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Pietro da Cortona
The Guardian Angel, 1656
Oil on canvas, 225 x 143 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome
Angel of God, my Guardian dear,
to whom His love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side,
to light and guard, to rule and guide, Amen.
qui custos es mei,
me, tibi commíssum pietáte supérna,
rege et gubérna.
That every individual soul has a guardian angel has never been defined by the Church, and is, consequently, not an article of faith; but it is the "mind of the Church", as St. Jerome expressed it: "how great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it."
In the Bible this doctrine is clearly discernible and its development is well marked. 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." At a much later period we have the story of Tobias, which might serve for a commentary on the words of Psalm 90:11: "For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways." (Cf. Psalm 33:8 and 34:5.) Lastly, in Daniel 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"; cf. Deuteronomy 32:8; and Ecclesiasticus 17:17.
This sums up the Old Testament doctrine on the point; it is clear that the Old Testament conceived of God's angels as His ministers who carried out his behests, and who were at times given special commissions, regarding men and mundane affairs. There is no special teaching; the doctrine is rather taken for granted than expressly laid down; cf. 2 Machabees 3:25; 10:29; 11:6; 15:23.
But in the New Testament the doctrine is stated with greater precision. Angels are everywhere the intermediaries between God and man; and Christ set a seal upon the Old Testament teaching: "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). A twofold aspect of the doctrine is here put before us: even little children have guardian angels, and these same angels lose not the vision of God by the fact that they have a mission to fulfil on earth.
Without dwelling on the various passages in the New Testament where the doctrine of guardian angels is suggested, it may suffice to mention the angel who succoured Christ in the garden, and the angel who delivered St. Peter from prison. Hebrews 1:14 puts the doctrine in its clearest light: "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?" This is the function of the guardian angels; they are to lead us, if we wish it, to the Kingdom of Heaven.
(Principal source - Catholic Encyclopedia - 1913 edition )
O God, who in your unfathomable providence
are pleased to send your holy Angles to guard us,
hear our supplication as we cry to you,
that we may always be defended by their protection
and rejoice eternally in their company.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen
First Reading: Exodus 23: 20-23
"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.
"But if you hearken attentively to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
"When my angel goes before you, and brings you in to the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I blot them out.
Second Reading(places where it is a Solemnity): Revelation 12:7-12
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!"
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:1-5, 10
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
"Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.
The Church and the Holy Angels(Michaelmas 2007 Issue)
Angels and the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist -- by Father Ben Reese (Adoremus site)
Holy Angels - excerpt from the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy
213. With the clear and sober language of catechesis, the Church teaches that "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"(280).
Tradition regards the angels as messengers of God, "potent executives of his commands, and ready at the sound of his words" (Ps 103, 20. They serve his salvific plan, and are "sent to serve those who will inherit salvation" (Hb 1, 14).
214. The faithful are well aware of the numerous interventions of angels in the New and Old Covenants. They closed the gates of the earthly paradise (cf. Gen 3,24), they saved Hagar and her child Ishmael (cf. Gen 21, 17), they stayed the hand of Abraham as he was about to sacrifice Isaac (cf. gen 22, 7), they announce prodigious births (cf. Jud 13, 3-7), they protect the footsteps of the just (cf. Ps 91, 11), they praise God unceasingly (cf. Is 6, 1-4), and they present the prayer of the Saints to God (cf. Ap 8, 34). The faithful are also aware of the angel's coming to help Elijah, an exhausted fugitive (cf. 1 Kings 19, 4-8), of Azariah and his companions in the fiery furnace (cf. Dan 3, 49-50), and are familiar with the story of Tobias in which Raphael, "one of the seven Angels who stand ever ready to enter the presence of the glory of God" (cf. Tb 12, 15), who renders many services to Tobit, his son Tobias and his wife Sarah.
The faithful are also conscious of the roles played by the Angels in the life of Jesus: the Angel Gabriel declared to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of the Most High (cf. Lk 1, 26-38), and that an Angel revealed to Joseph the supernatural origin of Mary's conception (cf. Mt 1, 18-25); the Angels appear to the shepherds in Bethlehem with the news of great joy of the Saviour's birth (cf. Lk 2, 8-24); "the Angel of the Lord" protected the infant Jesus when he was threatened by Herod (cf. Mt 2, 13-20); the Angels ministered to Jesus in the desert (cf. Mt 4, 11) and comforted him in his agony (Lk 22, 43), and to the women gathered at the tomb, they announced that he had risen (cf. Mk 16, 1-8), they appear again at the Ascension, revealing its meaning to the disciples and announcing that "Jesus ...will come back in the same way as you have seen him go" (Acts 1, 11).
The faithful will have well grasped the significance of Jesus' admonition not to despise the least of those who believe in him for "their Angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven" (Mt 10, 10), and the consolation of his assurance that "there is rejoicing among the Angels of God over one repentant sinner" (Lk 15, 10). The faithful also realize that "the Son of man will come in his glory with all his Angels" (mt 25, 31) to judge the living and the dead, and bring history to a close.
