Hans Memling – Christ Surrounded by Musician Angels
Today, October 2, the Church honors the Guardian Angels, our protectors and our friends, those magnificent spiritual beings created by God before the creation of the world. Many of us learned the Guardian Angel prayer and recited it when we were young; however, although we often forget them, they are ever-present, “to light to guard to rule to guide.” Today the Church reminds us to become aware of their presence and seek their help.
In a sermon for the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, St. John Henry Newman taught that angels not only interact with humanity, they also execute the power of nature: “all this wonderful harmony is the work of Angels. Those events which we ascribe to chance as the weather, or to nature as the seasons, are duties done to that God who maketh His Angels to be winds, and His Ministers a flame of fire.”
Since angels are spirits, we ordinarily do not see them; they are invisible. In another sermon titled “The Invisible World” Newman begins by stating what we profess in the Creed: our belief in two worlds: “the visible, and the invisible.” Angels are part of this invisible world. Though we do not see it, it really exists.
“Angels also are inhabitants of the world invisible, and concerning them much more is told us than concerning the souls of the faithful departed, because the latter “rest from their labours;” but the Angels are actively employed among us in the Church. They are said to be “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” [Heb. i. 14.]”
At all times the angels worship God so that, even though human beings fail to worship Him, the angels are always adoring and praising Him. At every Mass they surround the altar in great hosts. “The angels surround the priest,” writes St. John Chrysostom. “The whole sanctuary and the space before the altar is filled with the heavenly Powers come to honor Him who is present upon the altar.”
Just as the created world is full of order and one thing depends on another, God has created angels who serve Him in many ways. As a part of this order placed within creation, God has provided an angel specifically for each human being.
Newman writes: “No Christian is so humble but he has Angels to attend on him, if he lives by faith and love. Though they are so great, so glorious, so pure, so wonderful, that the very sight of them (if we were allowed to see them) would strike us to the earth, as it did the prophet Daniel, holy and righteous as he was; yet they are our “fellow-servants” and our fellow-workers, and they carefully watch over and defend even the humblest of us, if we be Christ’s.”
There are certain instances in which God allows angels to take human form and to be seen by individuals, but for the most part the angels remain invisible. In Hebrews 13:2 we are reminded, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” We know, however, about them from the many accounts of Scripture and from the very words of Jesus.
The Patriarch Jacob had a dream in which he saw God’s angels. “He dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached up to heaven; and behold, the Angels of God ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it. This was the other world. Now, let this be observed. Persons commonly speak as if the other world did not exist now, but would after death. No: it exists now, though we see it not. It is among us and around us. Jacob was shown this in his dream. Angels were all about him, though he knew it not. And what Jacob saw in his sleep, that Elisha’s servant saw as if with his eyes; and the shepherds, at the time of the Nativity, not only saw, but heard. They heard the voices of those blessed spirits who praise God day and night, and whom we, in our lower state of being, are allowed to copy and assist.”
Jesus referred to this passage when speaking to Nathanael, and then on other occasions He spoke of the angels as when He told the disciples to become like little children: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angel in heaven always looks upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Mt 18:10).
Throughout Christian history we read that the saints have thus had devotion to their angels. We see this in the Christians who prayed for St. Peter and thought it was his angel knocking at their door. St. Catherine Labouré (1806-1876) was guided by her angel to the chapel of her convent where the Virgin Mary appeared to her. St. Gemma Galagani (1878-1903) was sometimes able to see her guardian angel and she would speak to him. Countries are also given an angel by God – The Angel of Portugal appeared to Francisco, Jacinta and Lucia in 1917 before the apparitions of the Virgin Mary.
John Henry Newman considered his angel “my oldest friend” and wrote some verses for his angel:
|MY oldest friend, mine from the hour|
|When first I drew my breath;|
|My faithful friend, that shall be mine,|
|Unfailing, till my death;|
Josemaría Escrivá (1902-1975) asked his angel to fix his watch when he had not the money to take it to be repaired. Also, before speaking with anyone he would envision that person’s angel and quietly greet him.
The highest angels are called the seraphim. This word is the plural form for “seraph” which means “the burning one.” They worship before the throne of God singing “Holy, holy, holy.”
As we attend Holy Mass let us keep the angels before us and try to consciously join their songs of praise; and as we go about our affairs throughout the day let us address our guardian angel and ask him for help as we walk joyfully on the path of Christian life.
Holy Mary, Queen of the Angels, pray for us!