The prayer of the Angelus developed between the 14th and 16th centuries.
King Louis XI of France decreed in 1472 that it should be prayed for the peace of the Kingdom. It was called the "Hail Mary of peace," and gradually came to be recited three times a day, in the morning, at midday, and in the evening.
In Germany, the Netherlands, and in some parts of France, the Angelus bell was regularly known as the Peace bell, and pro pace schlagen (to toll for peace) was a phrase popularly used for ringing the Angelus.
The Angelus is usually accompanied by the ringing of the Angelus bell, which is a call to prayer and to spread goodwill to everyone.
It is common practice that during the recital of the Angelus prayer, for the lines "And the Word was made flesh/And dwelt among us", those reciting the prayer bow or genuflect. Either of these actions draws attention to the moment of the Incarnation of Christ into human flesh.
Hail Mary, full of grace; the LORD is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
℣. Behold the handmaid of the LORD.
℟. Be it done unto me according to thy word.
Hail Mary, full of grace...
℣. And the Word was made flesh.
℟. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, full of grace…
℣. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
℟. That we might be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray,
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O LORD, Thy grace into our hearts; that, we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord.
The words of the Angelus: a text of great value
The verses of the Angelus quote the narrative of the Annunciation according to Saint Luke (Lk 1: 26-38) and the prologue of Saint John (Jn 1: 14).
The prayer emerged at the end of the patristic era
Around the year 660, the papal liturgy introduced the feast of the Annunciation. The prayer after Communion was:
"Pour, O Father, your grace in our souls; you who at the announcement of the Angel, revealed to us the Incarnation of your son, guide us with his Passion and his Cross to the glory of the Resurrection. Through Jesus Christ our Lord."
(Gregorian Sacramentary GrH 143)
This prayer is now used among Catholics on the 4th Sunday of Advent and it is still the concluding prayer of the Angelus. Lutherans use it to celebrate the Annunciation.
No prayer contains so much in such a condensed form: the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection.
Paul VI encouraged the prayer of the Angelus
“What we have to say about the Angelus is meant to be only a simple but earnest exhortation to continue its traditional recitation wherever and whenever possible.
The Angelus does not need to be revised, because of its simple structure, its biblical character, its historical origin which links it to the prayer for peace and safety, and its quasi-liturgical rhythm which sanctifies different moments during the day, and because it reminds us of the Paschal Mystery, in which recalling the Incarnation of the Son of God we pray that we may be led "through his passion and cross to the glory of his resurrection."(109) These factors ensure that the Angelus despite the passing of centuries retains an unaltered value and an intact freshness.”
(Paul VI, apostolic exhortation Marialis Cultus, for the right ordering and development of the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary § 41)
Note: in footnote #109 of the exhortation, Paul VI gives permission to use the Collect of March 25 (Feast of the Annunciation) in place of the Collect of the 4th Sunday of Advent, in the recitation of the Angelus.
This collect for the feast of the Annunciation is:
O God, who willed that your Word should take on the reality of human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, grant, we pray, that we, who confess our Redeemer to be God and man, may merit to become partakers even in his divine nature. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
During Eastertide, the Angelus is replaced by the Regina caeli:
Regina coeli, laetare, alleluia
Quia, quem meruisti portare, alleluia
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.
Queen of Heaven
V. Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
R. For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
V. Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
R. Pray for us to God, alleluia.
V. Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
R. For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
Let us pray. O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.