Currently there is great interest in the angels. At the same time, there is also much confusion with regard to their nature and ministry. This is because, on the one hand, the angels are not sufficiently discussed in catechism classes and sermons, and on the other hand, many ideas about the angels have been presented - mainly from the New Age movement and the Mass Media - which are contrary to Catholic belief.
We receive many questions about the angels both through the mail and at the retreats and missions that we preach around the country. Therefore, we wish to present the most frequently asked questions, in order to make the responses available to all our readers. We hope that this will help our readers to deepen and strengthen their knowledge and love for the holy angels and, consequently, experience their powerful assistance more effectively in their lives.
The short answer to this most asked of all questions about the angels is simply "no." For the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Sacraments of the Vatican stated in the document The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy of 2001, that "the practice of assigning names to the holy angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and St. Michael, whose names are contained in Holy Scripture" (217).
We do well to reflect, then, that the term "Holy Guardian Angel" expresses very deeply our bond to the angel assigned to us by God for life. For just as there is only one woman and one man in this whole world who can respond to us when we say, "Mom" or "Dad", so too in all the choirs of angels, there is only one angel who can respond to us when we cry out, "Holy Guardian Angel, help me!"
That every baptized person has a Guardian Angel is clear from what St. Basil taught and the new Catechism of the Catholic Church reiterated, "Every one of the faithful has an angel standing at his side as educator and guide, directing his life" (cf. CCC 336). This passage does not state specifically that every human being, without exception, has a Guardian Angel. Nevertheless, in another passage, the Catechism stresses in no uncertain terms that "From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their [that is, the angels'] watchful care and intercession" (CCC 336).
In accord with this, the general teaching of theologians holds that not only every baptized person, but every human being has their own personal Guardian Angel which also teaches the recently published YOUCAT (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church), approved by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in 2010, "Every person receives from God a Guardian Angel" (n. 55). This view is biblically based and founded on the words of Our Lord in the Gospels, where He states emphatically to His disciples, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I say to you that their angels in heaven always see the face of My Father Who is in heaven" (Mt 18:10). Moreover, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the protection of the angels is a gift not only of grace, but also a gift to mankind in the order of nature. Finally, since each individual, based on their own free will, has a unique destiny, it is fitting that there be a one-on-one relationship with an angel. This same position was also taught by St. Gregory the Wonder Worker and St. Jerome, who held that every person has from birth their own special Guardian Angel.
St. Thomas Aquinas maintains that everyone receives a Guardian Angel at birth. Moreover, he states that the Guardian Angel of the mother guards her child while it is still in the womb. Other Fathers and Doctors of the Church, however, for example, St. Jerome and St. Basil the Great, believe that our Guardian Angel is assigned at baptism. St. Anselm, on the other hand, goes a step farther by stating that "every soul is committed to an angel when it is united with a body." In other words, he believes, along with some other saints and theologians, that everyone receives a Guardian Angel at conception. To sum up, then, there are three opinions about when our Guardian Angel may be assigned to us, namely, 1.) at conception, 2.) at birth, or 3.) or at baptism.
The fact, that every human person has a Guardian Angel excludes implicitly that we receive the Guardian Angel at baptism. It remains, then, a question open to speculation whether a human being receives the Guardian Angel at conception or birth. But since a person's life begins at the moment of conception, there is no reason for the angel to have to wait until the person is born. Considering the importance of prenatal care, it is reasonable to believe that the Guardian Angel would be want to be involved. It may also be true, that all benefit from the angelic assistance from the beginning of life according to the natural providence of God, and that in baptism a deeper supernatural bond with the holy angels arises.
It is generally agreed that our Guardian Angel will not be reassigned to another person after we die, because our Guardian Angel has been uniquely matched with us from all eternity by God Himself in order to help us carry out the special mission in our earthly life for which He has created us. For this reason, it would seem unlikely that our Guardian Angel would be assigned to another person after he has finished guiding us. And so, after we die, it is believed, our Guardian Angel will continue his normal tasks in the ranks of the heavenly hosts.
If we receive the grace to enter heaven, we will worship the Lord together with our Guardian Angel, side by side in the heavenly liturgy. As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "When he arrives at the end of life he no longer has a Guardian Angel; but in the kingdom he will have an angel to reign with him" (Summa Theologica, I, 113, 4). But if we have the misfortune of going to hell, then our Guardian Angel will return to heaven alone. If we go to purgatory our Guardian Angel will wait in heaven, and then come to escort us to paradise once our time in that place of punishment is finished. For as St. John Chrysostom states, "if we need a guide in passing from one city to another, how much more will the soul need someone to point out the way when she breaks the bonds of flesh and passes on to the future life" (cf. Homily on Lazarus, 2,2).
No, they cannot. For only God Himself can know what we are thinking at all times; only God Himself can know the depths of our soul. For this reason, St. Thomas Aquinas states in no uncertain terms that "the angels do not know the secrets of hearts" (Summa Theologica, I, 57, 4). Nevertheless, as he goes on to explain, angels and devils can sometimes figure out what we might be thinking. And they can do this in two ways: for "thought is sometimes discovered not merely by an outward act, but also by change of countenance" (Summa Theologica, I, 57, 4). For example, our face can look happy or sad, if we are thinking uplifting or depressing thoughts. Further, our thoughts about other persons can be reflected not only in what we say about them, but also by the way in which we appear and react when coming into their presence.
We must keep in mind, then, that the angels and the devils have not only a superhuman intellect, but also thousands of years of experience at observing the behavior of human beings under all kinds of conditions and circumstances. For this reason, they can like a most skillful and experienced psychologist often discern what we might be thinking without actually knowing our thoughts or being able to read our minds. We could say, therefore, that whereas they are good at reading our faces, they are not able to read our minds.
In this context, it is important to mention that, if we willingly direct our thoughts to an angel (e.g. in mental prayer or inner conversation), then the angel can "hear" those thoughts. Just as the angels communicate between themselves by an act of the will, so we can communicate with them by an interior act of the will.
This question sometimes arises because Jesus revealed to us in the Gospels that, "In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are "like" angels in heaven" (Mt 22:30; cf.: Mk 12:25; Lk 20:36). It must be stressed here that we are not called to be angels, but to be like angels. For likeness indicates similarity which is different from identity. God does not intend, then, to eliminate the natural difference between men and angels; in heaven they will always be distinct and complementary. Man and angel will therefore be like each other in certain aspects, while both retain their nature. What are these aspects?
First, it should be pointed out that both angels and men were created in the image and likeness of God. What's more, this original perfection of nature and grace is brought to a higher perfection of nature and grace in those who get to heaven. And so, since the assimilation of the holy angels in heaven, then, is already completed in their state of glory when we finally get to heaven, we will become like them, not only in the personal glory which they currently possess, but also in their divinized likeness to God.
Second, the angels are "purely spiritual creatures", they "have intelligence and will: they are personal creatures" (CCC 330). Our souls are also spiritual in nature. We are created for the same final goal and we have received the same sanctifying grace of Christ. These are the reasons why we ask the angels in our consecration prayer, "enlighten my mind and my heart so that I may always know and accomplish the will of God". These similarities help us to understand more about our "being like the angels".
Third, we will be eternally blessed with the vision of God "like the angels," with the contemplation, love and perpetual possession of God, the fountain of all good; we will adore Him in total surrender. We will all enjoy the communion of the Blessed Trinity. For "all of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord Who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18).
Fourth, we will enjoy the communion of the saints, angels and men, because both are united with God, the only One who is infinitely holy in His very (natural) being. That is why we ask the angels in the consecration prayer, "lead me to union with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit".
