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Daily Prayer, the Incarnation, and the Discipline of Harmony

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Few would expect that recovering a traditional Catholic devotion would appeal to the imagination of teenagers. After all, making faith appealing to young people seems to require efforts to excite the senses and incite emotion. While such strategies of evangelization may have their place, praying the Angelus once daily with hundreds of high school students and another 70 college students last summer at Notre Dame Vision witnessed to the possibilities for renewing the Church through simple practices of the ancient faith.

The genius of the Angelus is twofold. On the one hand, the prayer invites regular contemplation of the central mystery of our salvation: the Incarnation. On the other hand, it is incredibly brief. Within the span of two minutes or less—on one’s own or in the company of others—one interrupts the regular course of daily events to remember that all these things are contained within the action of God’s love come into the world. After a few weeks of praying this prayer once, twice, or even thrice daily, the words of Luke 1 and John 1 that give the prayer its basic structure are impressed upon one’s memory, while the rhythm of the three Hail Marys draw one’s heart and mind into God’s gentle presence. The Angelus invites the one at prayer to the formative effects of a simple practice.

For the teenagers at Notre Dame Vision this summer, we introduced this prayer at the beginning of each conference week with a very brief catechesis. This catechesis consisted of pointing to the Scriptures from which the prayer takes its language in addition to mentioning the importance of regularly interrupting our days to remember how God’s love comes to us. Otherwise, we just started every afternoon with the Angelus and then went on with our day. In short, the prayer was a part of our daily routine and, because of that, we opened the teenagers to the possibilities for how everything else we did during our time together was connected to the remembrance of the Incarnation in the middle of our day. We trusted in the practice first of all, while also trusting that the practice would lead to understanding.

Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar calls the particularity of God’s election in the Incarnation the “pedal note which lasts through all the confused music of the world’s time.”[1] The practice of praying the Angelus invites us to discover the ways in which the activities, encounters, and general busyness of our daily existence harmonize with God’s action for us and with us. At the same time, this simple daily practice will, over time, prompt the one who prays to recognize where there is disharmony between her daily life and the love of God that Jesus Christ poured into the world. To allow oneself to listen for harmony and disharmony is to abide within the life of the Spirit.

The Angelus tutors us in what French theologian Henri de Lubac calls the consonatiae disciplina: “the discipline of harmony.”[2] It is a way of rediscovering the communion with God and the union with one another that are fractured by sin. The beauty of this practice is that it does not depend upon any depth of understanding or spiritual expertise on the part of the one who prays, but rather allows each of us to refresh ourselves in seeking harmony with the Word [who] became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14, RSV). Mary was the first to move in pristine harmony with this gift and, in company with her, the one who prays the Angelus practices receiving the Son she bore:

Thus, [Mary] bears what she lets herself be borne by. And it is, quite simply, in this attitude that her faith consists. The faith of every member of the Church must take its bearings by her faith, which carries within itself a content greater than it can understand: this is why Mary’s faith willingly lets itself be borne along by what it contains.[3]

This is the great hope we foster for all those who gather at Notre Dame Vision each summer, just as it is the great hope of the Church for the world: to receive the incarnate gift of God’s love and to allow one’s own bodily existence to move in harmony with this gift. With the Angelus—as with all Catholic devotions—the practice initiates one into a way of life that, over time, allows for transformation and understanding. As juxtaposed with approaches to evangelization that prioritize affective conversions, emotional attachments, or the hook of entertainment, small commitments to particular practices like praying the Angelus build up a communion-of-beginners and trust in the slow formative effects of specific bodily actions. In contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation, we are all awkward and giddy beginners, like children on the first day of school.

As an expression of our trust in the importance of simple devotional practices, Notre Dame Vision is now partnering in a new movement of the New Evangelization. “3D Catholic” invites ordinary people to commit to practicing three devotions for a period of thirty days, and then longer if so desired. With an app that is both simple and elegant, 3D Catholic helps those members of the communion-of-beginners (all of us!) to set reminders for praying the Angelus and for regularly practicing the other two recommended devotions: abstaining from meat on Fridays and performing one Corporal Work of Mercy per week. With its emphasis on bodily practices, the 3D Catholic app is designed to break us from our habit of escaping into digital space and lead us back into the bodily encounters of the world God embraced in the Incarnation.

For more information on 3D Catholic or to download the free app, please visit http://3DCatholic.nd.edu.

Featured Image: Jean-François Millet, The Angelus (1857–59); courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

[1] Hans Urs von Balthasar, A Theological Anthropology, trans. William Glen-Doepel (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1968), 20.

[2] Henri de Lubac, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man, trans. Lancelot C. Sheppard and Sr. Elizabeth Englund, OCD (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1988), 77.

[3] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Threefold Garland: The World’s Salvation in Mary’s Prayer, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985), 37.

Leonard J. DeLorenzo

Leonard J. DeLorenzo is the director of Notre Dame Vision, the Notre Dame Catechist Academy, and the Notre Dame Character Project.