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.

63 Replies to “Some Basic Facts and Clarifications about the Angels”

  1. Rev 5 vs1-9. Regarding angels singing:

    1 I saw a scroll* in the right hand of the one who sat on the throne. It had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals.
    2 Then I saw a mighty angel who proclaimed in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”
    3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to examine it.
    4 I shed many tears because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to examine it.
    5 One of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David,* has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.”

    6 Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders, a Lamb* that seemed to have been slain. He had seven horns and seven eyes; these are the [seven] spirits of God sent out into the whole world.c
    7 He came and received the scroll from the right hand of the one who sat on the throne.
    8 When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.
    9 They sang a new song, saying:
    “Worthy are you to receive the scroll
    and to break open its seals,
    for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God
    those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.

    1. The 24 “Elders” which Revelation refers to (as you’ve cited) are not ANGELS but rather they are Saints…human.

  2. @ Joyce: At best your citation here is an ambiguous reference. We need not give exegetes the last word, but most agree that the four living creatures are allegories for creation, not angels per se. But even if you want to designate them them angels proper, you will note that the text says that they “SAY” the hymn, not that they sing it. And even where sit says they “sang” a new canticle, the Greek lexicon says of the word adousin (sung)that: between the spoken word and song the distinction is fluid. As “to sing,” ᾄδειν approximates to ὑμνῆσαι, ψάλλειν and αἰνεῖν. Indeed, it can be used interchangeably with these terms (Kittel, G., Bromiley, G. W., & Friedrich, G. (Eds.). (1964). Theological dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

    Thus the verse you cite is riddled with ambiguities and it ultimately describes their action as “saying” (legontes) the song, not singing it.

    SO, at the end of the day we are still looking for the verb “sing” to be clearly associated with the subject “angel(s)” Which it is not in this verse.

    By the way, I have been advancing this argument for five years now, and no one has submitted a verse that clearly shows angels singing, though many have tried. The closest verse is a verse of Job wherein the stars (sometimes a symbol of the angels) are said to sing. But it is not clear that stars absolutely mean angels in that text. So it is not a certain refutation.

    SO the beat goes on. Not a big deal. I hope angels DO sing (and frankly think they do), but I can’t find a bible verse that clearly says they do. Even the liturgy of the Church speaks of the angels as SAYING (dicentes) Holy, Holy, Holy…

    So much fun! Maybe this will be the year that we find the definitive text that affirms the singing of the angels!

    1. We’re not Protestants so not everything need be in the Bible. Do any saintly visions include reference to singing Angels? I imagine they sang when Mary was assumed and crowned but I wasn’t invited to that party. Can you imagine the Angels not welcoming their new Queen in song? I have to believe they sing.

      1. I don’t particularly appreciate your rebuke here. I am not a Protestant and have stated many times here that we are not sola scriptura, I don’t think I need to be schooled by you on this. My point and question still stands. While my capacity to scan every Church document is less developed, I am not aware of any definitive document that teaches they sing. Further, as I have noted in other answers here, the Liturgy of the Church in her prefaces, speaks of the angels as saying (dicens) Holy, Holy, Holy and references us as singing and this is largely out of respect for the scriptural tradition. I think angels do sing (at least in sone extended sense of that word) but it is fascinating silence of scripture on an aspect that we widely attribute them and it is worth pointing that out. I am not a protestant in doing this, and frankly most Protestants probably think the angels sing. And as for you David, you seem condescending in your remark and this is both unnecessary and unappreciated.

        1. I apologize. I intended no “rebuke”. I meant this to be taken very lightly : truly.

          1. Looking over my comment again I realize that problem was that I don’t take the question of angelic song very seriously, while clearly you do enough to rigorously examine scriptural roots. So I see how the comment can be read as disrespectful. I did not intend that at all. I’m mystified why you feel the need to pursue the question and was trying (failing) to make light of it. This comment is likely not helping much either, may be I shouldn’t bother. Just know I meant no offense.

          2. Thanks, I am not all that serious about it either. It is just an interesting side bar discussion wherein one of the things we most associate with angels is not mentioned in Scripture, and thus it is interesting (not important) as to where this notion arose.

  3. Some people give names to their guardian angels, but everyone ought to know that the Church explicitly discourages this in the “Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy”:

    “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.”

  4. Most interesting, as usual. Thanks. Might you say a few words about communicating with angels? Can angels read our minds? If so, under what conditions? Do they talk back? And so on. I have my hunches, but would love to have your thoughts. Best, edp.

