Prayer wasn’t a problem when it was on my schedule. But if I had to stop what I was doing and shift my priorities, even momentarily, I resented the inconvenience.
Guilty, I then berated myself for being a spiritual lightweight, and winced at St. Paul’s sports-inspired exhortations (“Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in some way.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
And that brings me to Vince Papale.
In the process of discovering the Angelus, I watched the movie “Invincible,” which was inspired by the story of Vince Papale. In 1976, the 30-year-old teacher attended an open tryout for the floundering Philadelphia Eagles — and made the cut. Papale’s three seasons gave fans and players new hope. As Papale’s professional bio notes, “Ordinary people appeared badly in need of a champion from their ranks, and Vince answered the call.”
If ever there were a champion from our ranks, it’s Jesus Christ, who became flesh and dwelled among us. He is “a man of suffering, knowing pain” (Isaiah 53:3), a high priest who can sympathize with our weakness, “one who has been similarly tested in every way, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Though God, he humbly wore the very flesh he’d created, and took that flesh to the cross, redeeming us. Christ’s victory is our victory.
I renewed my efforts to say the Angelus, realizing that Christ’s triumph is meant to “interrupt” our days, our lives, time itself. Just as Gabriel “interrupted” Mary at her work, inviting her to surrender to God’s plan, the Angelus calls us to lay aside our tasks, if only for a moment, and turn to one like us who conquered sin and death.
Gina Christian is a writer in Philadelphia and a member of St. William Parish.
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