On September 29th the Church celebrates the Feast of the Archangels (Michael, Gabriel and Raphael) and acknowledges that there is a spiritual side to existence and that there are pure spiritual beings in God’s creation. Recently there has certainly been an upsurge of interest regarding angels (which says something about our yearning for the spiritual) but it is of value to note what the Church, in its teaching role, has to say about angels.
First, angels are creatures. Angels are not God nor are they independent of God. There was a time when angels did not exist. Angels were created by God and their existence demonstrates that there are two spheres of creation – one purely spiritual and the other physical and spiritual. Because angels are not God, they do not enjoy the powers nor wisdom of God. They are creatures like us. They cannot read the inner thoughts of men and women unless we somehow make known to them our needs and requests.
Second, because angels are pure spirit they are genderless, neither male nor female. This is hard for us to get our minds around, being so conditioned by our own physicality. There is another component to this which has ramifications for us – humans do not become angels in the fullness of the Kingdom of God. We tend to say things like, “Now God has another angel in heaven.” when a loved one dies but this, in fact, is misleading. In the fullness of the Kingdom of God we are not changed and transformed into a different type of creature; in fact we profess the opposite in our belief in the resurrection of “body and soul” – we remain who we are, but glorified. When Christ appeared after his resurrection he did not appear as an angel but a glorified human (flesh and spirit). This is the same glory that awaits us.
Angels, like us, have free will. This is witnessed in the rebellion of Lucifer and his angels. Angels have made the choice to either serve God and enter the beatific vision or to rebel and become evil. Another important point here – the devil is a creature (always a creature), God alone is the creator.
Angels (since they are pure spirit, pure will) are known and identified by their function and divine commission. They carry out a task from God. The very names of the archangels demonstrate this. Michael means, “Who is like God?”. When Lucifer sought to make himself “God”, Michael stood in his way with the burning truth, “Who is like God?” Gabriel means, “God is my strength”. Raphael means, “God is my health.” These are the three archangels named and present in Scripture. In apocryphal Jewish literature there are five other archangels named; Uriel “God is my light”, Jophiel “The beauty of God”, Chamael “The angel of God’s wrath”, Zadkiel “The righteousness of God” and Jophkiel “The purity of God”.
God could govern all creation by his own design but has choosen to employ angels as cooperators in his plans for creation and humanity. Angels assist us throughout life but in quiet ways without show.
There are nine choirs of angels: (listed in ascending order) Angels, Archangels, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim.
The Church teaches that every person (Christian and non-Christian) has a guardian angel, a friend to help us on our pilgrimage in this world. On October 2nd, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Guardian Angels. I once read that there was a pope who would give the members of the Vatican diplomatic corp a common bit of advice. He would tell them that in the course of their duties if they were going to meet with an official opposed to the mission of the Church that, the night before the meeting, the diplomat should say a prayer asking his guardian angel to speak to the official’s guardian angel in order to help in opening the official’s heart to the work and need of the Church. I think it is good advise! There is nothing wrong in using all contacts!
Angels walk with us and together we give glory to God!
lea brown said:
Thank you Padre for this catechesis on angels. I always learn so much from you.
Amy Sanders said:
Very much enjoyed reading this and learning about my church’s teachings on angels. Thank you, Father Michael.