Surrounded by angels
September 29 is the glorious feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Rafael. Then October 2 we herald our guardian angels. Who are the angels, and how might our life change if we were to celebrate, and call upon, our angels all 365 days of each year?
According to Orchard’s Catholic Commentary[i], angels in the Old Testament (OT) “appear as bearers of divine revelation, executioners of the divine judgements, and as the heavenly retinue of God” (p. 737). Interest in them was not as prevalent in ancient times because God’s presence was so pervasive. However, with the destruction of the Temple and, with it, the Holy of Holies during their exile, God’s presence (the Shekinah) became remote. We see the angels take on more prominence in the writings of the prophet of that time period, Zechariah. Thereafter, the apocryphal Book of Enoch (3rd-4th cent. BC) identifies seven choirs of angels and seven archangels. Varied Jewish writings indicate belief that angels were spiritual beings although some speculate them to have human form. Some said they “preside over the elements of the material universe and over the celestial bodies” (p. 738), over nations including a guardian angel for each nation (Daniel 10:20), acted as agents of miracles, and most importantly intermediaries/interpreters of the divine revelation.
Our Catholic faith gives further detail and order to the realm of the ‘good’ angels who are held within the Beatific vision of God. Traditionally there are nine types or choirs of angels in a specific hierarchy grouped by threes, from highest power to lowest. While all angels are perfect as intellectual spirits, the hierarchy indicates the excellence of their perfection. For us, each is a reflection of God.
Those closest to God, bearing His image most brightly
Seraphim The primary duty of the choir of Seraphs is to sing God’s praises around His throne. Their name means ‘to burn’ as they glow with the love of God being closest to Him. It is the Seraph who purged the lips of the prophet Isaiah with fire, a coal from the altar of God (Isaiah 6:6-7). With their wings, they cover their faces before God out of humility and their feet out of modesty. They are our examples of the power of praising God (Isaiah 6:4) and of virtue, the fire of their love for God, and they emanate the healing, purifying love that our Lord has for us.
Cherubim The first of any angels to be mentioned in the bible (Genesis 3:24), the Cherubim are protectors of all that is Holy. They also are God’s throne-bearers upon which He sits (Psalm 80:2 & 99:1). Second only to the Seraphim in their closeness to God, they are regarded as spirits of Heavenly wisdom and knowledge. “The name Cherubim denotes their power of knowing and beholding God, their receptivity to the most high gift of light” says Dionysius. “They are filled by participation in divine wisdom, and bounteously outpour to those below them from their own fountain of wisdom” (p. 77)[ii].
Thrones This first triad of angels, due to their closeness to God, are the most perfect of angels. The light of the Divine mysteries is brought first to this triad. The Thrones, who have immediacy of knowledge, ponder and carry out Divine justice with perfect objectivity because of their humility. Given great steadfastness, they are never tempted by the things of our world. Rather, they are called thrones because they represent God’s seat of justice and authority. St. Paul names them as created by and under the power of Jesus in Colossians 1:16.
Taskmasters, keepers of order, and purveyors of virtue
Dominations Dominions (or Dominations) are the highest in the second triad of angels. Their name, like all angels, indicates the principle gifts God has given them: full liberality and freedom who, in service to our Lord, act in true lordship over those below them. They are the taskmaster of the lower angels, keeping the cosmos in order. According to St. Thomas Aquinas[iii], it is through the Dominions that the lesser angels receive their Divine gifts from God (I-108.5, obj. 2). He cites St. Gregory the Great as explaining their name comes from the lower angels being subject to them (obj. 3).
Virtues By participation in Divine virtue, these angels are fashioned in virtue which flows forth providentially to all below them. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells us the Virtues along with the choirs of Principalities, Powers, and Dominions are subject to Jesus Christ (1:21). These angels bring us grace, valor, and encouragement to persevere in virtue. They also are the bearers of miracles, so are connected closely to saints through whom miracles have been wrought.
Powers In Romans 13:1-4 St. Paul emphasizes the need to obey this choir of angels. We are to be subject to these higher powers “for he is God’s minister to thee, for good.” St. Thomas says they are ordained by God to regulate the receipt of, and to carry the action of, God’s will from the higher angels (I-108.6). As guardians of our path to God, they impose order and help us resist temptation.
The worker bees executing orders
Principalities This last and lowest triad deals with execution of matters of earth. It begins with the princes of God’s angelic order. As presiders over the governance of people and kingdoms, the Principalities execute orders from the Powers and work with our guardian angels. While the Powers battle hostile spirits, the Principalities preside over the good spirits (angels and archangels).
Archangels Unlike the Jewish lore of 7 archangels, Christians propose three as these are given to us in our inspired Scriptures. Perhaps the most famous to Catholics because of our devotions to them, Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael are actually second lowest in the hierarchy of angels! Their rank as archangel is named in Jude’s epistle (v. 9). These angel ‘princes’ of the Principalities announce the greatest of things that are above our reason (like the incarnation) or important things known within the scope of reason.
Angels The lowest in hierarchy yet perfect in being, the angels carry out the tasks of God’s Divine Will passed down through the other choirs. Thus, they announce to us that needed for living o t God’s will in our ordinary life. Yet it is in the small ‘stuff’ of our day that our relationship with God is built; hence they are very important to us. God made us “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:6), so their presence is always very close to us.
What can be concluded from this?
The angels, like us, were created to praise, revere, and serve God. In doing so, they are filled with His Gifts to share with us—doing so in loving obedience is another form of their praise for God. We too have been called to this, to first love, praise and revere our Lord, receiving His love, so that we then may share that with others (John 13:34).
Secondly, no matter what we need at any moment of the day, there is likely an entire choir of angels who are waiting to bring the special gift of remedy to us if we just ask. And at any time of the year, you can pray a novena enlisting the help of one choir each day. However, it is important to not make idols out of angels, treat their powers as if magical, nor pray to angels not given to us in Sacred Scripture. The Holy Spirit has used the human authors of Sacred Scripture to give us specific knowledge and names of certain angels. These must be part of our providential plan for our salvation or He wouldn’t have done so. If instead we chase after legends from Jewish apocrypha or faux spirits named ‘angels’ in New Age spiritualities, by doing so we are rejecting the gift of angels from God. Just like any other good thing, Satan will twist our thinking and use these to tempt us with pride. When temptation arises, enlist your guardian angel, Archangel Michael, and the choir of Virtues to your rescue!
Servant of God Fr. John Hardon S.J. said that we have a duty to ask our guardian angel for help because he has been created to be part of our providential plan for salvation. With that in mind, St. Gertrude the Great lends us her prayer:
O most holy angel of God,
appointed by God to be my guardian,
I give you thanks for all the benefits
which you have ever bestowed on me
in body and in soul.
I praise and glorify you
that you condescended to assist me
with such patient fidelity,
and to defend me against all the assaults of my enemies.
Blessed be the hour in which
you were assigned me for my guardian,
my defender and my patron.
In acknowledgement and return
for all your loving ministries to me,
I offer you the infinitely precious
and noble heart of Jesus,
and firmly purpose to obey you henceforward,
and most faithfully to serve my God.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam 😊
(Image by Annalisa Bellini from Unsplash)
[i] McKenzie, J. L. The Jewish World in New Testament Times. In A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Bernard Orchard, et. al. 1185-1190. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1953. https://archive.org/details/catholiccommenta0000bern/page/728/mode/2up
[ii] Fr. Pascal Parente. (1961/1994) The Angels: The Catholic Teaching on the Angels. TAN books.
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