From a reader:
A friend who was in Rome gave me a curial calendar. What does the “Ave Maria,” which usually occurs about half an hour after sundown, signify? My understanding is that a bell is wrung. Is a particular prayer, such as the Angelus, supposed to be said at that point?
The “Ave Maria” indicates the time of the ringing of the Ave Maria Bell.
This is a relic of time calculation from when accurate clocks were not simply everywhere.
The Ave Maria sounded a single bell struck 3 times, then 4 times, 5 times, and then 1 time.
You know that the Angelus or Regina Caeli is to be rung at 0600, 1200, and 1800.
The “Ave Maria” indicates the change of the religious day from day to night.
The Ave Maria is rung half an hour after sunset. If the Ave Maria is rung at 1730, as it is from 14-27 January and therefore is today, then 1630 is 23rd hour of the day and 1830 is the 1st hour of the next day.
When there were large religious communities in Roman churches and chapters of canons, Vespers would be sung an hour before the Ave Maria Bell. Today, for example, they would be sung at 1630. However, in the Roman Curia, Cardinals and other officials would still receive people in audience for the hour after the Ave Maria Bell rang. An hour after the Ave Maria, a single bell would toll, thus ending all business for the day, since it was the first hour of night.
Thus, the Roman Ave Maria Bell.