    1. As for angels reading our thoughts, I personally think not. In the field of demonology a similar question exists, and most demonologists conclude that demons, while very intuitive and good observers, cannot actually read our minds. I presume the same basic thing about the angels too. However, they might have the additional advantage that God reveals to them our thoughts on some or all occasions. But all this is speculative. No scriptural or dogmatic statement on the matter comes to mind.

      There is also the great mystery of how angels (or demons) can “hear” or “see” “Talking” is usually a term that refers to the making of, and then perception of, air molecules set in motion in some manner. These moving air molecules are perceived by our tympanic membrane and conveyed to our brain. My point here is that there is obviously a physical aspect to seeing, talking and hearing. But angels do not have a tympanic membrane. So even if we talk out loud how can they “hear” us, or for that matter how can they see us? This is mysterious.

      Perhaps then, out thoughts are able to be projected in some manner, that a being who is pure spirit can “perceive” (It does not follow of course that they can merely pry into our thoughts).

      Further, how can we hear and listen to the voice of our angel as God clearly tells us to do in today’s first reading? Since angels do not have bodies, we cannot hear their voice in a physical sense. Thus, somehow they are able to interact with our soul (I suspect they do this particularly through our conscience) in a way that reaches our intellect.

      Perhaps there are some angelologist who can teach further on these matters. But it is clear that Scripture and Tradition take for granted that angels can and do interact with us and the physical world. But how they do so is mysterious.

      By the way, an analogy comes to mind. Even we, do not “see” everything physically. For example, we do not see sub-atomic particles, even with a very powerful microscope. Rather we come to know their existence by the use of our intellect and reason. We may see some their effects, but fundamentally we “see” them by reasoning to their existence and developing an understanding of them based on what we already know. I guess the same thing is true for metaphysical concepts such as justice and mercy. We do not “see” them physically, though we may see their effects. Rather we “see” these concepts by reasoning to their existence. They are real, though metaphysical and we see them not through our retina (though some evidence may come that way) but through our intellect and our spirit, (which supplies the ability to grasp metaphysical concepts).

      1. Thanks, Pater. My sense is that we can consent to angels (or saints) perceiving our thoughts, but that without such consent on our part, they cannot read minds. Hence merely mental communication with an angel is possible, but avoidable. Of course, we must recall that angel intellects far exceed ours, so they can very often, very accurately predict what we think and say and do, in rather the same way the parents can often predict their children’s behavior without direct verbal information. Anyway, my ruminations. Many thanks for all you do! edp.

        1. Interrogators of all sorts are very adept at reading body language/signs (eye movement, fidgeting, posture, facial expression, etc.). Given their superior intellect, I would guess angels have a very refined similar ability to observe.

        2. Also, when we “say” things in our minds we often subvocalize, ie speak the words without actually moving our lips or sending air over our vocal chords. There’s some scientific opinion I read somewhere that there are small electrical impulses sent out to the same muscles that would be used if we engaged in full vocalization; detectable with sensitive instruments (something similar happens say in your hand or foot if imagine yourself moving it but don’t actually move it). I speculate that if angels (and demons which are but fallen angels) have the degree of understanding of and power over matter that they are said to have, they’d have no trouble detecting such impulses without the aid of instruments and could then tell what we were “saying” (sort of like the way we can read someones lips if they only move their lips but make no sound, except the signal the angels would be reading is would be much more subtle).

  5. I suppose the closest S. Scripture comes to describing the Angels as singing is in Psalm 149 (Vulgate): “Cantate Domino canticum novum * laudatio ejus in ecclesia sanctorum”: “Sing to the Lord a new song * His praise in the assembly [church] of the holy ones.” The “assembly of the holy ones” certainly would include the Holy Angels.

  6. I recall in high school reading that St Thomas Aquinas said each Angel was unique in the sense that each one was not only an individual person, but also like a different species, from every other angel. I seem to remember that St Thomas had some interesting things to say about angels, all derived from scripture and logic. Where does he deal with this, so I can look it up again?

