Timing of the Angelus

Date: September 3, 2023
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University.


Question: In our Catholic school, according to our lesson schedule, during period 6, within the last 20 minutes of lesson time, we usually stop explaining and all students would stand for the Angelus. I see that as a mismanagement of class time. I suggested moving the Angelus to the end of the lesson, just before our lunch at 2 p.m. I have argued to my colleagues that the Angelus is not strictly bound to 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m.; as long as we retain a habit of praying it daily, it is OK. They argued that it is a tradition of the Church and an infallible teaching and, therefore, cannot be changed. I rebutted, pointing out that they are misusing the term tradition and infallibility as tradition has a strict usage (Sacred Tradition) and a loose usage (“practices”). Regarding infallibility, I argued that the Church only teaches infallibly with matters concerning faith or morals, and “Angelus-timing” is not a subject to infallible teaching; rather, it is a common devotional practice like the rosary. Although the Church provided a guide or framework for us to follow, it is not strictly compulsory. I added that suggesting a strict observance would indicate that God only listens to prayers at those specific times, which is not true. -- L.A., National Capital District, Papua New Guinea


Answer: First, I congratulate our reader and his colleagues for inculcating the pious practice of praying the Angelus during the day among their students. This was once a common practice among Catholics, who often interrupted their activities when they heard the church bells.


Among the masterpieces on exposition at the Musée in Paris is the late 1850s oil painting “The Angelus” by Jean-François Millet, depicting a couple interrupting their work in the fields as they prayed this devotion.


In this sense, it is more important that those responsible for education consider the spiritual values they seek to inculcate in their students alongside a sterling, all-round education. Once this is agreed upon, the question as to the most opportune moment can be broached positively.


Historically, the custom of reciting the Angelus stems from an 11th-century custom of reciting the Hail Mary three times at the evening bell. This custom of reciting the triple Hail Mary at night was recommended by several Franciscan saints, such as Anthony of Padua (1195-1231) and Bonaventure (1221-1274).


Indeed, the development and popularization of the Angelus would seem intimately tied to the Franciscans, especially Friar Sinigardi of Arezzo (died 1282), whom some claim is the author of the Angelus prayer.


As time passed, the practice was extended to the morning and later at noon, where the practice is first mentioned around 1413. Pope Sixtus IV endowed the practice of the noon recitation with an indulgence in 1475, later extended to the other daily recitations in 1517 by Pope Leo X. Other Popes have confirmed the indulgences and recommended the pious practice.


The current form of the Angelus as we still know it today appeared in printed form during the pontificate of St. Pius V (1566-1572) and, from that time, has been regularly included in prayer books and manuals of devotion.


Our reader is correct in pointing out that in questions such as these recommended devotions one should avoid arguing from Church tradition or infallibility. These have very little bearing on questions of voluntary devotion, no matter how strongly the Church’s shepherds recommend them.


At the same time, however, if a voluntary devotion is in some way tied to specific times, those who choose to practice that devotion should do their best to adjust their practice to the set times, even though this has to be done in a realistic and practical way, and the spiritual graces to be obtained from the devotional practice are not tied to a strict adherence to the times as if to some magical formula.


In the case of the Angelus, those who pray it daily take a moment to interrupt their daily activities to recall the central mysteries of salvation history from the Incarnation to the Resurrection, and in that way, they are spurred on to live their whole lives and their habitual activities in the light of these mysteries.


Ideally, the Angelus should be a pause and prayed at 9, noon, and 6. However, for a million and one legitimate reasons, it could be a little later or even earlier with no detriment to its spiritual effect. For example, many faithful, including priests and religious, pray the first Angelus early in the morning rather than at 9, when they are already engaged in their daily works.


I can understand perfectly well why a teacher might find it pedagogically difficult to stop in the middle of explaining a complex mathematical or chemical problem to pray the Angelus and then try to pick up where he or she left off.


If the school authorities have a special interest in maintaining the custom of praying the Angelus at noon, they can remedy the pedagogical difficulties by scheduling classes so that classes begin or end at this time.


If this were not possible, the teacher could also plan the explanation so that the interruption becomes natural and the Angelus falls between topics. This would require some skill on the teacher’s side and would not always be possible.


Therefore, the easiest solution is to schedule the classes around the Angelus or permit the teacher to recite the Angelus with the children at the beginning or end of the class, which coincides with noon.


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Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, city, state, province, or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the many questions that arrive.


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