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Vol.VIII, October 2002

 

"You Have Made Him Little Less Than the Angels"
(Ps 8:5, Vulg.)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The biblical texts considered up to this point have not just given us theoretical lessons on the angels, they have led us into the vast spiritual creation of God. The angelic world transcends man; to enter here in faith is to share in the majestic, beautiful, heavenly realm where God is surrounded on His throne by innumerable holy angels in assistance, and by untold hosts of servants distributed in His reign over the entire creation.

1. The next texts we shall consider are found in the book of Psalms. This book contains, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the entire corpus of theology (cf. Commentary on the Psalms, Prologue), and speaks constantly, as St. Augustine asserts, about Christ. Alongside the book of Tobias, we could also call the book of the Psalms for various reasons the "Book of the Angels" of the Old Testament, for they are mentioned so frequently and under such a variety of circumstances.

a) First, being a book of Scripture most regularly read, it accompanies the life of the Church and its members daily throughout all the centuries.–This very repetition serves as a sign of the permanent presence of the holy angels in the Church, of the Guardian Angels at the side of each individual. The Catholic Catechism attests to this fact and to their help, saying: "The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels" (334).

b) Every facet of human life is dealt with in the Psalms: man’s happiness and his fears, the blessings received from God and the attacks of the devils, man’s friends and foes, his children and his fields, God as his maker, and the earth as his dwelling place.–In all these moments the Guardian Angel is present and assisting as well. They are also faithful witnesses of our life, of wherever we stay and of whatever we do, of the good we do and of the evil we fail to avoid or even chose to do, as well as of that which we have to suffer and support.

c) Thirdly, the book of Psalms is a book of songs. In all circumstances, man is looking up to heaven seeking the face of God. Even in the midst of the worst anxiety man not only directs his lamentations to heaven, but also recalls the absolute sovereignty of God and, in so doing, takes his refuge and starts to praise God’s fidelity, goodness and strength. In this way, he overcomes the dark moments of life, and the very nature of praise increases his confidence in the omnipotence of Almighty God, thus leading man to the trustful and even blind surrender to God’s inscrutable providence–just like the angels in their test. Such a habit of praise, which the book of Psalms certainly wants to teach us, will both make us like the angels and lead us into their company. They are praising constantly the glory of God, as they are in fact always in the presence of God. The more man joins them, the more his doubts will be banished from his heart, and whatever sadness remains will become more and more like Christ’s redemptive sorrow.

2. The first literal reference to the angels in the book of Psalms justifies what we just observed about the entire book: "[God,] You have made [man] little less than the angels [acc. to the Neo-Vulgate], You have crowned him with glory and beauty, made him lord of the works of Your hands, put all things under his feet" (Ps 8:5-6).

a) It is precisely this first Psalm, with its reference to the holy angels, that St. Paul applies to "Jesus, who was ‘for a short time made less than the angels’, now ‘crowned with glory and honor’ (Ps 8:5)" (Heb 2:9). This alone could serve as the basis for the teaching of Vatican II and the fundamental theology of the Divine Office, which says: "Christ Jesus, the high priest of the new and eternal Covenant, took our human nature and introduced into the world of our exile that hymn of praise which is sung in the heavenly places throughout all ages" (SC 83; General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, 3). For this reason we are allowed to "share in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle. With all the warriors of the heavenly army we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord" (SC 8; CCC 1090).

b) This is one more explication for our communication with the angels by singing the Psalms, or why we state: Whoever reads or sings the Psalms, whenever and in whatever personal psychological situation of his life, he will find through them the way, which is Christ, into the presence of God and there join the angels in their happiness, at least, in hope.

Making the book of Psalms his daily companion, man leaves in this way the excited world, rushing after advantages, lucre and success. Entering the book of Psalms and joining into these songs is like becoming part of the world of peace and tranquility being more and more absorbed by the serene calm of the final goal; it is like entering into a temple and participating in the choir of praise.

Living with the books of Psalms and nourishing the soul through it man overcomes himself, joins the army of God, the innumerable host of the angels and saints. He shall share the benefits of heaven; he participates in the family of God around His rich table. Truly, the holy angels can sing many Psalms with man as if their own; other psalms they will at least present for us to the heavenly Father as our brothers in grace.