    1. He discusses angels in the Summa Contra Gentiles as well as in On Spiritual Creatures. Both are available online in English translation at the website of the Dominican Hose of Studies. Here’s a link to their general index of Aquinas’ works: The titles you want would include:
      De spiritualibus creaturis
      De substantiis separatis
      Summa Contra Gentiles (Book 2, #’s 91 to 101)
      You can also go to and search the Summa Theologica for references to angels (ST is available at dhspriory too, but the search function there is better at NewAdvent). Here’s the link for that:

  7. This is an awesome article!!! I loved The Bible series in which the angels WERE fearsome warriors and none could withstand their strength. It’s fun to think of angels as flowing robed and hovering creatures constantly smiling upon us. I’d rather have a fearsome warrior at my side, however!!! I am 61 yrs. old and I still remember our nun in 8th grade telling us the story of a man who always made room for his angel to sit and/or stand wherever he was. In other words, he was always aware of his guardian angel’s presence. God rewarded him by allowing him to see his angel at some point. Which, of course, would make me have to go change clothes I’m quite sure. But it certainly will be interesting to see our angels at our death!!! It was just so great to read this article!!! Thank you, Msgr. Pope!

  8. The prefaces of the Missale Romanum are not scripture, but they are ancient and venerable, and in my lay opinion come very close to Sacred Tradition. In them, “we” (the Church militant) are described as singing with the angels who say Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. The language with reference to the angels strikes me as ambiguous, so that they can be understood as both speaking and singing with us.

    Et ídeo
    cum Angelis et Archángelis,
    cum Thronis et Dominatiónibus
    cumque omni milítia coeléstis exércitus
    hymnum glóriæ tuæ cánimus,
    sine fine dicéntes:
    Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus…

    1. yes, but again the angels are saying (dicentes) without end, and WE sing (canimus – note the IMUS ending) with them. I note the prefaces in other comments and here too, the result is ambiguous when surveying the text. And this makes sense given the scriptural roots of the prefaces. They are not affirming that angels are singing per se but not excluding it. It’s a good middle ground but at the end of the day the text is more likely saying we sing (canimus) with the angels (who are) saying (dicentes)

      1. The participle “Dicentes” can easily have as its subject both “nos” (understood as the subject of canimus), and by extension, the angels in the cum clause (“cum” takes the ablative; thus, angelis, archangelis, thronis, dominationibus, and militia. “Coelestis exercitus” is genitive.) The phrase “cum Angelis…milítia coeléstis exércitus” can’t be just hanging out there; it has to be “with” someone or something. We, the Church in this life, are that something. The entire phrase is adverbial, modifying “canimus”. This does not contradict dicentes, as “dico” can mean not only “say” in the sense of spoken, but “utter”, “declare”, and “affirm”, while the sense of “cano” is always musical.

        1. yes, I agree, but the text seems rather carefully constructed. It can mean mean what you say, but the careful construction means I would ask more…I have considered the text myself as evidence, but my own inner critic is able to poke holes of doubt.

  9. So if I talk to my angel in my head, does that mean it can’t hear me? Do you think we can assent to allowing them access to our thoughts? Perhaps God provides a patch for that? I hope so. Otherwise I’ve had a lot of pointless conversations and my angel has been stuck in silence.

  10. Fr. Johnson. and Msgr. Charles Pope
    I was born on Oct. 2, 1928, and have been very aware of my guardian Angel (thanks to my mother). In later life, I had an experience that I cannot forget. I was in my late forties (age) fighting to recover from alcoholism, broken marriage and and a life I regretted. I worked nights and was attending Mass on my way home to get my sleep. In the 7 AM Mass at church that day, I began to doze as the need for sleep overcame me. I was brought to reality as the priest raised the Host for adoration, and I observed another person standing on the alter, between me and the priest, Tall, about 6 ft. 5 or 6 inches tall, very slim, long white gown on him, dark prince valiant hair cut, his back to me as he reverently adored the host. My mind was not fast or sharp, as I wondered who it was. I said my own prayers and lifted my head again, and there was only the priest. My subconscious eventually convinced me it was my Guardian Angel. I have had a much closer relationship since then and frequently pray for his help. I believe I was born on the feast of the Guardian Angels for a reason, but I haven’t yet ascertained the reason. I love my Guardian Angel and thank him for the great assistance He has given to me throughout my life.

    1. Great story. Thanks for sharing. I need to do more to build my relationship with my guardian angel and pray for his help more often.

