Popes on the Angels

Creator of things unseen: the angels

General Audience JULY 30,1986

1. In the previous catechesis we dwelt on the article of the Creed in which we proclaim and confess God as creator not only of the whole visible world, but also of the "things unseen", and we treated of the question of the existence of the angels who were called upon to make a decision for God or against God by a radical and irreversible act of acceptance or rejection of his salvific will.

According to Sacred Scripture the angels, inasmuch as they are purely spiritual creatures, are presented for our reflection as a special realization of the "image of God", the most perfect Spirit, as Jesus himself reminds the Samaritan woman in the words: "God is spirit" (Jn 4:24). From this point of view the angels are creatures closest to the divine exemplar. The name given to them by Sacred Scripture indicates that what counts most in Revelation is the truth concerning the tasks of the angels in regard to man: angel (angelus) in fact means "messenger" The Hebrew malak, used in the Old Testament, signifies more precisely "delegate" or "ambassador". The angels, spiritual creatures, have a function of mediation and of ministry in the relationships between God and man. Under this aspect the Letter to the Hebrews says that Christ has been given a "name", and therefore a ministry of mediation, far superior to that of the angels (cf. Heb 1:4).

Care and solicitude

2. The Old Testament emphasizes especially the special participation of the angels in the celebration of the glory which the creator receives as a tribute of praise on the part of the created world. The Psalms are in a special way the interpreters of this voice, when, for example, they proclaim "Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him all his angels ..." (Ps 148:1-2). Similarly in Psalm 102 (103): "Bless the Lord, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word!" (Ps 102 [103]:20). This last verse of Psalm 102 indicates that the angels take part, in a way proper to themselves, in God's government of creation, as "the mighty ones who do his word" according to the plan established by Divine Providence. To the angels in particular is entrusted a special care and solicitude for people, whose requests and prayers they present to God as, mentioned, for example, in the Book of Tobit (Cf. especially Tob 3:17 and 12:12). Psalm 90 proclaims:" "For to his angels he has given command about you... upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone"(cf. Ps 90-[91]:11-12). Following the Book of Daniel it can be said that the tasks of angels as ambassadors of the living God extend not only to individual human beings and to those who have special duties, but also to entire nations (Dan 10:13-21).

3. The New Testament highlights the role of the angels in Christ's Messianic mission, and first of all in the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, as we observe in the account of the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist (cf. Lk 1:11), of Christ himself (cf. Lk 1:26), in the explanation and orders given to Mary and Joseph (cf. Lk 1:30-37; Mt 1:20-21), in the indications given to the shepherds on the night of the Lord's birth (Lk 2:9-15), in the protection of the newborn child from the danger of persecution by Herod (cf. Mt 2:13).

Further on the Gospels speak of the presence of the angels during Jesus' forty days of fast in the desert (cf. Mt 4:11) and during the prayer in Gethsemani. After Christ's resurrection there will also be an angel, appearing under the form of a young man, who will say to the women who had hastened to the tomb and were surprised to find it empty. "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here ... go, tell his disciples ..." (Mt 16:5-7). Two angels were seen also by Mary Magdalene who was privileged with a personal apparition Of Jesus (Jn 20:12-17; cf. also Lk 24:4). The angels appear to the Apostles after Christ's ascension, to say to them: "Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:10-11). They are the angels of him who, as St. Peter writes, "has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him" (1 Pet 3:22).

4. If we pass to the Second Coming of Christ in the Parousia, we find that all the Synoptic Gospels note that "the Son of man ... will come in the glory of the Father with the holy angels" (thus Mk 8:38; as also Mt 16:27; and Mt 25:31 in the description of the Last Judgement; and Lk 9:26; cf. also St. Paul in 2 Thess 1:7). It can therefore be said that the angels, as pure spirits, not only participate in the holiness of God himself, in the manner proper to them, but in the key moments they surround Christ and accompany him in the fulfilment of his salvific mission in regard to mankind. In the same way also the whole of Tradition and the ordinary Magisterium of the Church down the centuries has attributed to the angels this particular character and this function of Messianic ministry.