by Pat Gohn
There are angels among us. Yet too often, we ignore their existence. Meanwhile the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has much to say about these remarkable spiritual creatures. The Bible uses the word angel to refer to these immortal beings. They are pure spirit, yet they also possess intelligence and a will. Their perfection and splendor surpass all other creatures. St. Augustine taught, “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’” (CCC, 329).
THE WORK OF ANGELS IN GOD’S PLAN
Angels are servants of God — and his messengers. A familiar example is the angel Gabriel meeting the Blessed Virgin Mary and announcing the good news that she has been chosen to bear the Son of God (see Luke 1). The Angelus prayer is derived from that scene. The proof of the existence and work of angels is all over Scripture. A few have famous names we might recognize due to their important roles: Michael, Raphael, and the aforementioned Gabriel.
[The angels] closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham’s hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples. Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself. (CCC, 332)
Christ is the center of the angelic world. Scripture tells us they are his angels. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31). An angel choir sang at Christ’s birth (see Luke 2:9–14). They protected his life through infancy when threatened by Herod (see Matthew 2:13–14). They ministered to him in the desert prior to his public ministry (see Matthew 4:11) and strengthened him in the Garden of Gethsemane as he prepared to die (see Luke 22:43). Someday angels will announce Christ’s second coming, and they will once again be attending Jesus Christ in his full glory, as they do in heaven (see Matthew 25:31).
THE MISSION OF ANGELS IN OUR LIVES
The Catechism states that “the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels” (CCC, 334). This is both personal and corporate. Let’s take the personal angle first. Drawing on Scripture, the Church has long taught the existence of guardian angels who personally attend to us. Jesus said: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Matthew 18:10; see also Psalm 34:7, Luke 16:22, and Psalm 91:11). Consider these words of Jesus again: “Their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Whatever I am doing at this very moment, my guardian angel, who is with me, is beholding the glory of God.
The attention of our guardian angel is supernatural, and it takes place simultaneously on earth and in heaven. And while our angels are taking in both views, what are they doing? Our angels are interceding for us. Let’s reflect a bit more: Imagine we could grow in grace enough to see our lives from our guardian angel’s vantage point. What if we could focus our spiritual vision to capture how our angel demonstrates God’s nearness to us? Would we change our perspectives? Habits? Time management? Fill-in-the-blank?
Our guardian angels reaffirm the good news that God loves us. And because he loves us, he brings his presence into the world, not only through his Son, Jesus Christ, but also through his heavenly messengers, the angels — that one day we might be joined with him. On that day, we will behold those angels who mysteriously cared for us in this world.
Finally, the Catechism reminds us of the presence of angels worshipping alongside of us at Mass, assisting the Church at large.
In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance (in the funeral liturgy’s In Paradisum deducant te angeli … [“May the angels lead you into Paradise …”]). (CCC, 335)
The Church recognizes that angels are present in the glory of God at Mass. Lastly, there is special mention of the special role of angels at the end of life, as mentioned in the Mass of Christian Burial.
From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” [St. Basil]. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC, 336)
God gave our angels an assignment to carry out until the day you and I make it home to heaven.