A Brief Reflection on the Ministry of the Angels Throughout Creation

The conclusion of the Book of Tobit on Saturday featured the Archangel Raphael revealing himself to Tobit and others and explaining his ministry to them. This post I write is not a full angelology, it is just a grateful reflection for God, his angels and his creation. Book-length treatments are necessary for a good angelology. If you are looking for a readable, and brief account of angelology I might recommend The Angels and Their Mission According to the Fathers of the Church, by Cardinal Jean Danielou.

Let’s look at a brief excerpt of Archangel Raphael and ponder gratefully the ministry of the angels. Raphael says,

I can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead. When you did not hesitate to get up and leave your dinner in order to go and bury the dead….

God commissioned me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” (Tobit 12:14-16)

This passage presents a description of how God interacts with his creation through the ministry of the angels. Notice how Raphael presented the prayers of Tobit and Sarah before God. More than this, the text implies that Raphael presented a record of the prayerfulness of the two and described Tobit’s good deeds. Thus, he stood before God more as a witness of their love and prayerfulness than as a mere conveyor of requests.

Why is this? Is God not omniscient? He is of course and therefore does not need the mediation of the angels, but He does seem to will it. It is common in both Scripture and doctrinal traditions to ascribe to the angels the work of mediation.

Angels in Scripture often speak for God and mediate His presence. At times, such as when Jacob wrestles with God, it is not clear whether it is an angel or God (Genesis 32:22-32); Abram greats three angels but calls them “Lord” (Genesis 18). At other times, it is clearly an angel that people such as Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15), Tobit (Tobit 12), and Mary (Luke 1) encounter. These angles speak for God and mediate His presence but are not God. Throughout the Book of Revelation, angels are sent forth to mediate God’s justice. In many places in Scripture, we are told by the Lord heed the voice of the angels who are sent to guard and guide us.

In the sacred Liturgy the ministry of the angels in connecting our sacrifice to the true altar in heaven is spoken of (Roman canon) and the Book of Revelation describes how the heavenly and earthly liturgy is the work of angels and men. Angels bring the prayers of the saints before God, minister at the altar of incense, and so forth.

There are numerous other passages and teachings that I could present, let it suffice to say that God, though almighty, all-powerful, and omniscient, most often chooses to mediate His presence to creation through the work of the angels.

Perhaps an example may illustrate a likely reason. The laptop computer on which I am typing is not plugged directly into the wall outlet; its delicate circuitry cannot endure the 110-120 V. alternating current; it would blow out. Instead, an adaptor between the laptop and the wall outlet mediates, reducing the voltage to 19 V. direct current. Similarly, direct encounters with God may well be impossible for us on this side of the veil unless God hides His face or mediates His presence through the angels and/or the sacraments.

For us and for all of His creation, the ministry of the angels is a great mercy of God. Doctrinal traditions emphasize the ministry of the angels in mediating all of God’s providence. The highest angels minister in God’s Heaven, other ranks of angels minster the cosmos, and still other ranks minister here on earth. Nations, cities, local churches, and individuals have presiding angels. The Book of Revelation describes angels controlling winds and earthquakes as well as executing God’s justice and authority over history and events. Angels mediate God’s providence and sustenance throughout the whole of creation.

We seldom talk or even think this way today. Let’s look at another modern example. In explaining how a large passenger airplane rises off the runway, a scientist would speak of “lift” and “thrust.” The angle of the wing creates an area of lower air pressure above the wing and higher pressure beneath. Combine this with enough thrust to overcome gravity and you have the lift required for the plane to take off. However, a theologian from the Middle Ages might simply say that “the angels lift the plane.” In a certain sense both explanations are correct. If God sustains all of creation, and if He mediates His actions through the angels, it is not incorrect to say that “the angels lift the plane,” just as they serve God in all His creation. The theologian speaks to the metaphysical while the physicist speaks to the physical/material. The physicist speaks to efficient causality while the theologian speaks to final causality.

