Catholic Cults and Devotions: A Psychological Inquiry

By Michael P. Carroll | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
The Angelus

In the Hibernian Magazine for August 1778, an anonymous Englishman described a play he had attended during a recent visit to Spain:

Everything in this country must have the air of devotion, or rather superstition; even during the representation of the piece [the play] just mentioned, I heard a bell ring, and immediately all the spectators fell upon their knees. The comedians set the example, and the two actors who were upon the stage in the middle of the scene stopped, moved their lips, and muttered some words in a whisper with the rest of the people. This ceremony over, they all got up, and the play went on. On inquiring, I was told that this was an office of devotion called the Angelus. (quoted in Thurston 1902b, 531)

The writer's use of words like "superstition" and "muttered" leaves no doubt as to his low opinion of this very public devotion. Indeed, he goes on to denigrate the devotion even further by suggesting that it was only a money‐ making scheme on the part of a local convent to gain a portion of the proceeds from the play. In fact, the Angelus was not a purely local devotion, nor even a peculiarly Spanish one. By the eighteenth century it had been widely observed in almost all Catholic countries for centuries, and it remained popular well into this century. Even in the United States, for instance, at least before Vatican II, it was customary for Catholic schools to ring the Angelus bell at noon and for all schoolyard activity to cease. Apart from those readers of this book who may have actually experienced the Angelus, many will be familiar with this devotion on account of the famous and widely reproduced painting by Jean-François Millet( 1814-75), entitled The Angelus, which shows two French peasants in their field, observing the midday Angelus with bowed heads.


THE DEVOTION

Formally, the Angelus is a devotion in honour of the Incarnation, the moment at which God become man. In Catholic mythology this occurred when

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