The Angelus prayer history is not as clear as you might expect. Very little is said about origin and development of the prayer compared to other Catholic devotions. In general we know that praying the Angelus was a practice that formed as an offshoot of the Liturgy of the Hours. After evening vespers, monks would pray three Hail Marys and meditate on the mystery of the Incarnation. That practice of reciting three Hail Marys grew into a larger devotion of praying the Angelus in the evening, then in later years at dawn, and then finally at midday. The belfries of local churches and monasteries would ring the bells three times at 6:00 a.m., noon, and 6:00 p.m. to call all people nearby to stop everything and pray together the Angelus. In recent years the prayer has seen greater attention through the Sunday Angelus address by popes, but since Vatican II it has fallen out of practice.
The Angelus Prayer History
Listed below are the most important developments in the history of the Angelus prayer and the Regina Coeli devotions.
600’s – Pope Gregory V introduces the text of the Regina Coeli.
1061 – At the Council of Caen, presided by William the Conqueror and Archbishop Maurille of Rouen and Lanfranc, an evening curfew was instituted followed by a triple ringing of the bells following Compline (evening prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours) to call people to prayer.
1195-1231 – Saint Anthony of Padua is said to have recommended the recitation of three Hail Mary’s.
1269 – Saint Bonaventure had the bell rung to call his monks and nuns and the laity in the region to pray three Hail Mary’s after Compline.
1300’s – Popes Clement V and John XXII institute a formal practice of praying three Hail Mary’s following the Compline in Rome. A morning Angelus is added to accompany the evening Angelus throughout England.
1475 – Pope Sixtus IV grants an indulgence for praying the midday Angelus. From this point forward, the triple ringing of the bells can be heard throughout the West at morning, midday, and evening.
1517 – Pope Leo X issues a papal bull granting an indulgence to those who pray an Our Father and Hail Mary when they hear the bell ring at morning, midday, and evening in Paris.
1566-72 – The Angelus appears in the Little Office for the Blessed Virgin (Officium Parvum B.M.V.)
1588 – The Angelus appears in the “Catholics’ Manual” (Manuale catholicorum) of Saint Peter Canisius.
1742 – Pope Benedict XIV asks that the Regina Coeli be prayed in place of the Angelus Domini during the liturgical season of Easter.
1964 – Pope Paul VI begins to pray the Angelus publicly on a weekly basis at St. Peter’s Square accompanied by a short address to the pilgrims there.