Yet there are many today, even among believers, who scoff at ascribing so much (or anything at all) to angels. To them one must point out that physics and mechanics alone cannot fully answer the legitimate questions that arise as we watch the plane take off into the sky. Science is good at answering mechanical questions and quantifying things such as force and lift, but it is not able to answer deeper questions such as why, from what, or for what ultimate reason things exist. Why are things the way they are and not some other way? Where does the order and intelligibility of the material world come from? How is the world sustained in a steady-enough state that we can interact with it reliably and depend upon its laws and order? In fact, why is there anything at all?

There are deeper realities to things than the mere mechanics. And many of the mechanics are not even fully explained or understood. Science, despite the use of numbers and formulas, still has not pierced all the physical mysteries of the plane’s vertical rise.

Perhaps the deepest mystery at the physical level is gravity. We can quantify this force, but its presence in the physical order is mysterious and even counterintuitive. Why do objects attract one another? And how does this attractive force work? Are there invisible strings that pull us toward the earth or other large bodies? What is it about gravity that affects time, as it seems that it does? There are not definitive answers. That gravity exists and can be measured is clear, but precisely what it is and how it works exactly is not clear.

Perhaps one day we will uncover gravity’s secrets, but this still does not satisfy our legitimate metaphysical questions. Simply scoffing at or being dismissive of the ministry and existence of angels (or demons, for that matter) does not do away with our questions. The existence of order, intelligibility, and predictability presents questions that cannot be sidestepped. Who or what ordered creation so that we can discover its order and its laws? If creation can speak to our intelligence by its intelligibility, what intelligence introduced it there to be discovered? If creation moves from simplicity to complexity (in seeming violation of the usual entropy of physical things), how do we explain this?

It will be granted that simply saying “the angels do this” amounts to a kind of “God of the gaps” argument (wherein every unknown thing is simply ascribed to God), but utterly dismissing the role of the angels (and ultimately the role of God) is to fall into the opposite error of scientism, which says that everything can and must be explained as merely the result of physical and mechanical causes. This cannot explain why things exist at all, nor can it speak to metaphysical concepts that are real but nonphysical such as justice, beauty, infinite longing, or our sense of good and evil.

God interacts with his creation. It is revealed to us that He does this most often, if not exclusively, through His angels. This is not to deny that the material order has observed laws and that chains of material causalities that can be measured and observed. The theological world would remind us to reverence all the orders of creation: physical and metaphysical, material and spiritual.

Blessed be God, who created all things through His Word, his Son Jesus, who holds all creation together in Himself (Col 1:17). Blessed, too, be the angels, who mediate God’s interaction with His creation and are His ministers. Blessed also is the created world, all that is in it from the tiniest parts of atoms to the greatest galaxies. Yes, blessed be God, all His angels and saints, and all that He has ordered and sustained. Blessed are we, who by God’s gift of our intellect, can observe and understand the beauty, order, and laws of God’s creation.

May you, O Lord keep us humble, and fill us with wonder and awe. Help us remember that Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Cor 8:1). Thank you for your angels. Keep us mindful that although they are hidden from our eyes, myriad angels mediate your presence to this world and are at work all about us in your creation and unto your highest heavens. May Raphael and all the angels witness to our prayers and actions before you and may they bring your graces to us swiftly. May the angels one day lead us to paradise.

Our Guardian Angel – As Seen on TV

Blog10-2Most of us struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen to us. Why does He not intervene more often to protect us from attacks of various sorts and from events that cause sadness, setbacks, or suffering?

While mysterious, the clearest answer is that God allows suffering in order that some greater blessing may occur. To some degree I have found this to be so in my own life; some of my greatest blessings required that a door slam shut or that I endure some suffering. For example, if my college sweetheart had not dumped me, it is likely that I would not now have the very great blessing of being a priest. Had I received some of my preferred assignments in my early years as a priest I would not have been enriched by the assignments I did have. Those assignments have drawn me out and helped me to grow far more than the cozy, familiar placements I desired would have. Had I not entered into the crucible of depression and anxiety in my 30s I would not have learned to trust God as much as I do and would not have learned important lessons about myself and about life.

