May 4, 2011

Ora et Labora

Evening Prayer by Jean Francois Millet

One of the venerable prayer traditions of the Church has been praying the Angelus three times daily. It was a way of following monastic tradition of interrupting work with prayer during the course of the day, what we Benedictines call "ora et labora," or prayer and work.  The "ordinary folk," those not bound canonically to pray the Divine Office as the monks, nuns and clergy did, would listen for the church bells at 6 am, noon, and 6 pm, drop what they were doing, and pray the Angelus. There was a time when people took this time for prayer very seriously. Millet expressed this very simply in his painting of two farmers stopping their work in the evening to pray.  Vincent Van Gogh even copied the work in one of his paintings.

Today, many are unfamiliar with this tradition or even the Angelus prayer. Our lives are so busy that we often don't even stop for lunch let alone prayer.  I first learned the Angelus in elementary school where we prayed it as a class at noon.  As an adult, while I didn't pray the prayer, whenever I heard the familiar "bong" eminating from the church steeples at noon, I thought about it, but didn't recall the words.  I did eventually look it up, and after a pilgrimage one year where we prayed it, I tried to pray it every so often.  It wasn't until I entered the doctoral program at our seminary and we joined the seminarians at dinner, did I really begin to pray it regularly. The seminarians began grace before meals with the Angelus, and soon the familiar words to the prayer came back to me.

The one thing I did learn during those dinners at the seminary, that I don't recall learning in elementary school, was that during the Easter Season, from Easter Sunday until Pentecost, the traditional Angelus is not prayed but substituted by the Regina Coeli.  While the Angelus recalls the Annunciation, the Regina Coeli or Queen of Heaven is a beautiful prayer that extols the joy of our Blessed Lady in the Resurrection of her Son.  It is a traditional Easter hymn.

Through the wonders of You Tube I found this rendition of the simple chant version complete with art work (and the English translation).  Perhaps it might encourage us all to remember to stop our work from time to time to offer prayer to the Lord.  May you have continued blessings during this Easter season.

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