Catechesis on the Angels
The principal source of our knowledge of the holy angels is from Sacred Scripture. The angels are found in hundreds of citations in the Bible. Yet much teaching on the angels can also be found in the magisterial writings of the Church. Below we provide some of the more important sources for the Church's teaching on the angels.
COMPENDIUM OF THE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
59. What did God create?
Sacred Scripture says, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). The Church in her profession of faith proclaims that God is the Creator of everything, visible and invisible, of all spiritual and corporeal beings, that is, of angels and of the visible world and, in a special way, of man.
60. Who are the angels?
The angels are purely spiritual creatures, incorporeal, invisible, immortal, and personal beings endowed with intelligence and will. They ceaselessly contemplate God face-to-face and they glorify him. They serve him and are his messengers in the accomplishment of his saving mission to all.
61. In what way are angels present in the life of the Church?
The Church joins with the angels in adoring God, invokes their assistance and commemorates some in her liturgy.
" Beside each believer stands an angel as a protector and shepherd leading him to life." (Saint Basil the Great)
62. What does Sacred Scripture teach about the creation of the visible world?
Through the account of the "six days" of creation Sacred Scripture teaches us the value of the created world and its purpose, namely, to praise God and to serve humanity. Every single thing owes its very existence to God from whom it receives its goodness and perfection, its proper laws and its proper place in the universe.
63. What is the place of the human person in creation?
The human person is the summit of visible creation in as much as he or she is created in the image and likeness of God.
64. What kind of bond exists between created things?
There exist an interdependence and a hierarchy among creatures as willed by God. At the same time, there is also a unity and solidarity among creatures since all have the same Creator, are loved by him and are ordered to his glory. Respecting the laws inscribed in creation and the relations which derive from the nature of things is, therefore, a principle of wisdom and a foundation for morality.
74. What was the fall of the angels?
This expression indicates that Satan and the other demons, about which Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church speak, were angels, created good by God. They were, however, transformed into evil because with a free and irrevocable choice they rejected God and his Kingdom, thus giving rise to the existence of hell. They try to associate human beings with their revolt against God. However, God has wrought in Christ a sure victory over the Evil One.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
327 The profession of faith of the Fourth Lateran Council affirms that God “from the beginning of time made at once (simul) out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and then the human creature, who as it were shares in both orders, being composed of spirit and body.”
I. The Angels: The Existence of Angels ~ A Truth of Faith
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.
Who are they?
329 St. 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.’” 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.
Christ “With All His Angels”
331 Christ is the centre 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. Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus Himself.
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. Again, it is the angels who “evangelize” by proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection. They will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, to serve at His judgement.
The Angels in the Life of the Church
334 ...The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.
335 In her Liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance (in the Roman Canon’s Supplices te rogamus... [“Almighty God, we pray that your angel...”]; in the funeral Liturgy’s In Paradisum deducant te angeli... [“May the angels lead you into Paradise...”]). Moreover, in the “Cherubic Hymn” of the Byzantine Liturgy, she celebrates the memory of certain angels more particularly (St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and the guardian angels).
336 From its beginning until death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” (St. Basil). Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.
In Brief: 350 Angels are spiritual creatures who glorify God without ceasing and who serve His saving plans for other creatures: “The angels work together for the benefit of us all” (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, 114, 3, ad 3).
351 The angels surround Christ their Lord. They serve Him especially in the accomplishment of His saving mission to men.
352 The Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being.
The Fall of the Angels
391 Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”
392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This “fall” consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and His reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: “You will be like God.” The devil “has sinned from the beginning”; he is “a liar and the father of lies”.
393 It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite Divine Mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”
394 Scripture witnesses to the disastrous influence of the one Jesus calls “a murderer from the beginning”, who would even try to divert Jesus from the mission received from His Father. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” In its consequences the gravest of these works was the mendacious seduction that led man to disobey God.
395 The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite. He is only a creature, powerful from the fact that he is pure spirit, but still a creature. He cannot prevent the building up of God’s reign. Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and His kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries—of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature—to each man and to society, the action is permitted by Divine Providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that Providence should permit diabolical activity, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.”
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 demons, 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.