So despite that fact that we understandably fear and dislike suffering, for reasons of His own (reasons He knows best) God does allow some degree of it in our lives.

Yet I wonder if we really consider often enough the countless times that God does step in to prevent disasters in our lives. We tend to focus on the negative things in life and overlook an enormous number of often-hidden blessings: every beat of our heart, the proper function of every cell in our body, and all the perfect balances that exist in nature and the cosmos in order to sustain us.

Just consider the simple act of walking and all the possible missteps we might make but do not. Think of all the foolish risks we have taken in our life, especially when we were young, that did not end in disaster. Think of all the poor choices we made and yet escaped the worst possible outcomes.

Yes, we wonder why we and others suffer, and why God allows it.  But do we ever wonder why we don’t suffer? Do we ever think about why and how we have escaped enduring the consequences of some awfully foolish things we have done? In typical human fashion, we minimize our many, many blessings, and magnify and resent our sufferings.

I have a favorite expression, one I’ve adopted over the years, that I use in response to people who ask me how I’m doing: “I’m pretty well-blessed for a sinner.”  I’ve heard others put the same sentiment this way: “I am more blessed than I deserve.”  Yes, we are all well-blessed indeed!

I thought of all that as I watched the commercial below (it aired during the Super Bowl). And while it speaks of the watchfulness of a father, it also makes me think of my guardian angel, who has surely preserved me from many disasters.

As you watch the commercial, don’t forget to thank God for the many times He has rescued you, through the interventions of your guardian angel. Thank Him, too, for His hidden blessings—blessings that, though you know nothing of them, are bestowed by Him all the same. And think, finally, of the wonderful mercy He has often shown in protecting you from the worst of your foolishness.

Of Our Guardian Angels and the Care of the Father – As Seen in a Commercial

102414With Father’s Day approaching, the commercial below seems very appropriate. God the Father is surely the origin of all fatherhood here on Earth.

And yet most of us struggle with the fact that God allows bad things to happen. Why does he not intervene more often to protect us from attacks of various sorts and from events that cause sadness, setbacks, or suffering?

While the answer is mysterious, the clearest response is that God allows suffering in order that some greater blessing may occur. To some degree I have found this to be so in my life. Some of my greatest blessings required that a door slam shut or that I endure some suffering. Had my college sweetheart not dumped me, it is not likely that I would be priest today. Had I gotten some of my preferred assignments during my early years as a priest, I would not have been enriched by the assignments I did have. Those assignments helped draw me out and grow me far more than the cozy, familiar places I had wanted. Had I not entered into the crucible of depression and anxiety in my 30s, I would not have learned to trust God as much as I do, and I would have missed learning important lessons about myself and about life.

So despite that fact that we (understandably) fear suffering, for reasons of His own (reasons He knows best), God does allow some degree of it in our lives.

Yet I wonder if we really consider the countless times God did step in to prevent disasters in our life. We tend to focus on the negative things, overlooking an enormous number of often-hidden blessings: every beat of our heart, every proper function of every cell in our body, and all the perfect balances that exist in nature and the cosmos in order to sustain us.

Just consider the simple act of walking and all the missteps we might make each time but do not. Think of all the foolish risks we have taken in our life, especially when we were young, that did not end in catastrophe but surely could have. Think of all the poor choices we have made and yet escaped the worst possible consequences.

Yes, we sometimes wonder why we and others suffer and why God allows it. But do we ever wonder why we don’t suffer? Do we ever think about why and how we have escaped the consequences of some foolish things we have done? In typical human fashion, we minimize our many, many blessings and magnify and resent our sufferings.

One of the expressions I have picked up over the years, and that I use in response to people who ask me how I am doing, is this: “I’m pretty well blessed for a sinner.” I have heard others say, “I am more blessed than I deserve to be.” Yes, pretty well blessed indeed!

I thought of all these things as I watched the commercial below (it aired during the Super Bowl). And while it speaks of the watchfulness of a father, it also makes me think of my guardian angel, who has surely protected me from many disasters.

