And She Conceived by the Holy Spirit: A Reflection on the Annunciation

Wherever you live, chances are you hear the church bells from time to time.  Perhaps you’ve grown so accustomed to their gentle pealing that you don’t even notice—but Catholic churches ring their bells three times each day:  at 6:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, and 6:00 p.m.

It’s called The Angelus—a call to prayer.  The Angelus is a traditional prayer to Mary, the Mother of God, which consists of three short “versicles” and responses, with three Hail Mary’s and a special concluding prayer.  The custom is that the church bells ring three times for each of the invocations and nine times for the concluding prayer.

Although the Angelus had its origins in the thirteenth century or before, it was in the sixteenth century that the three daily calls to prayer became standardized.

Pope Paul VI, in the last section of his 1974 apostolic exhortation on proper devotion to Mary, Marialis Cultus, wrote at length about the value of the Angelus.

The French painter Jean-François Millet, one of the founders of the Barbizon School in rural France, commemorated the prayer in an acclaimed painting titled “The Angelus.”  In it, a farmer and his wife stop their labors in the field to pray, as they hear the Angelus bells ring in a distant church steeple.  The son of a devout farmer and his wife, Millet often saw his parents stop near the end of their day to pray, heads bowed, as the Angelus bells broke into the sunset with their insistent call.  Millet sought to recreate the quiet peace of the evening sky, the rosy glow of sunset in the fields, and the pious devotion of the peasant farmers.

There is a story that when Millet’s agent and closest friend, Alfred Sensier, first saw the picture on Millet’s easel, the artist turned to him and asked, “Well, what do you think of it?”

“It is the Angelus,” the agent responded, recognizing its deeper meaning.

“Yes,” said Millet.  “Can you hear the bells?”

The painting is now displayed at The Louvre in Paris.


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; 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.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
Be it done unto me according to Thy word.

Hail Mary . . .

(here genuflect)
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.

Let us pray:
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.


  • Joseph Atanacio

    The first reply should be corrected, it isn’t grammatically correct. It should state ‘THAT SHE IS TO CONCEIVE BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.’ If one reads the entire prayer without the Hail Mary’s, it would show the sequence of events, 1st – the angel’s announcement, 2nd – Our Lady’s consent, and 3rd – the resulting Incarnation. I hope people would learn to really understand what they are praying.

  • Jack

    There are two large Latin parishes near me–on the same street, oddly enough–and neither rings the Angelus.

  • tom

    Joseph Antanacio – re: grammar

    I believe the first versicle and response of the Angelus in Latin reads: Angelus Domini nuntiavit Maria; et concepti de Spiritus Sancti.

    With the little Latin I understand, it seems that the first translation is correct verb tense.

    If anyone knows more or otherwise, please let me know.

    • Stan

      You are correct Antanacio.

  • Rolando Rodriguez, OFS

    There is also a Franciscan tradition that when St. Francis of Assisi was given safe passage into the Holy Land by Sheik al-Kamil during the 4th Crusade, he was impressed by the Muslim call to prayer that was answered by everyone, everywhere. When he returned to the Portiuncula, he reenforced and popularized the devotion.
    Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, during the last century, everyone, everywhere heard the bells at sunrise, noon and sunset. Whether believers or non-believers, their attention was drawn to Divine Providence.
    Paz y Bien, Rolando, OFS.

  • Sherry Weddell

    The Angelus is still broadcast on Irish television, I believe.

  • Casey Truelove

    Great post! It was good to learn more about Millet’s painting.

    I wrote a post about the Angelus a while back. Feel free to check it out:

  • James

    In the first line, what I learned was “The angel of the Lord declared UNTO Mary.” That is also the way it reads in my old prayer books.

    • Kathy Schiffer

      Ah–me, too, James! The version I used was cut-and-pasted from EWTN, though, so must be an accceptable alternate.

  • Mack Hall

    A reproduction of “The Angelus” hung in my devout Methodist grandparents’ house; I wonder if it influenced my conversion later in life.

  • Steve

    Here’s a beautiful version in Latin chanted

    Pure beauty

  • Brad

    Today is the Feast of St. Gabriel Archangel.

    Ave, Maria.

  • Geo

    Thanks for this post. Just a few months ago I started saying the Angelus thrice daily. Although I had never seen Millet’s painting, its “earthy” imagery was always in my mind. Afterall, the Incarnation is a very humble (i.e., down to earth) reality. Now I will keep that image with me even more.

  • Joy Intriago

    Thank you for this morning deveotional.