Fifth, in heaven we will have joined the company of the holy angels. Therefore, we will not only enjoy perfect rest and fulfillment of all desires so that we will be "like the angels" - at peace, immaculately pure, full of joy, light and life - but we will also participate in God's perfection, richness, beauty and glory. For "the righteous will shine like the sun" (Mt 13:43) and find themselves in paradise free of pains, tears, sadness, suffering and death.
Finally, in heaven we will live forever in intimate communion with Jesus and all the angels for the glorification of God (cf. Jn 17:24; Eph 1: 12,14), as the Book of Revelation describes: "I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying … 'Worthy is the Lamb ...' and the elders fell down and worshipped" (Rev 5:11-14). Life in heaven will be a glorious liturgy of praise that will unite both the angels and the saints in the unending song of joy: "Holy, Holy, Holy" are You, "Lord, God of hosts" (cf. Rev 4: 8-10).
There are two main ways that they do this. We could call one the common way, and the other, the less common way. In the common way, the angels communicate with us by putting thoughts into our minds, images into our imaginations, and feelings into our emotions.
First, they can put thoughts into our minds by sending us words that are received in the interior senses, for example in the imagination. Secondly, they can send us intellectual visions that communicate an abstract truth or the light to make such judgments of the truth. Moreover, the holy angels can communicate to us spiritual consolations (cf. St. Ignatius Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, Second Week, Rule 3). Finally, the angels communicate with us by causing a certain kind of tension or pressure in our soul or body. We may get the strong feeling that we just have to do something, or go somewhere, or help someone, or pray for a special intention. Many of us, to be sure, have experienced these feelings that seem to come out of nowhere, urging us to act decisively in order to help someone who may be in desperate danger or need.
On the other hand, there is another way by which the angels communicate with us in a sense that we could call less common. That is by using words, and speaking to us out loud in a way that we can clearly understand. It is rare, of course, for an angel to speak to us in a tone of voice that we can easily understand. But there are many examples that we can find in the Scriptures of angels speaking to the persons to whom they have appeared. For example, consider the long conversations between St. Raphael and Tobiah recorded for us in the Book of Tobit; or the extensive revelations given by St. Gabriel to the prophet Daniel; or the announcements given to Mary by St. Gabriel in her home at Nazareth, and to the priest Zechariah in the temple at Jerusalem.
We receive only one Guardian Angel during our lifetime, who is our personal guardian. St. Thomas Aquinas, however, with a number of other theologians, holds that not only bishops receive an additional angel to help them fulfill their responsibilities when they are ordained; but also that certain types of public officials who have grave responsibilities, for example, the rulers of nations, governors of states, or of large communities receive an additional angel to help them rule and guide as well (cf. II Sent., D. 14 q. 1, art. 2, ad 4, et 5). It must be stressed, however, that the additional angel assigned to a person with ecclesiastical and civil responsibilities is not an extra Guardian Angel. Rather, the additional angel acts as a kind of auxiliary to help the person to whom they are assigned to more effectively carry out their mission and duties of state in life (cf. Fr. Pascal Parente, Beyond Space, TAN Books, 1973, p. 124).
Furthermore, St. Thomas Aquinas points out that charisms in the Church are appropriated to the Holy Spirit who administers them through the holy angels. Now every religious community and spiritual movement has a charism. For this reason, whoever belongs to any such movement, enjoys the ministry of the holy angel who is assigned to watch over that movement with its members. What's more, each diocese and perhaps each parish has its own Guardian Angel. And so, at any one time, we are under the guidance and protection of several angels. But to repeat, only one holy angel individually is assigned to us personally by God as our Guardian Angel.
We can find a number of references about angels appearing with wings in the Scriptures. For example, Cherubim were depicted with wings extending over the Ark of the Covenant in the Book of Exodus (cf. Ex 26: 20); the prophet Isaiah relates a vision of a six-winged Seraph, "with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft" (Is 6:2); the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of Cherubim who had not only four faces, but also "four wings" (Ez 10:21). What's more St. John in the Book of Revelation records for us that he saw not only four Cherubim who had "six wings" (Rev 4:8), but also that he saw an angel "flying high overhead" (Rev 14:6).