As you watch the commercial, don’t forget to thank God for the many hidden rescues He has executed for you through your guardian angel. Thank Him, too, for the hidden blessings—blessings you know nothing of—that He bestowed upon you anyway. And finally, think of the wonderful mercy He has often shown in protecting you from the worst of your foolishness.

Come Lord Jesus! A Meditation on the Stunning Glory of Being Gathered to Christ on the Last Day

120914In Advent, as we continue to meditate on the Parousia (the magnificent Second Coming of the Lord), we do well to allow our imaginations to be engaged in contemplating the glory that awaits those who are faithful, to meditate on the joy and ecstasy of the culmination of all things!

Though we have soberly meditated on the need to be ready and on the great danger that many who are not serious may be lost, for those who ARE ready, what glories await! The great and terrible day of the Lord will indeed be great for those who have allowed the Lord to prepare them.

I was stirred this past month in reading a magnificent book by Cardinal Jean Danielou on Angelology (usually pronounced an-GELL-o-gee), the study of angels. The book is entitled The Angels and their Mission: According to the Fathers of the Church. It is must reading and very accessible—only 114 pages—but packed full of stirring and edifying accounts of the wonderful works of the angels, according to Scripture and the Fathers of the Church.

The final chapters on the eschaton (the last things) and the Parousia (the Second Coming) are particularly magnificent. I would like to distill them here, adding some material and reworking it just a bit. However, the research is that of Jean Cardinal Danielou. I hope you will be stirred with as much joy and zeal as I was in reading and preparing this material. And thus we proceed:

Perhaps as a beginning point, we may wonder what happens to the ministry of our Guardian Angel when we die. Even if our souls are in heaven, our bodies are still awaiting the resurrection. Ancient Christian tradition maintains that during this time the angels keep watch over the tombs of the saints. In the Jewish apocalyptic book The Assumption of Moses, it is said that Joshua saw Moses’ soul rising to Heaven with the angels (40:1–7). However, the Epistle of Jude also says that the Archangel Michael fiercely disputed with the devil about the body of Moses (cf Jude 1:9). Stories such as these, combined with the ancient Christian practice of frequently depicting angels in cemetery art and funeral monuments, indicate a role for the angels in guarding the bodily remains of the elect, even those sadly scattered about or buried in the depths of the sea.

Scripture is replete with descriptions of the role of angels in the great Second Coming of the Lord. In the Gospel of Matthew there is a text that may refer to 70 AD, but surely also describes the end of time:

Then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other (Matt 24:30-31).

The first epistle to the Thessalonians also says,

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise … (1 Thess 4:16).

St Cyril goes on to describe the extraordinary magnificence that the presence of the immense multitude of angels gives to the final judgment. He considers how the great depth and breadth of the spiritual world has been invisible until now, except to the eyes of faith. But suddenly it is made manifest! He asks us to try to imagine the immense multitude of angels by considering the vast numbers of human beings who ever existed, from the time of Adam to the present day, now standing before the Lord Jesus. And then he asks us to imagine that the angels are vastly more numerous than we are. For they are the 99 sheep whereas humanity is but the one sheep! Such vast numbers can only be spoken of as myriads and myriads! Or as Daniel poetically says,

Thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days took his throne. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head like pure wool; His throne was flames of fire,  with wheels of burning fire. A river of fire surged forth,  flowing from where he sat;  Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him,  and myriads upon myriads stood before him (Dan 7:9-10).

Such a vision and such multitudes can hardly be imagined.

Of course the first step in assembling this Great Judgement is to wake the dead. And the angels are surely part of this: 

The Second Sibylline Book, a Christian work, describes the archangels shattering the gates of death, raising up even the bodies of those who had been drowned in the sea or whom savage beasts had devoured (Sib, 2:214–235).

St. Ephrem speaks of the angels as waking the dead, and says,

Then the Lord will appear in the heavens like lightning with an unspeakable glory. The Angels and the Archangels will go on before his glory like flames of fire, like a mighty torrent. The Cherubim will turn their faces and the Seraphim will fly ahead crying out in fear: “Arise, you who sleep. Behold the bridegroom is coming!” Then the tombs will be opened and in the flash of an eye all the people will rise and behold the beauty of the Bridegroom.

