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All about angels

We celebrated the feast of the Archangels Sept. 29 and the feast of the Guardian Angels Oct. 2. The Preface of each Mass joins our prayers “with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the hosts and powers of heaven,” or “with the choirs of angels,” or simply, “with angels.”  Therefore, what do we believe about angels?


The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly affirms, "The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls 'angels' is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition" (No. 328). Simply, angels are pure spirits, immortal and personal beings with intelligence and free will.  They appear in human form to us. 


Based on sacred Scripture, theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas posited nine choirs or types of angels.  The first three choirs see and adore God directly: The seraphim ("the burning ones") have the most intense "flaming" love for God and comprehend him with the greatest clarity. Lucifer, whose name means "light bearer," was one of the seraphim whose sin changed his beautiful light into darkness.  The cherubim ("fullness of wisdom") contemplate God's divine providence and plan for his creatures.  Lastly, the thrones contemplate God's power and justice.


The next three choirs fulfill God's providential plan for the universe: The dominations or dominions, whose name evokes authority, govern the lesser choirs of angels. The virtues, whose name suggests power and strength, implement the orders from the dominions and govern the heavenly bodies. Lastly, the powers confront and fight against any evil forces opposed to God's providential plan.


The last three choirs are directly involved in human affairs: The principalities care for earthly principalities, such as nations or cities. The archangels deliver God's most important messages to mankind, while each angel serves as a guardian for each of us. 


A key to appreciating the role of angels is to look at what they do. First, angels see, praise, and worship God in his divine presence. Jesus said, "See that you never despise one of these little ones. I assure you, their angels in heaven constantly behold my heavenly Father's face" (Matt 18:10), which also indicates that each of us has a guardian angel. The Book of Revelation described how the angels surround the throne of God and sing praises (Rev 5:11, 7:11). Moreover, they rejoice over the saved soul of the repentant sinner (Lk 15:10).


Second, angels are God’s messengers. (The word angel, in Greek “angelos,” means "messenger.") St. Augustine stated that angels were "the mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word." Throughout sacred Scripture, the angels served as messengers of God, whether delivering an actual message of God's plan of salvation, rendering justice, or providing strength and comfort. Consider the work of the three archangels named in sacred Scripture: St. Michael, whose name means, "one who is like God," led the army of angels who cast Satan and the rebellious angels into hell; at the end of time, he will wield the sword of justice to separate the righteous from the evil (Rev 12:7-9). St. Gabriel, whose name means "strength of God," announced to Mary that she had been chosen as the mother of the savior (Lk 1:26-38). Finally, St. Raphael, whose name means "remedy of God," cured the blind man Tobit (Tob 5).


Finally, the angels are also our guardians. The catechism states, "From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession" (No. 336). St. Basil asserted, "Beside each believer stands an angel protector and shepherd leading him to life" (“Adversus Eunomium,” III, 1).  Therefore, we ought to pray to our guardian angel that simple prayer: "Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule, and to guide." Also, the St. Michael prayer ought to be said daily for protection from evil.


In our daily prayers and activities, we should be mindful of these servants of God who by His love keep our lives safe from harm and guide us on the path of salvation.


Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls and episcopal vicar for faith formation and director of the Office of Catechetics.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019