  11. As a catholic I have a hard time with a fallen angle being allowed to communicate with Eve in the garden. Why? If the fallen supper intellectual being had not been permitted to tempt Eve, we`d all still be in the garden.Also, God’s love, with all the virtues of the word love, could not forgive the fallen angles? Or is love just for humans and not angels? That would make sense then, but then that would mean God doesn’t love angels. I love my church and my faith, but its always the questions, questions, and more questions, with not a lot of answers. Mike

    1. Mike-
      There is good scriptural reasons to believe that the devil had not yet fallen when he was placed in Eden. The fathers are divided on this point, but it is tenable that his fall was concurrent with our progeniture’s.
      Second, if Eve hadnt fallen- “oh happy fault of Adam that gained for us so glorious a redeemer”. The point is that God in Christ has effected a greater final end for humans than if the fall hadnt happened.
      Third, the reason that there is no repentence for the fallen angels is not because of a “defect of Divine Mercy” (ccc) but the consequence of the choice they made being in a state of full knowledge and with deliberate will. That is to say, there is no “additional” information that could be given to an angel to make him change his mind. The knowledge they had when they chose was perfect. There is no deliberation in the will of an angel- they know and they choose- perfectly and without possibility of revision (because the revision would be provoked by an improvednknowledge on the subject which is impossible if your knowledge was already perfect).
      The reason that humans can sin and repent is because as corporeal creatures we build knowledge from our sense organs etc. Our knowledge is not perfectly infused by God (in its fullness). We repent when we aquire more knowledge on a subject (either from Grace or our own improved information or formation of conscience).
      Hope that makes sense! Hold onto your faith, friend!

    2. From my very limited understanding, it seems to me that if God created us without the ability to reject Him, that would not be love. For us to love Him as He wishes us to, we have to be able to choose to. Without the ability to choose, would that be love? He also created the angels with the ability to choose to love Him, so by that measly definition, God does love His Angels. Prayers for you, Mike.

  12. With the greatest respect and reverence Father and chosen shepherd of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I implore you to re-think your academic or otherwise stand against angels signing in heaven praise to Our Lord. That IS heaven – constant praising of Jesus. I pray you discern the truth for you have been hand chosen to lead us.

    The Holy Bible states Angels are speaking many. many times. Are we too believe an Angel speaking is not far more beautiful then the best human song? Our Lord is perfect why would an Angel sound like me speaking? No, I say an Angel speaking to Mary or any human’s ears would be a perfect melody of sweet notes and when they praise Our Lord I imagine it is purer then I could understand or fathom.

    Revelation 5:13
    And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: “Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

    Revelation 5:11-14

    Isaiah 44:23

    “St. Gregory beheld angels singing” Pope Gregory which it is oft stated during this time this St. was beheld this vision was the origin of Regina Coeli

    Reference St. Clement of Rome’s experiences of voices in ‘harmony’

    “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” hymn sung to announce the birth of Our Lord.
    I do not think Our Lord wishes us to sing hymns of praise that are false or lies nor read scripture that is not true. I do not wish to assume what Saints are being told of Angels singing to be false.

    All for the Glory of God, My Lord Jesus Christ, in service to Our Blessed Mother,

    “my job is to inform, not to convince.”- St. Bernadette

    1. 🙂 Love your excessive concern at the beginning! However, you imply I am a bishop, I am not, just a lowly priest. Hence unlike a bishop I have wider latitude to be incautious in my remarks and posing of dilemmas upon the faithful who are freer to spar with my position!

      Sadly the Greek verb in Rev 5 is legontes, which is translated more accurately “saying” Rev 5 won’t work.

      Gregory is Great, but his mystical vision is not a doctrinal source. But I DO think he saw and heard what he did and that angels probably DO sing.

      But I’m just still looking for a clear text. Please help me y’all !!

      Hark the Herald Angels Sing as a lex orandi lex credendi text! Love it…love it!
      However, I think we must have a more than a hymn that glosses a scripture text which in fact says the angels said “Glory to God…”

      1. “Oecumenius: They said, “Hallelujah!” “Hallelujah” is a Hebrew expression that means “praise God” or “sing to God.” Therefore, they are singing a hymn of thanksgiving for the righteous judgment of the spiritual Babylon. And they cried out the same hymn a “second time,” and yet later they spoke it again. And so by this threefold offering of the Hallelujah they give glory to the holy and much to be praised Trinity, for this [Trinity] is God. “-
        Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture
        New Testament XII Revelation

        “HALLELUJAH A transliteration of two Hebrew words meaning “Praise the Lord!” or “Praise Yahweh!” a liturgical exclamation …In Rev 19, they are part of the victory hymn sung by the choirs of Heaven. The Hallelujah was adopted extensively into the Christian liturgy “- Hahn, Scott. Catholic Bible Dictionary

        Msgr pointed out above angelic persons do not possess the corporeal organs required to sing. St Thomas explains in Summa 1.107.4, that descriptions such as “cried out” indicate intensity: “The cry mentioned is not a bodily voice raised by reason of the local distance; but is taken to signify the magnitude of what is said, or the intensity of the affection, “. So “sing” should not be taken as a description of the way the air traveled out a diaphram but as the most intense magnitude of affection available to the associated angelic will.