St. Paul says that our bodies will rise, truly our bodies, but gloriously transformed:

He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself (Phil 3:21).

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power (1 Cor 15:42).

Then of course Comes the Judgment by Christ and the here too the angels execute that Judgement:

Matthew 13 describes the angels as separating the wicked from the just:

The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mat 14:41-43).

And Matthew 25 describes the angels as with Christ when He takes His judgment seat:

When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31-32)

St Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of the angels leading the sinners away, body and soul, “in the full sight of the armies of heaven and they will be unable to escape.” But the angels are also uniting the just.

So, on the one hand, Matthew 13 describes the angels leading evildoers away:

The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all who caused others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace (Mat 13:41-42).

On the other hand, St Ephrem also goes on to describe the angels leading the elect to paradise:

Then the angels will come together from all sides and take up the holy and faithful people into the glory of the clouds above, to their meeting place with Christ.

Origen also speaks of the angels escorting the blessed to paradise:

When … we have begun to enter the holy place and pass on to the promised land, those who are really holy and whose place is the Holy of Holies will make their way, supported by the angels and unto the tabernacle of God … They will be carried on [the angels’] shoulders and raised up by their hands.

St Paul seems to speak to the same glory when he writes to the Thessalonians,

The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

The Fathers of the Church then consider and imagine the joy (and relief) of the angels whose long work is now done. Of this final culmination, Scripture says,

The last enemy to be destroyed is death. “For God has put all things in subjection under [Jesus’] feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection under him,” it is plain that he [the Father] is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one (1 Cor 15:26-28).

And thus, having gone forth to execute judgment, Jesus now returns to His Father’s right, in the Holy Of Holies. He ascends there, now with all the members of His body (body and soul) joined to Him. He ascends to the throne as Unus Christus, amans seipsum (one Christ, loving Himself). And though co-equal to His Father in glory and majesty, He is delighted to hand over the Kingdom of His Body, the Church, to His Father, who is, as Father, the Principium Deitatis.

And at this ascension, the Fathers ponder that the angels will make the same declaration, the heavens echoing with their cry:

 Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory?  The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors!  that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory?  The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! (Psalm 24: 7-10)

And there shall then come to pass the transformation of all creation and the fulfillment of its longing for its share in the glorious freedom of the Children of God, as prophesied through St. Paul:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it [because of our sins]. But the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies … (Rom 8:19-25).

And now it comes! Heaven and earth are united and creation receives its original glory and more besides, for the heavenly realities are now joined to the earth, beautifully restored and raised. Again, as Scripture says,

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21:1-5).

Cardinal Danielou beautifully concludes,

On that day, the joy of the friends of the Bridegroom, [the angels] will be complete. They have led to paradise the souls of the just who are entrusted to them. They have kept watch over their mortal remains. But [for now] they still await the day in which the Bridegroom will come to look for his Bride, when her beauty is finally perfect, in order to lead her into the House of his Father for the eternal wedding feast (p. 114).

Of this magnificent beauty, St. Methodius says to us,

Oh dearly beloved, [the angels]  burn to see the day of your marriage, all the angels Christ has called from heaven. They will come, O Lord, O Word, and they will carry with them mighty gifts, in their spotless robes.

Thus we shall always be with the Lord (1 Thess 4:17).

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” … He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.  (Rev 22:17; 20-21).

Some Basic Facts and Clarifications about the Angels

100114Jesus affirms the truth that we have guardian angels: 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 (Mat 18:10). On the Feast of the Guardian Angels, we consider the beautiful truth that God assigns each of us an angel to have special care for us; it is a sign of His very specific love for each of us as an individual. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has much to say on angels. Here are just a few verses:

The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels … In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God … From infancy to 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.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God (CCC #s 334-336 selectae).