215. The Church, which at its outset was saved and protected by the ministry of Angels, and which constantly experiences their "mysterious and powerful assistance"(281), venerates these heavenly spirts and has recourse to their prompt intercession.
During the liturgical year, the Church celebrates the role played by the Holy Angels, in the events of salvation(282) and commemorates them on specific days: 29 September (feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael), 2 October (the Guardian Angels). The Church has a votive Mass dedicated to the Holy Angels whose preface proclaims that "the glory of God is reflected in his Angels"(283). In the celebration of the sacred mysteries, the Church associates herself with the angelic hymn and proclaims the thrice holy God (cf. Isaiah 6, 3)(284) invoking their assistance so that the Eucharistic sacrifice "may be taken [to your] altar in heaven, in the presence of [...] divine majesty"(285). The office of lauds is celebrated in their presence (cf. Ps 137, 1)(286). The Church entrusts to the ministry of the Holy Angels (cf. Aps 5, 8; 8, 3) the prayers of the faithful, the contrition of penitents(287), and the protection of the innocent from the assaults of the Malign One(288). The Church implores God to send his Angels at the end of the day to protect the faithful as they sleep(289), prays that the celestial spirits come to the assistance of the faithful in their last agony(290), and in the rite of obsequies, invokes God to send his Angels to accompany the souls of just into paradise(291) and to watch over their graves.
216. Down through the centuries, the faithful have translated into various devotional exercises the teaching of the faith in relation to the ministry of Angels: the Holy Angels have been adopted as patrons of cities and corporations; great shrines in their honour have developed such as Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, San Michele della Chiusa in Piemonte and San Michele Gargano in Apulia, each appointed with specific feast days; hymns and devotions to the Holy Angels have also been composed.
Popular piety encompasses many forms of devotion to the Guardian Angels. St. Basil Great (+378) taught that "each and every member of the faithful has a Guardian Angel to protect, guard and guide them through life"(292). This ancient teaching was consolidated by biblical and patristic sources and lies behind many forms of piety. St. Bernard of Clarivaux (+1153) was a great master and a notable promoter of devotion to the Guardian Angels. For him, they were a proof "that heaven denies us nothing that assists us", and hence, "these celestial spirits have been placed at our sides to protect us, instruct us and to guide us"(293).
Devotion to the Holy Angels gives rise to a certain form of the Christian life which is characterized by:
- devout gratitude to God for having placed these heavenly spirits of great sanctity and dignity at the service of man;
- an attitude of devotion deriving from the knowledge of living constantly in the presence of the Holy Angels of God;- serenity and confidence in facing difficult situations, since the Lord guides and protects the faithful in the way of justice through the ministry of His Holy Angels.Among the prayers to the Guardian Angels the Angele Dei(294) is especially popular, and is often recited by families at morning and evening prayers, or at the recitation of the Angelus.
217. Popular devotion to the Holy Angels, which is legitimate and good, can, however, also give rise to possible deviations:
- when, as sometimes can happen, the faithful are taken by the idea that the world is subject to demiurgical struggles, or an incessant battle between good and evil spirits, or Angels and daemons, in which man is left at the mercy of superior forces and over which he is helpless; such cosmologies bear little relation to the true Gospel vision of the struggle to overcome the Devil, which requires moral commitment, a fundamental option for the Gospel, humility and prayer;
- when the daily events of life, which have nothing or little to do with our progressive maturing on the journey towards Christ are read schematically or simplistically, indeed childishly, so as to ascribe all setbacks to the Devil and all success to the Guardian Angels. 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.
(280) CCC 328.
(281) Ibid., 336.
(282) The same is true, for example in the solemnity of Easter and in the solemnities of the Annunciation (25 march), Christmas (25 December), Ascension, the Immaculate Conception (8 December), St. Joseph (19 March), Sts. Peter and Paul (29 June), Assumption (15 August) and All Saints (1 November).
(283) MISSALE ROMANUM, Praefatio de Angelis.
(284) Cf. ibid., Prex eucharistica, Sanctus.
(285) Ibid., Prex eucharistica I, Supplices te rogamus.
(286) Cf. St. BENEDICT, Regula, 19, 5: CSEL 75, Vindobonae 1960, p. 75.
(287) Cf. RITUALE ROMANUM, Ordo Paenitentiae, Editio Typica, Typis Polyglotis Vatacanis 1974, 54.
(288) Cf. LITURGIA HORARUM, Die 2 Octobris, Ss Angelorum Custodum memoria, Ad Vesperas, Hymnus, "Custodes hominum psallimus angelos".
(289) Cf. ibid., Ad Completorium post II Vesperas Dominicae et Sollemnitatum, Oratio "Visita quaesumus".
(290) Cf. RITUALE ROMANUM, Ordo unctionis informorum eorumque patoralis curae, cit., 147.
(291) Cf. RITUALE ROMANUM, Ordo exsequiarum , Editio Typica, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis 1969, 50.
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