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Voices Online Edition -- Vol. XXII, No. 3
Michaelmas 2007

The Church and the Holy Angels

Why does our Church calendar celebrate angels? As we know, September 29 is the Feast of Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael — and October 2 is the Feast of Guardian Angels.

Unlike all the human saints on the Church’s calendar, angels are celestial beings created on a higher order than man. They are completely spiritual beings; they have intelligence and will; they are personal and immortal creatures. Angels are the servants and messengers of God — in fact, the word “angel” means “messenger”.

The feast of Saint Michael, one of the seven archangels of Scripture, originated in the sixth century. It was known, in English, as “Michaelmas”. This name lives on — in England as the name for the fall school term, and in America as a wildflower, a white aster with many small star-like flowers, that blooms in late September, known as the Michaelmas daisy.

More recently two other of the archangels named in scripture, Gabriel and Raphael, are also honored on this day.

Michael the archangel, whose name in Hebrew means “Who is like God?”, is revered as the leader of the angelic army who will conquer Satan and his armies of demons, and is considered the defender of the Church. He is often shown wearing armor, in the act of slaying the great Dragon of the Apocalypse [Satan] in Revelation 12:7-9. Michael may be more often represented in art thank any other angelic being — except Gabriel.

The archangel Gabriel, whose name in Hebrew means “Strength of God”, announced the birth of John the Baptist to Zachariah, and soon after, announced to Mary that she was to become the mother of Our Lord. His address to her, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (the “angelic salutation”) is familiar to all who say the Rosary.

The archangel Raphael, whose name means medic or ointment of God, is mentioned by name in the Old Testament book of Tobit (Tobias), whom the angel aided by healing him of blindness and guiding him on his travels.

The angels that appear in Scripture are never described as having wings. In fact, in several passages, the people who are visited by angels do not realize these messengers from On High are not ordinary men until it is revealed later.

In the Book of Revelation, winged beings who otherwise look like men are described as surrounding the throne of God. Thus, in early paintings angels are shown with wings — sometimes very colorfully feathered. In medieval paintings, angels are often shown wearing liturgical vestments of deacons. The idea that angels wear white robes comes from the white albs worn by deacons that appear in these paintings. In some paintings, especially of the Nativity of Christ, the angels who adore the infant are clad in elaborate liturgical vestments, including embroidered copes (large capes). But the worshipping angels are never dressed as priests — Christ alone is the High Priest. The infant Jesus in these paintings is shown with no clothing at all: as God incarnate, He is “clothed in His own flesh”.

We encounter angels throughout the Bible — in the Old Testament and the New.

In Genesis 28-29, angels not only act as the executors of God’s wrath against the “cities of the plain”, but they deliver Lot from danger; in Exodus 12-13, an angel is the appointed leader of the host of Israel, and in 32:34, God says to Moses: “my angel shall go before thee”. Later there is the account of Tobias, which seems to explain Psalm 90:11: “For He hath given His angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways”. In Daniel chapter 10 angels are entrusted with the care of particular districts; one is called “prince of the kingdom of the Persians”, and Michael is termed “one of the chief princes”.

Angels are everywhere in the New Testament, beginning with the annunciation of Christ’s birth, speaking to Joseph, constantly guiding. Jesus speaks of them: “See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10).

Catechism: The Angels – Who Are They?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (328-336) summarizes the Church’s teaching on the nature and office of angels in the hierarchy of God’s creation. We have included some excerpts from these sections which will be helpful to review — especially useful when explaining angels to children or friends who may be confused with some of the currently popular semi- New Age versions of angels.

328. The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. the witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.

329. Saint Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel” (cf. St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 103, 1, 15: PL 37, 1348), With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do His word, hearkening to the voice of His word”.

330. As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.

331. Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are His angels: “When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him....” (Mt 25:31) They belong to Him because they were created through and for Him: “for in Him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him.” (Col 1:16) They belong to Him still more because He has made them messengers of His saving plan: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb 1:14)

332. Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan: they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham’s hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples. (Cf. Job 38:7 [where angels are called “sons of God”]; Gen 3:24; 19; 21:17; 22:11; Acts 7:53; Ex 23:20-23; Judg 13; 6:11-24; Isa 6:6; I Kings 19:5) Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus Himself. (Cf. Lk 1:11, 26)

333. From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God “brings the firstborn into the world, He says: ‘Let all God’s angels worship Him.’” (Heb 1:6) Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church’s praise: “Glory to God in the highest!” (Lk 2:14) They protect Jesus in His infancy, serve Him in the desert, strengthen Him in His agony in the garden, when He could have been saved by them from the hands of His enemies as Israel had been. (Cf. Mt 1:20; 2:13, 19; 4:11; 26:53; Mk 1:13; Lk 22:43; II Macc 10:29-30; 11:8) Again, it is the angels who “evangelize” by proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection. (Cf. Lk 2:8-14; Mk 16:5-7) They will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, to serve at His judgement. (Cf. Acts 1:10-11; Mt 13:41; 24:31; Lk 12:8-9)

336. From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. (Cf. Mt 18:10; Lk 16:22; Ps 34:7; 91:10-13; Job 33:23-24; Zech 1:12; Tob 12:12) “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” (St. Basil, Adv. Eunomium III, 1: PG 29, 656B) Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

Related Pages: Guardian Angels and Archangels (Michaelmas)

Related Article: Angels and the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist -- by Father Ben Reese (Adoremus site)

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