All this said, it is important to recall that to some extent we have sentimentalized the role of the angels in current times, and have drifted from the biblical testimony regarding them. I would like to propose a few corrective ideas to balance the sentimental notions we may have. I do not say that sentiment is wrong, just that it needs to be balanced by the deep respect we ought to have for the angels.

1. Angels have no bodies – They are not human and never have been human. Human beings never become angels or “earn wings.” Angels are persons, but persons of pure spirit. Hence they have no designation as either male or female. Since we have to envision them somehow, though, it is not wrong that we portray them with masculine or feminine qualities. But it is important to remember that they transcend any such distinction.

2. Angels are vast in number – The prophet Daniel was granted a vision of Heaven and said of God, gloriously enthroned,  A stream of fire issued and came forth from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him (Dan 7:10). A hundred million angels! Of course these were only the angels Daniel could see, and it is really just another way of saying that their number is vast, beyond counting.

3. Angels are ranked hierarchically – The term “choir” of angels denotes not a musical group, but rather a rank. Tradition gleans, from both Scripture and custom, nine ranks (or choirs) of angels in three groups of three ranks each: Seraphim, cherubim, and thrones remain closest to God and serve primarily in Heaven itself (and among them the seraphim are closest to God’s throne (Is 6:1-7)). Dominions, virtues, and powers exert various governing powers; they organize the angels and the cosmos (to include nature) and they hold the power of the evil one in check. And finally principalities, archangels, and angels are those most directly involved with humanity; they also act as intermediaries between us, God, and Heaven.

4. Biblically, angels are not the rather fluffy, charming creatures that modern portraits often depict – In the Bible, angels are depicted as awesome and powerful agents of God. Many times the appearance of an angel struck fear in the one who saw him (cf  Judg 6:22; Lk 1:11; Lk 1:29; Lk 2:9; Acts 10:3; Rev. 22:8).

  • Angels are often described in the Bible in warlike terms: they are called a host (the biblical word for army), they wage war on behalf of God and His people (e.g. Ex 14:19; Ex 33:2; Nm 22:23;  Ps 35:5; Is 37:36; Rev 12:7).
  • While they are said to have wings (e.g. Ex 25:20; 1 Kings 6:24;  inter al), recall that they do not have physical bodies so the wings are an image or symbol of their swiftness.
  • They are also mentioned at times as being like fire (Ex. 3:2; Rev 10:1).
  • And what about those cute little “cherubs” we have in our art, those cute, baby-faced angels with wings and no body? Well, read about the real cherubim in Ezekiel 10. They are fearsome, awesome creatures, powerful and swift servants of God and more than capable of putting God’s enemies to flight.
  • And this is my main point: angels are not the sentimental, syrupy, cute creatures we have often recast them to be. They are awesome, wonderful, powerful servants of God. They are His messengers and they manifest His glory. They bear forth the power and majesty of God and are to be respected immensely. They are surely also our helpers and, by God’s command, act on our behalf.

5. What then is our proper reaction to the great gift of the angels and in particular to our guardian angel? Sentimental thought may have its place, but what God especially commands of us toward our angel is obedience. Read what God said in the Book of Exodus:

Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him (Ex 23:21).

So our fundamental task is to hear and heed the voice of our angel. How, you might ask do we hear the voice of our guardian angel? I would suggest to you that we most clearly hear the voice of our angel in our conscience. Deep down, we hear God’s voice; we know what is true and what is false. In terms of basic right and wrong, we know what we are doing. I am convinced that our conscience interacts with our guardian angel. Now be careful: we like to try to rationalize what we do, to explain away our bad behavior, to make excuses. But in the end, deep down inside, we know whether what we are doing is right or wrong. I am sure it is our angel who testifies to the truth and informs our conscience.

God’s command is clear: listen to and heed this voice. Respect this angel whom God has given to you, not so much with sentimental odes, but with sober obedience.