Since the angels are pure spirits, they do not, of course, have physical wings nor do they need wings for mobility. Rather, wings are a fitting symbol not only of the angels' willingness to readily, eagerly, and joyfully carry out the will of God, but are also an appropriate symbol for the angels' capability to travel anywhere in the universe with the speed of thought. In short, wings are an apt symbol to represent the angels' capacity for rapid movement of spirit, thought, and will.
Angels, like God Himself, are purely spiritual persons, and therefore they do not have a gender as such. Strictly speaking, there are no male nor female angels. Nevertheless, if we study what the Scriptures have to tell us about the angels, we will discover that they are always depicted and spoken of in masculine terms. We will never find in all of the Bible, no matter how hard we might look, a single reference to the angels that is made in feminine terms. Rather, the angels always appear as men.
To offer one example among the many, regarding the angel who appeared to her, the mother of Samson said, "A man of God came to me, and his countenance was like the countenance of the angel of God, very terrible" (Judges 13:6). Even when they are not explicitly called men, they appear as magnificent, intimidating, and powerful persons—qualities that we associate normally with masculinity. For example, the first angels that appeared on Christmas morning had so frightened the shepherds that they had to be told not to be afraid. What's more, not only did the guards at the tomb of Jesus become like "dead men", as St. Matthew puts it (Mt 28: 4) when an angel appeared to roll away the stone from the grave, but also the prophet Daniel "fainted" (cf. Dan 10: 9) at the mere sight of St. Gabriel when he appeared to him. For Daniel described St. Gabriel as appearing as a man "with a body like chrysolite. His eyes were like fiery torches, his arms and feet looked like burnished bronze, and his voice sounded like the roar of a multitude" (Dan 10: 6). We have to see these facts as a revelation from God, and a manifestation of His will. It is an indication, and a strong one at that, that the Lord wants us to understand that masculine qualities are more fitting in the representation of the angelic spirits.
First of all, we must realize that, ultimately, we can only consecrate ourselves to God alone, Who is our origin and our final end. A consecration to another person, then, is a sacred bond that serves as a means to an end, the end being God Himself. For this reason, a consecration to another person, even the Total Consecration to Mary, cannot be exclusive, that is, it cannot rule out the possibility of making additional consecrations. When we consecrate ourselves to another person, then we, in effect, make a covenant with them. That is, a sacred contract by which we pledge to honor and love them in return for their special help and protection, so that we can more effectively come to know and love God Himself.
The Consecration to the Holy Angels, then, is above all a covenant. That which is implicit in the baptismal promise, namely, communion with the holy angels, is formally expressed and adhered to in the consecration. The soul commits itself trustingly in fraternal love to the holy angels as to those brothers and fellow servants before God (cf. Rev 19:l0; 22:9), who are entirely holy and irrevocably united to God. In this way, the soul opens itself consciously to the efficacy of their spiritual help. Simultaneously, the soul obliges itself to listen to and heed their admonitions (cf. Ex 23:21), which always have the glorification of God and the accomplishment of His will as their goal. The soul pledges itself to an intimate collaboration with them for the spreading and the defense of the Kingdom of God upon earth and for leading a life of perfection as a living member of the Church.
A Consecration to the Holy Angels assents wholeheartedly to their salvific mission which, as minister of Christ, they exercise on behalf of man (cf. CCC 331). It means a voluntary bond with the angels so that, with their help and imitating their virtues, one strives not only for Christian perfection according to one's state in life, but also to collaborate with them in the apostolic mission of the Church for the salvation of souls.
To sum up: Through the Consecration to Mary, the soul accomplishes all its works through, with, and in Mary, so as to perform them more perfectly with and in Christ. In a similar way it can be said, through the Consecration to the Holy Angels the soul strives to do everything like the angels and with them, so as to be more perfectly united to Christ and to be transformed into His likeness.