        In this respect, one can see why the Doctors of the Church (cf. ACCSS Isaiah) refer to the angels singing.

  13. I always remember Rilke’s line: Jeder Engel ist schrecklich / Every angel is terrifying.
    Why do you think the first thing any angel ever says to a human is “Don’t be afraid!” 🙂

  14. Once again, maybe since this passage does not explicitly say “angels it’s still not good enough, but what about Job 38:7?

    “when the morning stars sang together,
    and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

    I’ve always assumed the Morning Stars were angelic beings.

    1. I do mention this in the article as the sole possible example that I have had presented to me. The difficulty remains in unstinting is the morning stars are a clear reference to the angels. It is not clear, for while the phrase does sometimes refer to the angels in the Old Testament, this may also be an ancient reference to the music of the spheres, and the celestial harmonies as well especially if it is drawn for the Wisdom Tradition and the Greek speaking diaspora.

      1. I’ve read in more than one place that the best English rendering of the Hebrew word Sabaoth could be “the Hosts of Heaven”, i.e., the Stars. In the apocryphal Book of Enoch, stars and angels are interchangeable. In fact, in that book the fallen angels are quite explicitly equated with the planets, which thought is taken up in the Letter of Jude. Consider the phrase “the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling” (Jude 1:6), which basically says the Good Angels don’t move about (a.k.a., the “Fixed Stars”) whereas the demons do (“planet” being Greek for “wandering star”). Food for thought.

        By the way, I should have said this up front – great article and very much needed!

  15. I have a question (actually a few questions). I realize that the Church has not spoken to this matter, but I am curious as to your opinion. Is the total number of angels fixed? In other words, has God stopped creating angels? I ask this because, if every human has a guardian angel, and if God has stopped creating angels, then presumably the maximum number of human beings that can exist will be the number of guardian angels that exist. Or, can a guardian angel guard more than one person? I would think not, but am not sure. Is a guardian angel “reassigned” to someone else once that angel’s person has died?

    I’m just trying to get a handle on how many angels exist. With the population of the world fast approaching ten billion, the number of angels must indeed be staggering.

    Of course, in the end, I am very thankful for my guardian angel. I do not regularly talk to my angel, which I know is wrong. This article has certainly got me thinking about my angel. I plan to be more attentive to my angel in the future.

    Sorry if these questions appear ridiculous, but I would appreciate your thoughts.

    1. I think the number of the angels is fixed in that there are no new angels being created. However, the vast number of them is not known exactly except by terms such as myriads and myriads etc.

      1. I agree with that, too, their number is fixed. I do have a theory as to the number, but that’s for ruminating over port or sherry.

  16. Heidi, I`ve never heard what you said that Satan had not yet fallen when he was in the garden. So, maybe that would mean angels and humans were co-existing together. So when Satan had fallen, Eve would have no reason to distrust him, if she didn`t have knowledge of his fall. Why would God keep that a secret from her? Also, why was the fallen angel permitted to tempt her, and the good angels were kept silent? I know this is drifting far off track from Fr. Pope`s subject matter, but its so much fun to talk about. I love angels! Thanks Heidi for your response, it has really helped 🙂 Mike

    1. Mike,
      According to most of the Fathers and the medieval theologians, the fallen angel was permitted to speak to Eve for the same reason that God prohibited Eve from eating of the tree. It wasn’t that the tree itself was such a problem. Rather, the prohibition gave Eve and Adam the opportunity to exercise *freely* their love for God through obedience, which requires a degree of self-denial and living-for-God that ought to be present *throughout* their lives. The exercise of obedience at the tree is, in a way, a microcosm of the free exercise of loving obedience for God throughout their lives. When the devil talks to Eve, another layer of this preferential love for God can be exercised: Not only does Eve have the opportunity to practice her love through obedience, but she practices love through obedience in giving up something that seems attractive.