3. In communion with the angels, man will live like them. We can observe in this very Psalm the following guides towards the characteristics of the angelic life:

a) In the first place, the holy angels adore God in heaven, unceasingly praising His holy name. In this man joins them, when he starts and ends this psalm with the solemn call: "Yahweh our Lord, how majestic is Your name throughout the world!" (8:1, 9). This exclamation greatly antedating and yet similar to the invocation in Our Lord’s prayer, "Hallowed be Thy name", directs all human life to the adoration of the sovereignty and beauty of God. Therefore, it ought to be in every mouth, "even through the mouths of children, or of babes in arms" (v. 2). Thanks to adoration, everyone becomes "firm against your foes, to subdue the enemy and the rebel" (v. 2). Truly, he who humbles himself shall be exalted and put his enemies to shame!

b) This adoration is reinforced by meditation: "I look up at Your heavens, shaped by Your fingers, at the moon and the stars You set firm" (v.3); but I also look down to "sheep and cattle, all of them, and even the wild beasts, birds in the sky, fish in the sea, when he makes his way across the ocean" (vv.7-8). God made it all, "shaped by Your fingers,...You set firm"; they give testimony to God’s existence, and tell man, how great and good God is. Seeing and contemplating the words of God, man recognizes his own Maker and adores Him.

c) Only when we approach the matter from this broad angle and in this comprehensive context are we able to follow the Psalmist and find the whole truth about man. We wonder with him: "What are human beings that You spare a thought for them, or the child of Adam that You care for him?" (v. 4). In this vast universe, how small and how weak man is; how blind he is to the marvels around and within him. And yet, "[God,] You have made him little less than a ‘god’", or rather literally, "elohim" (a plural form: acc. the Neo-Vulgata, "less than the angels"). "You have crowned him with glory and beauty, made him lord of the works of Your hands, put all things under his feet..." (vv. 5-6). Man, as the highest in the lower, visible creation, reaches with his soul already to the inferior of the higher order of the spirits (cf. S.Thomas, De Veritate, 15,1c) by a certain similarity (cf. Summa theologica I-II, 2,8 ad 1), and so he is truly found to be just a little below the angels. Therefore, already by nature man is supposed to form a communion with the angels through a similar attitude before God. Called to be above all the inferior creatures, he has to serve his Creator. He is somehow called to a natural priesthood, in a vicarious role like the angels (cf. Circular VI, 6). Christ, of course, came to restore man to grace and to make of him a priestly nation (cf. 1 Pet 2:9; Rev 5:10).

This mystery urges us even more compellingly to recognize the need for meditation in order to acknowledge God and His presence in the world. Grace, by its very nature, demands a complete and constant oblation in total surrender of all we are to God in adoration: "Yahweh our Lord, how majestic is Your name throughout the world!" Here, too, are the angels in their service, surrender and union with Him a model and help for us.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The first Psalm with reference to the holy angels gives us the angelic view of creation and redemption. Through their eyes, as it were, we see God everywhere and are drawn to love Him above all else! All together, we perceive again and again, that we are never alone, never abandoned by God nor by His angels. Deep gratitude ought to mark man and lead him to a sincere spiritual life: "What are human beings that You spare a thought for them!"

Let us always invite the holy angels when we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, our daily portion of the Psalms. We could help ourselves recall these heavenly liturgists and companions (cf. Heb 1:14) with a holy-card or by the custom of beginning our prayer with the Sanctus, the angelic song of praise: "Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Power and Might..." We are sincerely invited, if not even obliged, to unite ourselves before prayer and during it with the triumphant and suffering Church!

We would do well to look for a good commentary on the Psalms and to read again Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution on the occasion of the promulgation of the reformed Divine Office, as well as those most precious first pages of the "General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours" in the first volume of the Liturgy of the Hours, in order to find our way to a deeper understanding of the universal dimension of our call!

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might–
we adore You.
Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.
Hosanna in the highest–
we contemplate You.
Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest
–we serve You.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC