(A blessed Sunday to all our readers, which would have been the feast of the Archangels – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael – or Michaelmas in the usus antiquior – we are publishing this piece from a writer, John Tuttle, new to these pages. As well, we are approaching the memorial of the seven billion or so Guardian Angels on October 2nd. So, please do enjoy. Editor)
Countless exemplars of faith in God have come and gone through the ages. They stand as reminders to how God can transform even the coldest of hearts. But these men and women who come and go are mortals – like us. The human intellect quickly forgets the piety, let alone the very presence, of the angelic saints, those spirits who never perish and live to serve the Creator of the cosmos.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen provided one reason as to why the modern world has dismissed the importance of the angels. He observes that our secular culture offers a dim view on the subject of the spiritual world, saying that apart from angelic ornaments in use at Yuletide, the spiritual beings are thrown into the same category as the creatures of ancient mythology. Sheen further states the world of today expels the notion of angels because it dwells in (and dwells on) the material universe, deeming the spiritual existence as a thing of juvenile fantasy. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Another reason we might lapse into a thought process which diminishes God’s angels to the mere background of salvation history is that we find their existence too hard to envision. The angels, being vastly different from our own human form, are hard to make a mental picture of. Additionally, in Scripture, the vast majority of prophecy and action (that we read of) is carried out either by God or by faithful mortals.
While angels are seen in both the New and the Old Testament, they are much rarer than human figures such as Moses, Jonah, Elijah, John the Baptist, and so forth. Inevitably, salvation was brought about through Jesus Christ, God the Son who became man so as to communicate on one common level with the human race. Ultimately, one finds himself being able to relate more so to the life of Christ than to the mission of an angel.
However, the angelic hosts must not be flippantly disregarded in relation to their significance in God’s divine plan as well as our own personal lives. God the Son, while never losing His supernatural essence, took on a lowly human nature. The angels remain in their supernatural form and thus represent the heavenly realities while they serve God in heaven and on earth.
The angels’ importance in the story of salvation cannot be overlooked, no matter how infrequent their documented appearances may be. A few prime instances of this can be clearly defined in the New Testament including the angel appearing to Mary during the Annunciation or the angel instructing St. Joseph on how to best serve and protect the Christ Child. If those angels had not acted as they had, the story of salvation would not have turned out as it did.
Beyond their interaction with humanity in the Bible, angels have been key components and fond companions in the lives of many of the Church’s earthly saints. Some stories of St. Isidore, a Spanish farmer of the 12th century, say that angels assisted him in his field labor. According to tradition, St. Francis de Sales, the patron of writers, was frequently given the ability to see the Lord’s angels as they carried out His works on earth. More modern saints even, like St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, have had beloved encounters with members of God’s heavenly host, especially their own guardian angels. As a revered and reverent confessor, Pio also received messages from other people’s guardian angels.
It is for each of the faithful to be aware that they have at their side a spiritual guardian assigned to them by God. Thus, this is a companionship between human being and angel. Unfortunately, this is a relationship which too often gets neglected – at least on our part.
Servant of God Fr. John A. Hardon wrote, “We read in the lives of the saints how friendly some of them were in their prayerful communication with the angels. Why not? Each one of us has a constant, daily companion at our side, whose responsibility is not only to guard us from evil, but to guide us in the ways of God. He is often talking to us if only we are ready to hear. And a large part of our prayer with the angels, especially our own guardian spirit, should be humbly listening to what he has to say” (Theology of Prayer 20).
This is how it ought to be in our relation to all nine choirs of God’s angels, including the triad archangels, whose feast we celebrate on September 29. Among the archangels, we find some of the highest of heavenly heroes, superior exemplars of faith and service, and amazing patrons. Of course, St. Michael, guard against the wickedness and snares of the devil, falls into this category. St. Michael acts as patron of policemen, and he was one of the saints who gave supernatural direction to St. Joan of Arc in battle. St. Gabriel is patron of communications workers. And St. Raphael is known as patron of a whole slew of different individuals including travelers, the blind, physicians, and those seeking a marital partner.
All of these archangels have been assigned as patrons of specific endeavors due to their involvement in human affairs. Like the mortal saints we have devotion to, the angels and archangels – being so close to God – have great influence in aiding us in our earthly pilgrimage. They are messengers, defenders, and guides for God’s people.
Besides personal prayer in communion with the angels, there are numerous devotions which have been passed down which focus on the angels, invoking them for their assistance and support. One such devotion is the powerful prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, which is often recited following the end of Mass. There is the litany to one’s guardian angel (for personal use) as well as the popular rhyming prayer that calls upon the guardian angel to enlighten and to guide. There is even the Chaplet of St. Michael, a splendid devotion which addresses and asks aid from all of the nine choirs of angels, calling them each by name. And there are other devotions as well. The point of such prayers is to increase humanity’s devotion toward the Lord’s angelic hosts.
The Catholic saints and scholars reiterate the need for the individual to cultivate a relationship with his or her guardian angel and with all God’s spiritual servants. They offer guidance by stirring our soul, assisting us to better discern the Will of God. They offer their protection against spiritual and physical dangers. God has placed them in their specific stations for our benefit, and it would behoove us to grow in a relationship with them as they endeavor to enrich the love and goodness in our lives.
Hardon, John A. Theology of Prayer. The Daughters of St. Paul, 1979.