Quarterly Spiritual Meditations
Commonly Asked Questions on the Angels (Part 2)
In this issue of our Circular Letter we continue to answer some of the most frequent questions we are asked by email or at our retreats across the country. Click for full text of questions and answers.
23. Why do Guardian Angels sometimes allow us to be hurt in accidents, if they love us and have been assigned by God to protect us from dangers?
Pope Benedict touched on this question after he fractured his wrist in a fall while on vacation. Speaking about his injury afterward he stated, “unfortunately my own Guardian Angel did not prevent my injury, certainly following superior orders”. Then he went on to explain, “perhaps the Lord wanted to teach me more patience and humility, give me more time for prayer and meditation” (Catholic News Agency, July 29, 2009).
We learn from these wise words of the previous Pope, then, that his own personal Guardian Angel certainly could have prevented his fall and the subsequent injury had he so desired. However, his Guardian Angel was obviously directed by God to allow the fall, so that a greater spiritual good could be received by the Pope, namely, growth in humility and patience, as well as an opportunity to spend more time in prayer and meditation. (And who knows, he may have prevented a broken arm and a fractured skull!) We can conclude from this incident in the life of Pope Benedict, then, that our own Guardian Angel also may allow us to be injured—physically, spiritually, or emotionally—if doing so will lead to our growth in holiness or spiritual progress in some way! Recall that our angels carry out their mission in the light of divine providence. They have a better vantage over what’s good for us than we do.
What’s more, St. Thomas Aquinas clarifies this reality when he states that “the Angel Guardian never forsakes a man entirely, but sometimes he leaves him in some particular, for instance in not preventing him from being subject to some trouble, or even from falling into sin, according to the ordering of God’s judgments” (Summa Theologica, 113, 6c). In short, our Guardian Angel will only allow us to be injured in some way, if it is the will of God. In His loving providence, God foresees our free will, which He respects, and so allows painful things, even sin. Our angel acts in perfect harmony with God, striving to turn all mishaps to God and so lead us to greater love and union with God.
It is, of course, a great mystery that God works this way. But it must be stressed that God allows bad things to happen to us only so that He may bring about a greater good that would not have been possible otherwise. Naturally, from a purely human standpoint we would think that there would be a better or a more effective method for governing the universe. However, if there was a better way of doing things, then God certainly would have chosen it.
24. Is it possible or advisable for a Catholic to practice yoga, even if it is done only for the purpose of physical exercise?
The popularization of yoga as merely a method of physical exercise is altogether misleading. First of all, we must be aware of the fact that yoga is a part of the Hindu religion. It is not merely a method of physical exercise, or a system of stretching techniques. In fact, the word “yoga” itself means “union with god”, or “yoke with god”. The god of yoga, however, is not the God of the Trinity, but rather an impersonal life force that is believed to be the source that energizes the universe.
For this reason, there is much more to yoga than just postures and stretching exercises. For the postures that make up part of the yoga program are actually expressions of adoration and veneration of the various gods in the Hindu pantheon. As Archbishop Rivera of Mexico City put it in his Pastoral Instruction on New Age, “Yoga is essentially a spiritual and bodily exercise that comes from Hindu spirituality. Its postures and exercises, though presented only as a method, are inseparable from their specific meaning within the context of Hinduism” (Pastoral Instruction on New Age, Hamden, CT, l996; quoted in Spiritual Warfare by Moira Noonan.) What’s more, we must be aware of the fact that even if these so called “exercises” and postures are carried out in a Christian setting, “the intrinsic meaning of these gestures remains intact”, as Archbishop Rivera stresses in the above mentioned Pastoral Letter. Moreover, the postures are physically and psycho-somatically attuned to dispose the individual to influences from that spiritual world which is not of God. Let me illustrate this in a more evident fashion. Suppose that there were a special incense used in the yoga practice. As incense, one my say that it is only a physical substance that can be used for good or bad. A priori that might be true. But suppose that that combination of incense also contained elements that subtly stimulate sensuality. While this may or may not apply to some incenses (I am no bio-chemist), it remains that this kind of relationship is in connection with the yoga exercises.
In short, yoga postures have both occult and psycho-somatic meanings and significance. They are, in effect, expressions of adoration and veneration to some of the various Hindu gods. To realize the inherent danger involved in practicing yoga, then, we must realize that the so called “gods” of the Hindu religion are nothing more than devils in disguise who are seeking to be worshipped. And so, persons who practice yoga exercises—whether they realize it or not—are, in effect, rendering worship to the devil in one of his disguises, when they assume a yoga posture.
This does not mean, of course, that someone who practices yoga is participating in a Satanic rite, and is in immediate danger of being possessed by the devil. But it does mean, though, that the performing of yoga exercises can open up a person to greater demonic attack, influence, and temptation.
25. Is a woman obligated to wear a veil in Church because of St. Paul’s admonition in his First Letter to the Corinthians that “a woman should have a sign of authority on her head, because of the angels” (1 Cor 11:6)?
