Angels are back. While in our religious circles, we have neglected them, the secular world has appropriated them and made them visible… trinkets, books, movies.
When I made a Google search on angels, over three hundred million pages turned up! I still remember how surprised I was when on my first visit to the States I discovered myriads of books on angels, mostly New Age, displayed in the bookshops I visited.
The reason why we downgrade so easily their practical importance is because many of us still entertain these images of angels assembling on clouds, playing harps and smiling down on children.
The truth is that these celestial beings have jobs and are working hard on their mission which is to guide us toward God. They shield us, push enemies out of our way, keep us from falling and inspire us to do the right thing at the right time.
Psalm 91 is very clear. “He ordered his angels to guard you wherever you go. If you stumble, they’ll catch you; their job is to keep you from falling.”
The Book of Exodus tells us plainly “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.”
We find a whole book, the book of Tobit, that is characterized by an angel (actually, an archangel), accompanying a young boy on his journey in life.
Angels crisscross constantly the Old and New Testaments, being mentioned directly or indirectly nearly 300 times. David impressively sings in Psalm 68, “The chariots of God are myriads, thousands upon thousands”. These chariots are the angels, comments a Scripture scholar, “his chariots of war, which he makes use of against his enemies, his chariots of transport, which he sends for his friends, as he did for Elijah…, his chariots of state in the midst of which he sows his glory and power.” Warriors. Protectors. Messengers. And they are vastly numerous: ‘thousands upon thousands’.
And they are all for us. Impressive.
The Hebrew Rabbis even say that we are shielded on all sides by angels. “To my right Michael and to my left Gabriel, in front of me Uriel and behind me Raphael, and over my head God’s Shekhinah (the presence of God).”
The angels protected Jesus in his infancy, served him in the desert, strengthened him in his agony in the garden.
It was the angels who first ‘evangelized’ proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s coming to earth to Mary and to the shepherds; it was they that gave us the news that He rose from death. And we know it, they will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, and they will serve at his judgment.
They also protect us. The first episode of the TV series Touched By An Angel, depicts a grief-stricken mother who had lost her baby to sudden infant death syndrome. Monica ‘the angel’ comes to console her. But the mother snaps, “You’re an angel? So what?! Where was the angel when my baby died? Why didn’t an angel call 911 for me? Why didn’t the angel drag me out of my bed into that nursery? Where was the angel then?”
Monica drops to her knees and says, “There was an angel with your baby when she died. And it’s the same angel who is with your baby now. God loves you more than you can possibly imagine.”
One of the few Popes who became known as ‘The Great’ is Saint Gregory. He was elected 64th Pope by unanimous acclamation on 3 September 590.
This is what he had to say about angels. “Whenever something is to be done needing great power, Michael is sent forth so that from his action and his name we may understand that no one can do what God can do. Hence that old enemy who through pride desired to be like God is shown at the end of the world, left to his own strength and about to undergo the final punishment, as destined to fight with Michael the Archangel, as John says, “There was a battle with Michael the Archangel.”
Similarly, Gabriel was sent to Mary; he who is called “Strength of God” came to announce Him who deigned to appear in humility to conquer the powers of the air. And Raphael is interpreted “Medicine of God,” for when he touched the eyes of Tobias to do the work of healing, he dispelled the “night of his blindness”.
We have nothing to fear sustained as we are by these powerful combatants. The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes it so beautifully. “From infancy to death human life is surrounded by the watchful care and intercession of the angels. ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life’ (Saint Basil). Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.”
It is about time we make a conscious effort to make them more real in out lives. Let us start saying again, “Angel of God, my guardian dear, To whom His love commits me here, Ever this day be at my side, To light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.”
You may say it even now.
DATA ON ANGELS
An angel is a supernatural being found in many religions. In scripture, they typically act as messengers, as held by the three prominent monotheistic faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
An anonymous author, known to historians as Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a theologian of the 5th century, was apparently very keen on angels. In his book The Celestial Hierarchy, drawing on different passages of the Scripture, this writer concludes that there are three hierarchies or choirs of angels, each with different characteristics. Each order has three different types of angels.
In the first celestial order, those closest to God, there are the Seraphims (Lucifer was a Seraphim), Cherubims and Thrones.
The Seraphims, referred to as “the fiery spirits”, are usually pictured with six wings and flames. They constantly sing God’s praise and regulate heaven. Seraphims are the highest order of angels. Originally, Cherubims were depicted with multi-eyed peacock’s feathers to symbolize their all-knowing character. They are the first angels mentioned in the bible – God placed the Cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the Tree of Life. Thrones are referred to as “the many eyed ones”, portrayed as winged wheels within wheels, whose rims were covered in eyes. This is the vision of the prophet Ezekiel of the famous ‘Merkaba’ or the chariot of evangelization.
In the second celestial order we find Dominions, Virtues and Powers who work as heavenly governors. The Dominions quietly concern themselves with the details of our existence. Virtues have the task to oversee groups of people, while Powers are bearers of conscience and the keepers of history. The angels of birth and death are Powers. Saint Paul mentions them by name in his letters.
In the last order we find the ministering angels, namely the Principalities, Archangels and Angels. The Principalities are the guardian angels of nations and countries. Archangels are usually given a task of great importance to men. According to the book of Revelation, there are seven archangels who stand in the presence of God, but only four are mentioned in the Old Testament, Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel.
The Angels are the most familiar to men. They are the ones most concerned with the affairs of living things. Among these angels, we find the guardian angel – an angel assigned specifically to each one of us on birth who constantly guides, protects and inspire us. Evidence from Scripture as well as personal experience confirms to us that these individual guardian angels attend our ways and hover protectively over our lives.
In four days, the Church celebrates first on September 29th the feast of the three Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, and then on October 2nd the feast of the Guardian Angels.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.