This question is closely related to the first question in the last issue of our Circular Letter, namely, "Can we give a name to our Guardian Angel?" The answer to this reformulation of the previous question is again in the negative. The reason for this is that, as we mentioned in the last issue of our Circular Letter, the Church wants to discourage us from assigning or ascertaining the names of the holy angels, with the exception of the three Holy Archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael, whose names have been revealed to us in the Scriptures. (cf. Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments, The Directory of Popular Piety, n. 217, 2001).
In addition to that, special prudence and precaution have to be taken in the case of a name that is given to us either in a dream or in a locution, or by an inspiration that is a response to a prayer request. For not only could the devil easily insinuate himself in these kinds of communications, but also our imagination and hidden desires could cause confusion as well. St. Paul warns us that Satan himself can appear as an "angel of light" (2 Cor 11:14). The possibility of communications given in dreams or locutions cannot be altogether excluded. Nevertheless, prudentially, they cannot be accepted when they deal with revealing an angel's personal name. Any angelic name that is received in answer to a specific prayer request should be disregarded. This is the case since it seems unlikely that an angel, or the Holy Spirit, would reveal to us the name of our Guardian Angel, or the names of other angels for that matter, when the Church has explicitly directed us in an official document not to inquire about the names of the angels, nor to assign names to them. The angels are the perfect models of obedience, particularly with regard to the decisions of the Church.
First, we must be aware of the fact that the angels cannot, as mentioned in the last issue of our Circular Letter, read our minds. Nevertheless, they can know specific thoughts that we willfully desire to communicate with them. The essence of all spiritual communication is the decision that we make to transmit a thought or an idea to another person, be it an angel, a devil, a saint in heaven, or God Himself. Therefore, as soon as we make the decision to speak with or to pray to the angels, they will become aware of what we want to communicate to them.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that even "when our Guardian Angel is in Heaven he knows what is happening to man" (cf. Summa theologiae, q. 113, a., 6, ad 3). Our Guardian Angel can learn about what we want to communicate to him from the Beatific Vision of God, should God will to communicate this to him. Dr. Peter Kreeft observes that, "God tells the angels all they need to know about what is going on in our world. They don't need to learn about it through sense experience (sic). [In other words,] … angels see the world reflected in God's mind, somewhat as a listener would see the events of a story told to him by its author" (Dr. Peter Kreeft, Angels and Demons, question no. 37, p. 67). However, this opinion, if taken too far, would remove the need for any communication, not only between angels and men on earth, but also among the angels and saints in heaven. Yet, the moral good of the communion of saints also entails the social dimension of interpersonal relationships which are expressed by acts of communication of information and acts of love. Moreover, this position ignores the common doctrine regarding the Heavenly Hierarchy of the angels. In this regard, St. Thomas and theologians in general hold that God reveals His plans to the Highest Choirs of angels, who then are His ministers in communicating this knowledge and directing the ministries of the lower angels. From this it would not follow, that each angel, in virtue of his own beatific vision, receives all the knowledge that is pertinent to his ministry. The basic principle behind the angelic hierarchy is this: God communicates to His creatures a double share in His goodness: a) the goodness of being (the natural perfection of their nature) together with grace; and b) the goodness whereby they are collaborating causes in the economy of creation in that they causally contribute to the growth of lower creations in perfection.
Finally, while it is certainly within the power of God to reveal the secrets of the heart to any angel, there is no cogent reason why this should generally take place, since it would mitigate against the perfection of the social order in the communion of saints. While the angels may well know our spiritual needs even without such a revelation, our prayers to them are not without purpose. We mention here just two. First, the merit of prayer and the power of hope are necessary conditions for the acquisition of many graces. Hence, the mere knowledge of our need does not entitle, in itself, the angels to mediate to us every grace. Secondly, in and through the communication of prayer we also concomitantly manifest to the angels the dispositions of our heart and soul, which knowledge, in good part at least, pertains to the secrets of heart. This knowledge of our interior dispositions is of great pastoral value to the angel, since by it he can better attune his ministry to our inclination and capacity to cooperate with grace.