6. Finally, and perhaps controversially, as I have noted on this blog before, though we often think of angels in “choirs” singing, there is no scriptural verse that I have ever read that actually describes them as singing. Even in the classic Christmas scene in which we depict angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest,” the text actually says that they SAY it, not that they sing it (cf Luke 2:14, in which the verb used is λεγόντων (legouton) = saying).  If you can find a Scripture text that describes the angels as singing, please share it. But I’ve looked for years and can’t find a single one. It’s not a big point, and I am aware that some get almost annoyed by my mentioning this, since it seems almost instinctive to us that angels DO sing! My point here is simply to report the silence (not denial) of Scripture on this common notion. Perhaps singing is a special gift given only to the human person.

A Guardian Angel Like You’ve Never Seen! As seen on T.V.

Most of us have very sentimental notions about angels in general, and especially our Guardian Angels. And yet the Bible depicts then as powerful, fierce, and almost warlike. They are holy and good, but their glory overwhelms. In Scripture, almost any time someone encounters an angel, the person becomes filled with fear and very disconcerted.

Further, while many of us think of the angels as here more to help us, God tells us to obey them.

[The Lord God says], See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. (Exodus 23:20-22).

So angels are to be revered and respected. They are not the prancing, doll-like figures we often imagine.

I do not write this to dash sentimental notions, only to add balance. Our angels love and serve us, but they do this with a divine authority that we ought not to trivialize.

Humorously, I thought of all this when I ran across this old commercial of linebacker Terry Tate who is brought into a business to “motivate” the workers to follow their better natures. Please take this in the humor I intend it. I am not saying that angels act in this manner. But what makes me laugh most is that I have often wondered if my own angel doesn’t sometimes need tactics like this in order to shape me up!

Enjoy the commercial, and remember your Guardian Angel and obey him!

Angels are Awesome. But Please, Let’s Have a More Biblical Understanding of the Them.

Scripture consistently affirms the existence of the Angels. Today is the feast of the Archangels. We know of three of them and their names mean something: Michael (Who is Like God?!), Gabriel (God is Strong) and Raphael (God Heals).

 The Catechism of the Catholic Church has much to say on angels. Here are just a few verses:

The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels….In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God….From infancy to 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.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC #s 334-336 selectae)

All this said, I would like to propose to you that, to some extent we have tended in modern times to sentimentalize the role of the angels in our lives and to drift from the Biblical data regarding them. I would like to propose a few corrective ideas to balance the sentimental notions we may have. I do not say that sentiment is wrong, but it needs to be balanced by deep respect for the angels.

  1. Angels have no bodies. They are not human and never have been human. Human beings never become angels or “earn wings.” Angels are persons, but persons of pure spirit. Hence they have no gender. Now we have to envision them somehow, so it is not wrong that we portray them with masculine or feminine qualities but it is important to remember that they transcend any such distinction.
  2. Biblically, angels are not the rather fluffy and charming creatures that modern portraits often depict. In the Bible angels are depicted as awesome and powerful agents of God. Many times the appearance of an angel struck fear in the one who saw them (cf Judg 6:22; Lk 1:11; Lk 1:29; Lk 2:9; Acts 10:3; Rev. 22:8). Angels are often described in the Bible in warlike terms: they are call a host (the biblical word for army), they wage war on God’s behalf and that of his people (e.g. Ex 14:19; Ex 33:2; Nm 22:23; Ps 35:5; Is 37:36; Rev 12:7). While they are said to have wings (e.g. Ex 25:20; 1 Kings 6:24; inter al) recall that they do not have physical bodies so the wings are an image of their swiftness. They are also mentioned at times as being like fire (Ex. 3:2; Rev 10:1). And as for those cute little “cherubs” we have in our art, those cute baby-faced angels with wings and no body? Well read about the real Cherubim in Ezekiel 10. They are fearsome, awesome creatures, powerful and swift servants of God and more than capable of putting God’s enemies to flight. And this is my main point, angels are not the sentimetal syruppy and cute creatures we have often recast them to be. They are awesome, wonderful, and powerful servants of God. They are his messengers and they manifest God’s glory. They bear forth the power and majesty of God are immensely to be respected. They are surely also our helpers and, by God’s command act on our behalf.
  3. What then is our proper reaction to the great gift of the angels? Sentimental thought may have its place but what God especially commands of us toward our angel is obedience. Read what God said in the Book of Exodus: Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him. (Ex 23:21) So our fundamental task is to hear and heed the voice of our angel. How, you might ask do we hear the voice of our Guardian Angel? I would suggest to you that we most hear the voice of our angel in our conscience. Deep down, we hear God’s voice, we know what is true and what is false. In terms of basic right and wrong, we know what we are doing. I am convinced that our conscience interacts with our Guardian Angel. Now be careful, we like to try and rationalize what we do, explain away bad behavior, make excuses. But in the end, deep down inside, we know what we are doing and whether or not it is wrong. I am sure it is our angel who testifies to the truth in us and informs our conscience. God’s command is clear: listen to and heed this voice. Respect this angel God has given you not so much with sentimental odes, but with sober obedience.
  4. Finally, an on a less important note, we often think of angels in choirs singing. But there is no Scriptural verse that I have ever read that describes them as singing. Even in the classic Christmas scene where we depict them as singing “Glory to God in the Highest,” the text says that they SAY it not sing it (cf. Luke 2:14). If you can find a Scripture text that shows the angels singing please share it, but I’ve looked for years and can’t find it. Not a big point except to say that perhaps singing is a special gift given to the human person.