      You seem concerned about Eve having or not having a reason to trust the devil. Actually, she had every reason to *not* trust him, not because she had extra knowledge of his fall, but simply because of what he said. She knew already that God had given her everything in the garden, given her the blessing of food, progeny, and participation in God’s own rest, but instead the devil tells her:

      * God said you’ll die but actually you won’t. In other words, God tells lies.
      * God lies to you because he doesn’t want you to become like him, knowing good and evil. In other words, God knows good and evil. If we put that together with God telling lies, we may as well say that God *does* good and evil.
      * If you eat the fruit you will be wise like God (i.e., you’ll be powerful like God, and capable of doing evil in order to keep that power from others).
      * So take the fruit to be like God (i.e. doing good and evil, jealous of your own prerogatives, holding on to power through subterfuge, deceiving others).

      The devil is inviting her to see God as a Nietzschean ubermensch, and inviting her to become powerful like God so that, implicitly, she can stand against him in whatever power struggle is looming.

      The devil is not saying “here, take the fruit, God wants you to; you’ll be more like him and live with him forever.” He’s saying: “Take the fruit; God eosn’t want you to have it because he doesn’t want you to be like him, a selfish God, conniving and dishonest. So take it; become like him, a selfish goddess, conniving and dishonest.”

      By the time Eve takes the fruit, she’s not a babe-in-the-woods trying to get the right thing at the wrong time. She’s decided to become a rival to God, determining good and evil for herself, and practicing good and evil inorder to stand up against this good-and-evil God who is trying to hold her back.

      The scene of the temptation isn’t a case of the babysitter telling the kids that they misheard Mom about whether or not they could watch TV. Rather, the babysitter is telling the kids that Mom is a liar who wants the TV-power all to herself; and the kids have to rise up against her by taking the TV-power for themselves. And the kids rise up.

    2. Mike-
      There are several passages in scripture that elude to the idea of man and the angelic powers falling at the same time. Here’s one such passage:
      Ez 28:12 ff
      12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord God:

      “You were the signet of perfection,[a]
      full of wisdom
      and perfect in beauty.
      13 You were in Eden, the garden of God;
      every precious stone was your covering,
      carnelian, topaz, and jasper,
      chrysolite, beryl, and onyx,
      sapphire,[b] carbuncle, and emerald;
      and wrought in gold were your settings
      and your engravings.[c]
      On the day that you were created
      they were prepared.
      14 With an anointed guardian cherub I placed you;[d]
      you were on the holy mountain of God;
      in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
      15 You were blameless in your ways
      from the day you were created,
      till iniquity was found in you.
      16 In the abundance of your trade
      you were filled with violence, and you sinned;
      so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
      and the guardian cherub drove you out
      from the midst of the stones of fire.
      17 Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
      you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
      I cast you to the ground;
      I exposed you before kings,
      to feast their eyes on you.
      18 By the multitude of your iniquities,
      in the unrighteousness of your trade
      you profaned your sanctuaries;
      so I brought forth fire from the midst of you;
      it consumed you,
      and I turned you to ashes upon the earth
      in the sight of all who saw you.
      19 All who know you among the peoples
      are appalled at you;
      you have come to a dreadful end
      and shall be no more for ever.”

      This text can not be for the King of Tyre, as he was never in Eden. Nor can it be aimed at Adam, because v. 19 says “you have come to a dreadful end…” which is not the destiny of Adam, who is saved by Christ.

      We don’t know if there were many angels co existing in the garden, but this text suggests that Lucifer was. He was the “signet of perfection”. Many angelologists believe that Lucifer was given dominion over the entire earth (Aquilina, St. Thomas) when he was created (to help mankind reach his final end!) . Hence, Jesus referring to him as “the prince of this world”.

      You are right that Eve had no reason to distrust him- St. Paul says she was decieved and Adam was not. Adam knew fully what God had commanded. Eve had only heard from Adam what God had commanded. Satan was free to tempt her because God does not ‘take back’ the gifts He gives. He gave satan an intellect and will and this necessitates freedom. God didn’t stop him because to stop freedom is to remove ‘personhood’- ie. destroying the creature’s rationality and reducing him/her to a status of a merely sentient being.

      God did not keep secret but fairly warned Adam what to do and what not to do. Even if God would’ve told Adam that the serpent was going to be a fallen angel, Adam would’ve still sinned because he wasn’t decieved (St. Paul). See the importance of that revelation? He KNEW what was going on and he did it anyway. This incurred full culpability (it was imputed to him as a mortal sin). Eve was to obey God through Adam’s witness. If she was tricked, as St. Paul says, then perhaps in believing the serpent, she believed that Adam had not handed down God’s teaching correctly. Perhaps she did not know she was disobeying God. But Adam did know. Obviously, Adam and Eve had guardian angels who would’ve warned them against the serpent. They chose not to listen to these voices. And Adam failed to protect his bride from what he fully knew was contrary to God’s will, and therefore evil. He remained silent when her life and the life of all mankind was in danger. More grevious than remaining silent, he then entered into a covenant of sorts with satan against God.
      And we have the whole ugly history of mankind as a witness to this.

      Yes, it is fun to talk about!! Mike Aquilina is a great resource for angelology. And someone below mentioned the Opus Angelorum website, which is also a great resource.

      By the way, I have noticed on this thread a lot of people wondering if angels can read our minds. No,they can not unless you give them express permission to do so- which is advised by all the saints who comment on it. I gave mine permission shortly after my conversion and it has helped our relationship grow much closer. If one has not given them permission, then God the Holy Spirit infused them with the necessary knowledge to do their job (direct and govern our moral acts).

      A super abundant blessing to you and your angel!

  17. I am highly impressed with the learned discussions about whether angels sing. My Angel has shown himself to me {I believe) and I know his name (I believe). In the future I expect to verify these opinions. My Angel has been very busy during my life and I thank him for it. One of the first questions I will ask is “Do Angels sing?”. If I can let you know, then I will, (smile). Fortunately that is not a major concern for me. My major concern at 86 years of age, is that I give my service to God that he expects from me, and I know my Angel will be of major assistance to that endeavor. I thank HIM for my Angel and for the privilege of being born on this date, The feast of the Guardian Angels. F. P. Heffernan

  18. Monsignor Pope, in a 15th Century prayer to the Guardian Angel, From the Antidotarius animae of Nicolas Salicetus, Cistercian abbot of Bomgart (near Strasbourg), it says, “…I pray thee, my guardian, if it can be done, to make my end known to me….” Is it possible, since they are messengers between God and us, that our end could be made known to us?

  19. A good source we could ask on this very interesting, fine point, are the Opus Angelorum Sanctorum priests in Detroit. They teach about the angels. Look them up on line.
    Thank you Msgr. Pope
    Chris P.

  20. I don’t know if an angel can sing but they sure can fly! They fly in an incredible perfection during the mass specially during the singing and praises. They fly in every way you can imagine, is like watching the lights from firecrackers in the fourth of july. They fly with coordination and by the sound of the music, and they love a charismatic church! They can be tall or small…and have many different colors. I dont see them with wings, just something like gowns…bright ones…when the singing stops in the mass they stood in a formation like soldiers above the ceiling and around the altar…While I drive in my car my Guardian Angel is always besides me…sometimes he help find a parking spot right where I need it!! Everytime we pray the Rosary they take each prayer to our Mother with them in an infinite line, they laugh when we laugh, they can be sad when we are sad and they surely take care of us even when we doesnt even know…they are our first and last friends…we always have to talk to them and give them thanks, open our hearts, our eyes, they are everywhere! Every person and every priest have a beyond believe Guardian Angel…the holiest the person the bigger the Angel!! blessings father Charles and friends. 🙂

  21. Msgr,

    If Angels have no physical bodies, how did Abraham feed and dine with them when they visited with him and heard Sarah laugh at the idea she would bear a child? How did the angels who rescued Lot, dine with him and physically grab him and pull him in from the crowd of people demanding to have sex with them? I believe it is more likely that they have glorified bodies and can pass (when allowed) from their dimension to ours. Remember, Paul cautioned us that we may be entertaining angels without being aware.

    Also, as to them reading our minds as was asked above. While I don’t believe they can read our minds, I believe they can in some method, whisper or project notions and suggestions to us, as can the fallen ones. I personally have had an experience which I attribute to may guardian angel, of laying in bed early one morning and being urged to go to my basement and look at my water heater. When I did, I found a badly leaking exhaust vent on my gas water heater which could have killed me and my family.

    Thanks Msgr!