It is believed by the saints and theologians of the Church that all the angels that exist today, have existed in the past, and will exist in the future, were created by God all at once at the dawn of creation. In other words, as Joan Cruz points out, "it is the universal Catholic belief that after the battle in which the defeated angels were transformed into devils, the number of angels has remained the same. Their number was complete from that time until now" (Joan Cruz, Angels and Demons, p. 14).
Based upon revelation the Church teaches that God created the whole universe at the beginning of time (cf. CCC 327). Only man came about as a subsequent crowning to creation. Hence, this tenet of our faith would preclude any further creation of angels as well as any further physical creation within the universe.
Prayers of command, directed to the devil to leave another person, place, or thing, can only be made by a priest. In this regard, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, when he was the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, issued a directive to all the bishops in 1985. The directive stated that not only "it is not licit for the Christian Faithful to use the formula of exorcism against Satan and his apostate angels", but also that "people not duly authorized ought not to direct prayer meetings in which are prayed prayers to obtain the expulsion of the devil, prayers, which directly address the demons, or manifest the desire to know the identity of the demons" (cf. Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, September 29, 1985. 11 Protocol, No. 291170).
Nevertheless, he went on to explain that "the formulation of these norms must in no way dissuade the faithful from praying so that, as Jesus taught us, they may be freed from evil (cf. Mt 6:13)." What is more, he stressed, "pastors... should make use of this opportunity to remember what the Tradition of the Church teaches with regard to the proper function of the Sacraments and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the angels, and of the saints in the spiritual battle of Christians against the wicked spirits" (ibid.).
Lay persons, however, in virtue of their baptismal grace, have the right and authority to command the devil to leave themselves. Nevertheless, we must always keep in mind that the devil has a superhuman strength and intelligence. We are no match for him one on one with only the powers of our human nature at our disposal. We will be easily defeated by him, therefore, if we try to fight him with only our own power and strength. We do well to fight infernal fire with heavenly fire. For this reason, we need to ask Mary, Queen of the Angels, St. Michael the Archangel and our Holy Guardian Angel to fight our battles with the devil for us. For they have not only thousands of years of experience in spiritual warfare; but they also possess the most powerful supernatural spiritual weapons available in Heaven and on earth.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that Jesus did not need a Guardian Angel during His earthly life because He was guided immediately by the Word of God. That is to say, His human faculties of intellect and will were under the immediate direction of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to whom He was united in Person. As such, Jesus enjoyed an infinitely greater principle of guidance and protection than any angel could provide. This also holds true of His human faculties, since He already enjoyed the Beatific Vision to a degree vastly surpassing that of all the angels. For this reason, it was fitting that Jesus should have, not a Guardian Angel as superior to guide Him, but rather a ministering angel (or angels), as inferior to Him, to serve Him (cf. Summa theologiae, I q.113, a. 4, ad 1). In other words, Jesus had at least one, or possibly several angels, to assist and serve Him during His time on earth. However, none of these angels could be considered as a Guardian Angel.
For the most part, we cannot tell the difference between the two. The reason for this is that, ultimately, every good inspiration that we receive originates with the Holy Spirit, but is delivered to us by means of an angel. For as St. John of the Cross points out, "Wisdom descends from God through the first hierarchies [of the angels] unto the last and from these last unto men.... Ordinarily, these inspirations are derived from God by means of the angels, and the angels in turn give them to one another without delay. This communication, then, is like that of sunlight shining through many windows placed one after the other" (St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, chapter 12, paragraph 3).
To use another image: the inspirations of the Holy Spirit pass to us through our Guardian Angel in a way that is similar, we could say, to the way in which electrical energy passes from an electrical transformer to an electrical appliance. Just as an electrical transformer filters, modifies, and adapts the voltage of an electrical current so that it will give the right amount of energy to the proper appliance at the opportune time and in the right way; so too our Guardian Angel filters, modifies, and adapts the inspirations and graces that the Holy Spirit wants to give to us, so that we can make use of them according to the amount of grace and wisdom that we possess.
The manner, then, in which inspirations may be traced back to the Holy Spirit are twofold. First, the Holy Spirit can entrust any angel with a special mission, much as St. Gabriel was entrusted with the message of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Secondly, the ministry of every angel is carried out in the power of the Light of Glory and in the efficacy of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Hence, in the ordinary exercise of his ministry, every light, strength and counsel he communicates to us resonates with the power of the Holy Spirit working through His seven Holy Gifts!
It is a pious tradition that St. Michael the Archangel revealed to a holy person that he would be pleased if prayers were prayed not only in his honor, but also in honor of all the Choirs of Angels. Moreover, he revealed to this holy person that he would repay all those who practiced this devotion with great graces, particularly in those times when the Church would experience some special trial. For this reason, believing in this apparition, a holy Carmelite nun from the convent of Vetralla, Italy, made it her practice to pray the Chaplet regularly. It was at the request of the nuns of her convent that Pope Pius IX granted, by a decree in 1851, a partial indulgence to anyone who would pray the Chaplet. This special Indulgence, however, is no longer valid today. It was not retained when the collection of prayers graced with indulgences was revised after Vatican II. Nevertheless, the fact that an indulgence was granted initially by a Pope indicates the value of the Chaplet in the eyes of the Church. In short, we may confidently make the praying of the Chaplet a part of our devotion to the holy angels.
We have nothing to fear if we ask our Guardian Angel to help another person. For our Guardian Angel can move about anywhere in the universe with the speed of thought, since he is a pure spirit, and is not weighed down by a body of flesh and blood. As St. Thomas Aquinas points out, "the swiftness of the angel's movement is not measured by the quantity of his power, but according to the determination of his will" (Summa theologiae, I,q. 53, a. 3, ad 1).
What's more, our Guardian Angel can make his power felt at two or more places at the same time, while still remaining in Heaven before the face of the Father. For as St. Thomas Aquinas points out, "an angel is in a place by the application of his power" to a particular place at a particular time, and not by any kind of physical presence (cf. Summa theologiae, I,q. 52, a. 2). And so, just as I can raise my arm and my leg at one and the same time through the power of my soul, so too can an angel apply his power to various places at one and the same time, even though the distances between these two places may be hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart. The range of an angel's power is not infinite, of course, as God's is. Nevertheless, we could safely assume that the range of our Guardian Angels power extends to everywhere on earth. Indeed, by uniting us in his "thought" we become "one place" for the angel.
At the same time, it remains true that our Guardian Angel cannot be in different spiritual "places" at the same time. How are we to understand this? The power of an angel is channeled through his will. His will is the appetite of his intellect. What he has "in mind", then, he can act upon, whether it is an individual, a family (even with its members dispersed) or a crowd, a continent, a solar system, or a galaxy. Evidently, there is magnitude limit to the power of any individual angel, which we human beings cannot know or measure; still it is certain that the universe is entrusted to the ministry of the angels. For this reason, it must be true that some powerful angels guide and direct entire galaxies and more. We can perhaps imagine this like a beam of light or the force of gravity. These, of course, are physical realities, and therefore only images to give a notion of angelic power.
It therefore, also follows that the angel cannot divide his intellect in two, such that he simultaneously ponders two different realities. For this reason, he can only act on one of them, the one about which he is actually thinking. Here again, our human thought is quite limited; we do not know the precise limits that regulate the union of diverse objects in the angelic intellect.