Angels Don’t Sing

Angels Don’t Sing! Or at least that is my proposition. When I say this to people they usually respond. “Of course angels sing, you are just plain wrong.” I would like to challenge you to find that I am wrong. Perhaps I am. But why do I say that angels don’t sing? A number of reasons:

1. There is no Scriptural verse that I have ever read that describes them as singing. Even in the classic Christmas scene where we depict them as singing “Glory to God in the Highest,” the text says that they SAY the song  not that they sing it (cf. Luke 2:13).  If you can find a Scripture text that shows the angels singing please share it, but I’ve looked for years and can’t find it. Here too I state this humbly and may be wrong. If so you will help me.

2.  The catechism never says that angels sing.

3. The liturgy of the Church does not seem to indicate that angels sing. Perhaps the closest that we come are the prefaces. There is reference to the “song of the angels” (the Holy, Holy, Holy) but they are said to “say”  this song. The most common ways of describing what they do regarding the heavenly hymn and what we join in with are phrases such as: Sine fine dicentes (saying, without end), Clamantes (shouting), in gaudio confitentes (declaring  in joy), Concinunt – This is about as close as the Latin gets to saying they sing. It can be translated “they sing”  but can also be translated “they agree in saying”  or “they say together.” There is also a phrase that comes up in the prefaces which says, cumque omni militia caelestis exercitus hymnum gloriae tuae canimus (and with all the heavenly hosts we sing the hymn of your glory). But the we who sing is us. That the angels are referred to as singing is not clear. It may well be a gloss on Psalm 137:1  In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises Lord.

4. I cannot say I have comprehensive knowledge of the Fathers of the Church so here I cannot definitively declare they never indicate that angels sing. Perhaps you can assist in this regard?

5. Though there are references to nine “choirs” of angels, the word choir here means “order” or “group.”

6. It would also seem that, having no bodies, they cannot sing. For to sing is to cause the vocal cords to vibrate, causing the air to vibrate as well. While it is true that angels are said to talk, and do other things such as blow trumpets, it is unclear if this is meant literally or analogously. It is possible that humans hearing  or seeing angels were enabled to do this through a temporary grace which was not hearing or seeing in the conventual sense as though the angels had actual physical bodies. (However, St. Thomas effectively argues that angels do sometimes assume bodies, (Pars Prima, 51.1)). Even if this is the case, they are still never said to sing.

So here is my proposition, “Angels don’t sing.”  I will further state that singing is a particular glory of the human person. The capacity is unique to us, a very special gift. In the heavenly liturgy I propose to you that it is we who will sing, and not the angels.

This is only a proposition!  I have thought about it for years. I do not declare it with pride as though I am certain I am right. But for the reasons stated I want to propose this for your consideration. How say you?