    1. And even deeper mystery is if the three “angels” were in fact the members of the Trinity. Angles can manifest as having bodies, but of their nature they do not have bodies. I agree that angels can and do project their thoughts to us,

    2. Hi Dave,
      The Angelic doctor says they have no physical bodies for a couple of good reasons. The first reason is that in the account of creation, they are not mentioned as being created to have dominion over any realm (days 1,2 3 are the realms; 4, 5, 6 are the rulers of those realms). St. Augustine saw the angels as the light that was created from the first (“let there be light”) and then the separation of the light from the darkness as God separating the Holy from the fallen angels.

      St. Thomas says that an angel can take on form- however even this is not a physical body in the sense of matter as we know it.
      We have been made spirit and matter because of God’s wish to divinize us (theosis). Simply put, we are matter and spirit so that we can share in co creation with God. Angels were not created as ends in themselves, but as helpers for humanity. According to St. Thomas, this was the reason for satan’s rebellion- he believed he was an end in himself and would not accept a servile role even to God. This is complex but is beautifully and comprehensively covered in Matthias Scheeben’s “Mysteries of Christianity” chapter on the Trinity.

      Your angel story about the gas pipes is cool.

  22. We just finished a 7 week series on angels entitled, Angels: Our Heavenly Hosts.
    They were taught by our deacon intern/seminarian who will be ordained a priest in 2015.
    I published each session on our parish YouTube channel. You can find them here. Hopefully, they will be informative and educational. Peace.

  23. The “baby” cherubs used to cause me a negative visceral reaction. However, I simply began to think that it’s just a symbolic portrait of an aspect of angels, as much as the “body-builder” image is just a symbolic portrait. I know that angels are not babies, as well as I know that they aren’t body-builders. At the end of the day any symbolic human feature is just that, human and symbolic. They are going to fall short by definition.
    The baby image of a cherub makes me think about the innocence of angels; their lack of personal sin; and their utter dependence and attachment to the Father.
    When I see the baby faces of cherubs this biblical passage comes to mind: “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, Because of Your enemies, That You may silence the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2) and “the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25).
    It is as if this is the ultimate act of humiliation to God’s enemies. A baby-like aspect as a conquering weapon.
    For this, I dare say, let’s keep the baby cherubs. We are richer (theologically, aesthetically, mystagogically) for having both images of angels, than for having just one of them.

  24. “to man it is impossible,with God all things are possible”. “fear not, for i am with you”. “Believe in God,believe also in Me(Jesus).For in My father’s House there are many Mansions.If it were not so, then i would not have told you and I will go and prepare a place for you”. Love God above all things and love your neigbour as yourself(The Golden rule). Live right because that’s what matters.God is watching Us from a distance and He knows your every thoughts. Pray and Read your Bible(the word),the Holy spirit will guide you to know the Truth about Life(earth).The Gospel of Mattew will help you understand more about Jesus teachings.Thanks.

  25. Heidi, you are opening my eyes, to some nagging questions I have had for a long time. Thank you Msgr.Pope for this forum. So, Satan and mankind falling at the same time, Satan’s jealously being played out, as he is envious of man. When Satan was created, as all angels, it is my understanding God said serve me. It is also my understanding Satan was to serve mankind. Something he could not or would not do, hence the fall, he could not serve no more. I always wondered how we got mixed up, in the first place, with these super intelligent beings, Heidi you`ve helped answer that. Wow, and how Adam with all he knew, all that God told him, and as you say his guardian angel warning him. It came down to his choice. The same choice I have right now, to do good or to do bad!!! So it begs a question to ask Adam when we see him in heaven, ” what were you thinking”? Then he would respond to me, what were you thinking when you did all the dumb stuff you did? I do agree with you Heidi in that angels cannot read our minds or thoughts, only God. Heidi you must be a scholar. Thank you to Joseph for responding and Heidi.

    1. Mike,
      You are very kind. Keep me in your prayers and I will always keep you in mine.
      In Christ,

  26. Mk 14:26
    “And when they had said an hymn, they went forth to the mount of Olives.”

    Perhaps looking for the word “sing” in reference to angels is the wrong thing to do. Note that Jesus “said” a hymn. Yet a hymn is really a song. In any case, God bless you Fr Pope, and keep up the good posts.

    1. Ok, thanks! But to be fair the Greek verb, however your version translates it, is ὑμνήσαντες (hymnesantes)= having sung a hymn which definitely means to sing, not to say.

  27. What’s a protestant Can or do our guardian angels ever leave us. They can t interfere with free will can they. Very recently i found out about our guardian angels and want to learn so much more any reading suggestions

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