In the old Code of Canon Law that was first published in 1917 it was obligatory for women to wear a veil or some other kind of head covering whenever they entered a church. However, this requirement was removed when the new Code of Canon Law was revised and published in 1983. Women are now free to decide for themselves whether they want to wear a veil or not whenever they enter a church. Interestingly, though, there is now a renewed interest in the wearing of veils both inside and outside of a church, even among some feminists, as some recent reports on the internet tell us.
The wearing of the veil, then, may be an occasion for some women to deepen not only their own personal piety, but also to foster a greater awareness and reverence for the holy angels. On the other hand, the use of the veil may be for others a cause of distraction and self-consciousness.
26. We know the names of the three Archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. But what about the names of the other four?
This question often arises, not only because of the fact that St. Raphael revealed himself to Tobiah in the Book of Tobit with the words: “I am Raphael, one of the Seven who stand before the Lord” (Tob 12: 16); but also because of the revelation given to us in the Book of Revelation that there are “seven angels who stand before God… with seven trumpets” (Rev 8:2). For this reason, there has been speculation over the centuries about the identity of the other four Archangels.
Interestingly, there is a shrine dedicated to the seven Archangels in Manila, Philippines, as well as one in Mexico City. The names of the other four Archangels can be found in the apocryphal books outside of the Bible. However, these books have not been approved by the Church as being authentically inspired. For this reason, we should not try to curiously inquire into or investigate the names of the other four Archangels. Also, we should not try to pray to or cultivate a devotion to them by name, because the Church did not authorize any such practice.
27. Is St. Michael the leader of all the angels in heaven? And to which choir does he belong?
Because St. Michael defeated Lucifer who was the most powerful angel in heaven before the trial of the angels that took place at the beginning of time, it is believed by many that he is now the highest ranking angel in the heavenly hierarchy. The question of St. Michael’s position and ranking among the angels, however, has been and still is being discussed by the theologians.
St. Thomas Aquinas, though, states that St. Michael belongs to the Choir of the Archangels, which is the second to last choir in rank in the heavenly hierarchies of the angels. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that St. Michael is one of the chief princes or leaders among the angels. This title is also to be understood here militarily, as St. Michael came to the aid of St. Gabriel in the battle against the Prince of Persia (cf. Dan 10:3). Therefore, St. Michael must be one of the main officers in the heavenly hosts. For the military aspect of the angelic ministry is, no doubt, an important one in the eyes of God’s providential administration of the universe. While it is important, it is nevertheless not highly situated in the angelic hierarchies, whose essential ordering deals with the reception and the communication of divine light and grace.
St. Gabriel identifies St. Michael in the Book of Daniel as the Prince and Patron of Israel (cf. Dan 10:13). It is evident, then, that St. Michael has a choice mission among the angels who carry out a ministry upon earth. And so, if he is the angelic protector over Israel, then it is reasonable that he be, the commander in chief over the angelic armies. This conclusion is corroborated in the Book of Revelation, where it is revealed that it is St. Michael who leads the holy angels in the battle against the devil (cf. Rev 12:7 ff).
It is important to note at this point that the military office of the angels is not the highest, since spiritual battle only takes place in the world over the souls of individual human beings. We can, therefore, conclude that there must be many other angels higher than St. Michael in the heavenly hierarchies with higher offices of adoration and the communication of light and grace. In light of the above facts it is clear that St. Michael phas indeed an important and irreplaceable role to play in the providential plans of God. However, he is not, as some believe, the highest ranking angel in heaven.
28. What are the choirs of angels?
A whole book could be devoted to this important question. But for now, however, we will try to give a brief overview that will cover the basics. Recall that Pope John Paul II. affirmed the existence of the angelic choirs in his General Audience on August 6, l986, when he stated, "We can deduce [from Sacred Scripture that the angels], as it were grouped together in society, are divided into orders and grades, corresponding to the measure of their perfection and to the tasks entrusted to them. The ancient authors and the liturgy itself speak also of the “angelic choirs” (nine, according to Dionysius the Areopagite)."
Before going further, we should know that the word “choir” is a modern designation for the nine fundamental groups of angels. In classical theology they spoke of nine “orders”! Here is the beginning of the term “holy orders”, that means, the angels had their “ordination” or ministerial power from grace, indeed, from the light of glory! The word “hierarchy” was originally applied to the angels and only in a secondary sense to the “hierarchy of the Church”. It literally refers to the ordering of the sacred ministries in the service of God. These ministries cover every aspect of the life of the City of God, which includes both angels and men.
The whole point of this discussion about the make up of the angelic choirs, then, is to stress the fact that the angels are organized along the lines of a highly structured unit of sacred ministers. Unfortunately, many have the false impression that the holy angels are just a big bunch of faceless persons that occupy space in an anonymous crowd. Rather, each angel is not only a unique person, but also someone who fulfills an irreplaceable role in a tightly knit organization.
