The Feast of the Guardian Angels, celebrated on Tuesday, seems an appropriate time to point out that the common practice of naming one’s guardian angel should be avoided.
A document authored by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2001 states, “The practice of assigning names to the holy angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, whose names are contained in Holy Scripture” (Directory on Popular Piety in the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines, # 127).
While the Congregation does not offer reasons for discouraging the practice, I would like to offer two of my own.
First, there is the understanding of what a name is. For most of us in the modern Western world, a name is simply a sound by which we are addressed. In the ancient biblical world, and even in many places today, a name has a far deeper meaning; it describes something of the essence of the person. This helps to explain the ancient Jewish practice of naming an infant on the eighth day. The delay gave the parents some time to observe the baby’s nature before deciding on a name. Most biblical names are deeply meaningful and descriptive. It is presumptuous to think that we can know enough of the essence of a particular angel that we can assign a name. Hence, naming our guardian angel seems inappropriate.
Second, assigning a name indicates some superiority over the one named. Parents rightly name their children because they have superiority over them. Angels, however, are superior to us. Even though we often speak of angels as serving us, they do this on account of their superior power and to act as our guardians. Thus, God commands us to heed the voice of our guardian angel (cf Ex 23:20-21).
Whenever I mention this admonition to refrain from naming guardian angels, it seems to stir up controversy. Nevertheless, naming an angel seems problematic and is to be discouraged. As for the name being revealed to you, let me respectfully offer that this is not likely the case. It seems unlikely that an angel or the Holy Spirit would act contrary to the directive of the Church herself, graced to speak for Christ. Further, I would be willing to bet that we could not even pronounce the true names of our angels because their names are mysterious!
Consider, too, the silence in the following Scripture passage, when Jacob asked the name of the angel who wrestled with him: Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him (Gen 32:29).
In other words, if you ask the name of your angel the likely response is a rebuke followed by silence. There are some things we need not know.
Interestingly enough, God entrusts us with His name and some of His titles. Enjoy this old classic, but notice that the actual name of God, יְהֹוָה, is not uttered.