Advent Pastoral Letter 2006

May the “Angelus” accompany us during this Advent Season

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

If you have the joy to be at St. Peter’s Square on a Sunday noon you will see the Holy Father opening the window of his Study and greeting the faithful present there.

He will then lead them to pray the Angelus. (Those who are not present are able to participate through the television broadcast.) “Angelus” in latin means “angel”. “The angel of the Lord announced to Mary”. It is the first sentence of the prayer. The Church sanctifies each day with the Angelus, in praising the Incarnate Word during sunrise, noon and sunset.

The clergy of the Church prays the “Divine Office” to sanctify each hour of the day.

The Divine Office together with the Eucharistic celebration becomes the daily Liturgy of the Church. The “Divine Office” is based on the psalms, with a very important portion of readings from the Bible. Every year the Church commemorates in cycle the Mystery of Redemption and to obtain grace by doing so.

The “Rosary” is said to be the “Divine Office” of the lay faithful because in reciting the Rosary the faithful also commemorate in cycle the Mystery of Redemption and thus to sanctify the time of each day.

Angelus can be said to be a miniature Rosary: it is centred on “the Annunciation” and “the Nativity”. But it also reminds us of the Pascal Mystery.

In the villages of Catholic countries the bells of the churches will ring three times a day to remind the faithful to recite this traditional prayer of the Church. Especially at noon, the farmers will stop their work, and in the midst of the fields, take off their hats, make the sign of the cross and recite the Angelus together. St. John Bosco had a dream when he was nine years old in which he saw a noble lady who introduced herself “I am the one your mother has taught you to greet three times a day”.

Recently I noticed that in many big cities in Europe there is an effort to bring back this traditional prayer: In the Salesian Mother House the bells will ring at noon and everyone will go out of the office to recite the Angelus together in the corridor. In England the staff of the organization “Aid to Church in Need” will stand at their desks in the huge office at noon to recite the Angelus together.

The three “verses” of the Angelus takes us back to the most important moment in human history, the moment when what had been promised in Genesis, proclaimed by the prophets, awaited by the whole of humanity, was fulfilled. The Archangel Gabriel came to announce the good news: Mary the maiden of Nazareth was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God.

Mary, after having understood “the will of God”, humbly consented because she knew that she was the “handmaid of the Lord”. God had chosen her and though she felt herself not worthy she knew that what was most important was to obey. It was at this moment that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”. Every thing began here. This moment divided the human history into before and after the Incarnation. This moment brought about the Redemption for men. The Son of God was incarnated and Jesus became the Mediator between God and men in the womb of the Blessed Mother. His existence had already reconciled men with God. This was only manifested at the nativity, when the angels in the sky sang “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth”, but at the moment of the annunciation this was already a reality.

Every morning when we recite the Angelus we can imagine our guardian angel announcing to us the good new: Today is a new day, a day of grace. This day is filled by grace because of Jesus. You only have to acknowledge that you are the servant of God and promise to accept and to do every thing according to his will and he will do great things through you.

The Angelus expresses in a few words the core of our faith and makes it into a prayer. Let us pray to the Lord that by his passion and his cross we may have a share in his passion and his cross and “deign to obtain the glory of the resurrection”, the resurrection of Jesus being the beginning of our own resurrection. If we recite this prayer with devotion and slowly, our life will have a direction in the Pascal Mystery and become a link in the history human redeemed by God.

The “Glory be to the Father” should be the ending of any prayer. Imagine the Blessed Mother teaching the three children in Fatima how to recite this prayer. Dear brothers and sisters, the Angelus is short but its content is very rich. Surely you will make it a treasure in your life.

Advent is the beginning of the Liturgical year. The Angelus is not a liturgical prayer but it can nourish our liturgical prayer and prepare our hearts to participate in the prayer of the Liturgy. During Advent we cry “Come Lord!” precisely because we know that “The Lord has come and dwells among us”!

Your bishop

+ Joseph Cardinal ZEN, SDB

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