It makes good sense, then, that the angels would be organized and divided into different groups according to their duties and responsibilities, so that they could carry out God’s will in an orderly and systematic way. Because just as in any big city, not everyone can be on the city council, so too, in the heavenly City of Jerusalem there must be a distinction of duties and responsibilities with a clear cut chain of command.
This difficulty with any paradigm taken from human society, is that all human beings are essentially equal and that all the tasks are formally proportionate to our nature. In the world of the spirits this is not the case. The very purpose of the hierarchy is the assimilation of sanctified mankind to God through the light of grace. The higher angels see God and receive His light and power in an intensity and measure that vastly exceeds the capacity of the lower angels, to say nothing of mankind upon earth. In virtue of their greater light and vision, the higher angels have a more perfect understanding of the Divine Plan which embraces the entire universe from its first to last moment. Moreover the angels have been created and elevated by God to be His heavenly, sacred ministers in the execution of this plan.
All of this discussion, though, raises for us the question of just how many of these so called choirs of angels there might be? Well, it has been believed since the days of the early Church that there are a total of nine choirs. And the basis for this belief is the fact that we can find the names of nine different choirs revealed to us in various parts of the Bible. The names of the individual choirs, however, are never listed in any kind of sequential order in any one place in the Scriptures, like we can find a detailed list of the names of the Twelve Apostles in the Gospels. Rather, the names of the different choirs are scattered about in the Scriptures, mainly in the Letters of St. Paul. He mentions eight out of the nine choirs, leaving to the Prophet Isaiah the singular distinction of being the only writer in all of the Bible to mention the Choir of the Seraphim, the highest ranking choir.
The names of the nine choirs, the place where they can found in the Scriptures, and their traditional ordering are as follows: Seraphim (Is 6:2), Cherubim (Gen 3:24; Ex 25:18ff; Ps 18:10; Ez 10:1-22; Heb 9:5), Thrones (Col 1:16), Dominions (Col 1:16; Eph 1:21; 1 Pt 3:22), Powers (Col 1:16; Eph 1:21; Rom 8:38; 1 Pt 3:22), Principalities (Col 1:16; Eph 1:21; Rom 8:38), Virtues (Eph 1:21, Col 1:16), Archangels (1 Thess 4:16; Jud 9), and Angels (Rom 8:38; 1 Pt 3:22).
In fact, there are three groups of three choirs each of the angels. The common task of all the choirs is our assimilation to the Triune God. The fact that we are created in the imitation and likeness of God, therefore, is the starting point of the angelic mission. St. Thomas points out that this triadic mission of assimilation deals with our sanctification and divinization by grace. This is threefold, as it were in a reverse image of the Trinity. The first transformation is according to the life of grace, and this is ordered to the FATHER. In the upper choir, this is the ministry of the Thrones. The second transformation is through contemplation of the Divine Word in wisdom, which is order to the Son, the Word of God; this ministry begins with the Cherubim. The third transformation is through the fire of Divine Love; this begins in the Choir of the Seraphim and is appropriated to the Holy Spirit. This is the ordering of the first and highest hierarchy.
The second and third hierarchies are modeled after this original grouping. Hence, the Dominations—in the suavity of the Holy Spirit—administer, for example, His Gifts under the Seraphim. The Powers carry the sword of battle under the Cherubim in the efficacy of the Word, which is sharper than any two-edged sword, and the Principalities watch over the discreet divisions of the Kingdom of God under the Thrones throughout the universe (In the Apocalypse the throne is the symbol of the power and stability of the Father).
In the third and lowest hierarchy which is focused upon our life in the Church on earth, the Virtues, under the Seraphim and Dominations, in the efficacy of the Holy Spirit order the living life within the Church to perfection in the beauty of the liturgy, in the great charism which manifests the love of God made man. The Archangels, bearing the sword beneath the Cherubim and Powers, defend the Church against her spiritual enemies. And the ninth choir of angels—under the Thrones and Principalities—look after the least units of God Kingdom, the individual human heart and the family, where the life of faith needs to be consolidated and cultivated.
Knowledge about the nine choirs of angels can significantly broaden and widen our horizons about the help that is available to us in the angelic world. Imagine a highly organized and disciplined army of angels that are ready and willing to come to our assistance at a moments notice any time of the day or night. The only thing holding them back is our lack of interest and devotion to them. For this is what the Lord has given to us for our protection and defense against the onslaughts of the world, the flesh, and the devil in these dangerous times in which we live.
God surely did not reveal the existence of the angelic choirs to us so that we could simply ignore them. For they form an important part of His providential plan for the government of the universe. He therefore expects us to call upon their help and to take full advantage of the tremendous powers of light and strength that they have at their disposal. For we need their help more today than ever before.
© 2015 • All texts of the Circular Letters are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without written permission except for personal use.
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