Archbishop Óscar A. Romero told his brother Tiberio that the secret to being happy in life was to pray the “Angelus.” Tiberio recalled that his brother told him that he should make praying three Hail Mary’s in the morning and three again in the evening the axis around which to ground his day. Tiberio also attested to the efficacy of the practice, saying that he has lived to see old age and developed a strong Marian devotion, thanks to the wise spiritual counsel he received from his brother. Archbishop Romero gave the same advice he gave his own brother to all the faithful on May 7, 1978, when he announced that he was instituting the recitation of the “Angelus” in the archdiocese of San Salvador.
“With joy I want to announce that beginning this Sunday,” Archbishop Romero said, “at twelve noon we will pray the Angelus on our radio program.” Archbishop Romero would be glad to hear that the advice he gave his brother Tiberio led to his developing a Marian devotion because, Romero told the faithful, “true Catholics ought to be characterized by this devotion to the Mother of the Church.”
We can think of three reasons Romero was devoted to the Angelus. The first is its status as an authentic expression of the sensus fidei: it has a natural internal logic about it that suggests itself. In fact, the prayer arose just as Archbishop Romero prescribed it to his brother—as three Hail Mary’s, unadorned and unembellished, liturgically or theologically. This practice is first recorded in monasteries during the 11th Century—the monks would pray three Hail Mary’s during the evening bell. The three Hail Mary’s invoke the Three Persons of the Trinity, and immediately focus our thoughts, as do all Marian devotions, properly on God. Later, the practice became more widespread, and the custom arose of saying the Angelus in the morning, at noon, and in the evening—also, helping to naturally break up the day. One can see the practicality of doing this before the advent of clocks and watches. Jean-François Millet’s famous painting (shown) depicts peasants praying the Angelus out on a field. The Angelus as a staple of popular piety, of the simple wisdom of the people of God, and as a perennial spiritual practice in the history of Christianity, would have been enormously appealing to Archbishop Romero.
The second reason Archbishop Romero may have been drawn to the Angelus is his personal Marian devotion. In this respect, it seems very providential that Archbishop Romero was killed on March 24, 1980, the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation—the event that the Angelus celebrates and memorializes. Of course, he had no way of knowing this during his life time—but it is fitting. At the other end of his life cycle, Óscar Romero was born on August 15, 1917—the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin. He was born in a province of El Salvador called San Miguel, where an image of Our Lady Queen of Peace was fervently venerated. In 1921, when Romero was only 4 years old, the image was granted canonical coronation by Pope Benedict XV. The ceremony was presided by Bishop Juan Antonio Dueñas, the man who later discovered Romero and sent him to the seminary. When Fr. Romero returned to San Miguel as an ordained priest in the 1940s, he was put in charge of caring for the image of Our Lady. In 1953, Pope Pius XII proclaimed her the Co-Patroness of El Salvador. The proclamation was confirmed and expanded by Pope Paul VI in 1966. Romero remained devoted to Our Lady for the rest of his life.
Finally, Archbishop Romero himself tells us the third reason for his devotion to the Angelus, saying that the faithful should pray the Angelus so that, “united with the Holy Father who prays the Angelus every Sunday in Rome at noon, we might lift up our voices and greet the Virgin as we pray for the many needs of the Church.” Romero picked up Vatican Radio’s signal on his short-wave radio, and listened to the Pope’s recitation of the Angelus every Sunday. Archbishop Romero would often work the Pope’s comments into his own Sunday sermons. “My sisters and brothers, the greatest glory of a pastor is to live in communion with the Pope,” Archbishop Romero declared. “For me,” he added, “this communion with the Pope is the secret of the truth and gives efficacy to my preaching.” Adding the Angelus to his spiritual repertoire was a very visible way for Archbishop Romero to put himself in tune with the Pontiff, to indicate his intention to follow the Pope’s lead with respect to his magisterium, and to emulate the Holy Father in his spiritual practices.The reasons for Archbishop Romero’s interest in the Angelus are relevant to us, also. As a simple prayer that can be recited anywhere, the Angelus is the devotion par excellence for a “poor Church for the poor,” that helps us focus on the spirit of poverty of the Beatitudes. As a Marian devotion, the Angelus helps us see in Mary’s “yes” to God the openness to the divine will that leads us to a stronger link to our own faith. Finally, by mirroring the prayers of the Roman Pontiff, the Angelus acts as our badge of loyalty to the Church and to the mission we are called to take up together.