Our Guardian Angel will never leave our side, no matter how deeply we may fall into mortal sin, and no matter how far away we may go from God and the Church. However, if we turn our back on God, and commit a mortal sin, then our relationship with our Guardian Angel will be damaged. For this reason, communication with him will become more difficult due to our hardness of heart and the loss of grace, since our Guardian Angel normally speaks to us through our conscience. Hence, if we refuse to listen to our conscience and commit a mortal sin, it is like refusing to respond to a phone call from our Guardian Angel, or disconnecting our internet connection to his web page. If we fall into the state of mortal sin, then, the capacity of our Guardian Angel to help us will be severely limited. For he will always respect our free will, and will never force himself upon us.
We must always keep in mind, then, that our Guardian Angel has been given to us precisely in order to help us to know and do the will of God. And so, if we, in effect, tell our Guardian Angel—by committing a mortal sin—that we care very little about knowing how to do the will of God, then he will not be able to help us very much. Nevertheless, in His goodness and mercy, God can still send our Guardian Angel to help us when our life may be in grave danger, for example, in a car accident. In any case, notwithstanding our eventual hardness of heart, our Guardian Angel is always seeking the best means and the most fitting moment to offer light in order to lead us to repentance and conversion.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that angels "do not grieve, either for the sins [committed by men] or for the pains inflicted on men [by God]". (Summa theologiae, I, q. 113, a. 7.) St. Thomas arrives at this conclusion because he reasons that the angels want only what God directly wills or allows to happen. Therefore, since the sins of humans beings are allowed by God's permissive will, then the peace and happiness of the angels are not disturbed by them. St. Thomas speaks thus to counter the idea that the essential happiness of the saints and angels in heaven could be diminished by sins upon earth. At the same time, the angels share in the compassionate love of God towards all mankind, and especially toward the person to whom they have been entrusted by God to act as a Guardian Angel.
Moreover, the angels, because they are spiritual persons who do not possess a body, do not have emotions like human beings do. Nevertheless, we could certainly assume that the angels are not indifferent to our actions. For this reason, they cannot but be pleased by our good deeds, and somehow saddened by our sins. For as Jesus Himself reveals to us in the Gospel, there is "rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (cf. Lk 15:10).
It is taught by St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as many Fathers and Doctors of the Church, that every country has its own Guardian Angel. In fact, St. Clement of Alexandria goes so far as to state that whole "regiments of angels are distributed over nations and cities" (cf. Fr. Pascal Parente, The Angels, p. 119).
It should be noted in particular that Portugal has had a strong and deep devotion to its Guardian Angel for centuries. In fact, that nation was given approval by Pope Leo X in the sixteenth century to introduce a special feast day in order to honor its Guardian Angel. The feast day falls on June 10th of each year. France, similarly has consecrated itself over the centuries to St. Michael the Archangel as her patron. This consecration goes back to King Charlemagne in the early years of the 9th Century.
What's more, all Americans should be aware of the fact that a statue has been erected at the National Shrine of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Washington, NJ, in honor of the Guardian Angel of the United States. The statue stands ten feet tall and weighs five tons. It is carved out of carrara marble by a world famous Portuguese sculptor. It was consecrated on July 4th, 1982.
O Glorious Guardian Angel of the United States, to whom God has entrusted the care of our beloved country, we honor you and thank you for the care and protection you have given to this great nation from the first moment of its inception.
O Powerful Angel Guardian, whose watchful glance encompasses this vast land from shore to shore, we know that our sins have grieved you and marred the beauty of our heritage. Pray for us.
O Holy Angel, before the throne of God. Obtain for us, from the Queen of Heaven, the graces we need to overcome the forces of evil so rampant in our beloved land.
Help us, our God-given protector and friend, to respond wholeheartedly to the urgent pleas of the Mother of God at Fatima. Assist us to offer the prayer and sacrifice necessary to bring peace and goodness to our nation.
We want to make you known and loved throughout our land, so that with your help we may become once more "a Nation under God"! Amen.
Imprimatur: Most Rev. Patrick O'Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, May 8, 1959
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 has 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.
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.
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IMITATION OF MARY