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Vol. VII September 2001

 

The 3rd Instruction, X: "I am… One of the Seven"
(Tob 12-15)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

After having referred to his mission from God, the angel presents himself personally: "I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord" (12, 15 ). It is rather rare occasion and, therefore, a joy to find ourselves once again together with these two devoted men, Tobit and Tobias, in their direct dealings with this holy angel. The more we understand that the commandment to love our neighbor extends also towards the angels, and that with them we are supposed to form one society, (Cf. Circ. VII, July), the greater our interest shall grow to learn as much as we can about the angels themselves.

1. The angels are persons, "personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness" (CCC330). As such they can be identified concretely, by name. And so, the angel gives us his name: "I am Raphael". But, immediately, he points to a group of angels, to those to whom he belongs: "I am Raphael one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord," or, according another tradition: "… who stand before the Lord". The "being-one-of" a group, means what ever can be said of the group, can be said of St. Raphael too. Let us, therefore, linger over this fact. It seems natural, that all those who belong to God, are not alone but form community, because God lives in the community of the Three Divine Persons; sure enough, John Paul II established like a principal "every Christian identity has its source in the Blessed Trinity" (Pdv 12; cf. Vita conscecrata 16 and CCC 258). Although it may be difficult for us to imagine communion among the angels (for they are pure spirits), still we find among them some reflection of the inner Trinitarian communion. First in the very existence of the angels: as angels: as creatures, they are composed of essence and existence. And where these two come together in a spiritual substance, there necessarily exists a personal being, the person of an angel. By this, each angel is a unique and unrepeatable creature. They all agree in being pure spirits. Still, some resemble one another more than others. This explains that certain form of community among those angels who are united in individual choirs. In them are joined angels "corresponding to the measure of their perfection and to the tasks entrusted to them" (cf. John Paul II, Catechesis on the angels, General Audience, August 6, 1986, no 3). Thus, angels with a singular strength if intellect are united in the choir of the Seraphim, etc. (cf. S. Thomas Aq., Summa theologica, I, 108). With regard to the group St. Raphael belongs to, in all tradition, as far as we can see, it was never discussed, whether they represent a group similar to one of the choirs or even constitute one of the choirs. It may be that these seven angels have simply been called together for a special mission as the different groups of seven in the Apocalypse.

2. Some authors think, that St. Raphael’s group of seven is the same as "the angels who stand in the presence of God" to whom were given "the seven trumpets" according to the Book of Revelation (Rev 8:2). The matter is worth discussing, but difficult to resolve.

  1. In any case, St. Raphael belongs to an organized group of angels. Order is the composition of many individuals under one common principle. Order presupposes the value and uniqueness of the individuals; it esteems their value, so that, on one side, it is an honor for one to be called to, or selected for a certain group. On the other side, the reign of order is a sincere sign of humility and love. We could call these two aspects the front and back of the identity card that unites people in the reign of God, for it is an honor, which simultaneously demand that one accept being incorporated among others and to stand under some one else’ will! In compensation, however, each member shares in the graces and benefits of the entire group. With the other members they form together a harmonious union.
  2. St. Raphael identifies as a characteristic of the group the fact they "enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord". It is true, to live before God or in his presence is what we know and affirm of each and every holy angel. But, what is then the specific characteristic of this group? We might see the difference by comparing the matter to men in terms of the doctrine of Jesus. He directed to each one of us the "parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart" (Lk 18:1). Now, alongside the universal application of commandment to all, we distinguish the laity living in the world from the cloistered nuns: we attribute to the first ones a life of mission and apostolate in the world, and to the others the "professional" obligation of being always in prayer. So it is certainly not without meaning, when St. Raphael characterizes his group with the service before the Lord, Raphael and the other angels in his group are not "cloistered" angels, as we could call the choirs of the first hierarchy of the angels according St. Thomas and the tradition (Summa theologica I, 108.6c;cf, ibid. a 1 and 5 ad 5).

 

With the words, "enter and serve…"., St. Raphael indicates that he and his immediate angel colleagues, have been out on mission, otherwise they could not ‘enter’. Moreover, we expect from them what is expected from the faithful-christians: even during their mission, they watch the face of God, attentive to the least indication of His holy will. We can see this is the case of the angel God had sent in the time of David "to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, looked down and felt sorry about the calamity; and he said to the destroying angel, ‘enough now! Hold your hand!" (1 Chron 21:15), and the angel stopped.

The characteristic, being "one of" this group and the further fact that upon completing his mission, he had to ":return to Him who sent me" (12,20) shows that his ordered group is not just based on functionality, but has a deeper principle of communion in divine intimacy. What a light this sheds on the personality of St. Raphael: He is always orientated to God and ready for any mission and service. And when finished, He returns to God. In this he resembles the Son of God in His salvific mission, and offers a hint about the inner life of God, the communion of Three in One.

Several groups of angels mentioned in the Apocalypse bear this trait of St. Raphael, the book which witnesses to the union of the earthly and heavenly Church. It is certainly correct to say that in her earthly needs the Church looks up to heaven and to the ranks of the angels and seeks solutions through them. So teaches the Catechism: "The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels" (CCC 334); therefore "the Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthy pilgrimage" (CCC3520.

  1. We might think of such a group of seven angels in heaven when we reflect upon the structure of the College of Cardinals: Custom still ordains that there be a group of just seven Cardinal-Bishops at the top, followed by the many Cardinal-priests and Cardinal-deacons (CF Annuario Pontificio). True, they are seven in number because there are seven ecclesiastical districts in Rome, one for each of them: but still, we might ask: why preciously seven? Further, these seven Cardinal-Bishops should never leave Rome, but remain always in the presence of the Pope, namely as his firm and constantly available counselors. In this, at any rate can be seen a certain similarity to the character and mission of the seven Angels to whom St. Raphael belongs, of those "who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord"?
  2. We might think of another similarity with these angels in the life of the Church. The Second Vatican Council notes that priests "are bound together" by the sacrament of ordination to an "intimate sacramental brotherhood, (they) form one priestly body in the diocese… All priests are sent to cooperate in the same work… So priests are all united with their brother-priests by the bond of charity, prayer, and total cooperation," so that "associations of priests are also to be highly esteemed and diligently promoted," (PO8). Each shall work "in groups,… if they are not to run in vain" (PO 14; cf. Pdv 31,4; 74-77; 80; Dir 20-31; 54; 88; 96). We priests are supposed to form a group and live and cooperate with it like St. Raphael. We might call upon his help for this purpose.

Dear Brother’s in the Priesthood!

As the angel is sent by God and goes to man, but in union with his brother’s so should we priests also be aware of being sent by God, and going to man but in union with our brother’s priests. This group identity may be repeated insofar as we are united as members of the diocesan "presbyterium", or, members of our Association of priests in the Opus Angelorum. The ‘ Identification card’ communion of St. Raphael- a place of honor, a position of service- can remind us, that ours is but a share in the "eternal and unique priesthood" of Christ (Pdv 13.5), which we currently share with some 400,000 confreres around the world. Let us not forget the plight of the nearly 1,200 confrere who, still, annually leave the priesthood. God only knows how many of them came to that point, because they could not find communion with a brother priest. Might not this need cry out and invite us to built up anew the Association of priests in your diocese or to bring it again a life, e.g. by multiplying and sharing this circular with those who seem to be alone and lonely and by gathering them together with you for dinner, for a talk and for prayer? May St. Raphael with his six brothers help us to form in each diocese of the world a group of priests who try to live and work together with the holy angels and who, like and with the holy angels: enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord ", and "stand before" Him.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC