Vol. X, April 2004
All creatures, bless the Lord! (cf. Ps 103:20-22)
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
We are “invited” by the Holy Mother Church “to make a covenant with” the angels, who are God’s “servants, so that in union with…[them we] might work with humility and fortitude for the glory of God and the coming of His Kingdom” (Prayer of the Consecration to the Angels).
In our next Psalm, the Psalmist is overwhelmed by God and His Goodness. He wants to praise the Lord with “all that is within (him)” (103:1). At the end, he resorts to calling upon all creatures in order to satisfy his spiritual thirst:
“Bless the Lord, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word,
hearkening to the voice of His word!
Bless the Lord, all His hosts, His ministers that do His will!
Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!” (vv.19-22).
1. Man needs to be disposed for union with God.
The last meditations showed us the reciprocal help of the intellect and the will. We see it again here when the Psalmist, beholding with awe, exclaims: “Bless the Lord!” Bless the Lord, all you His works, spiritual or material or human!
a) There are four reasons to “Bless the Lord”.
What does the Psalmist observe that elicits his need to praise the Lord? There is, first of all, the adorable sanctity of God Himself: “Bless the LORD, O my soul...bless His holy name” (v.1). Our Lord will teach us that this is the first of all petitions in the Our Father: “Hallowed be Thy name!” Our Lady gives us the same example: “My souls magnifies the Lord…holy is His name!” (Lk 1:49). And the heavens unceasingly echo: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!” (cf. Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8).
The other reason for blessing God is His goodness towards us. Man should “not forget” but always have it in mind through contemplation: “Forget not all His benefits: ...[He] satisfies you with good as long as you live” (vv.2,5). He is “abounding in steadfast love” (v.8).
A third reason for blessing Him is for His merciful and forgiving love, which is stronger than justice, so that He “forgives all your iniquity...heals all your diseases…[and] redeems your life” (v.3ff.). “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (v.8). A fourth reason for praising God is for His power and might: “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all” (v. 19).
b) Man needs to be open for the grace of God.
God, however, does not act unconditionally. Even if “His steadfast love” is as great “as the heavens are high above the earth”, even if He has pity “as a father pities his children,” He acts in such a way only “toward those who fear Him” (vv.11,13; cf. v.17). “He remembers that we are dust,” and, therefore, does not expect great things from us. Yet “His righteousness [is] to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember to do His commandments” (vv.17-18). Therefore, on the one hand, God requires from all who seek His grace, mercy and love that they fear the Lord, be faithful to His covenant and obey His commandments. On the other hand, God takes much more joy in helping the poor out of His generous love than in paying a salary out of His justice to those who earn some merits before Him. Is this not the lesson of the latest doctor of the Church, Saint Therese of Lisieux? We should want to love and please God, all the while trusting more in His strength than in our own effort.
2. “Bless the Lord, all His hosts!”
The Psalmist ends with the great invitation of the angels: “Bless the Lord, O you His angels, you mighty ones! …Bless the Lord, all His hosts (Latin: omnes virtutes Ejus), His ministers that do His will!” (vv.20-21; here, “virtutes” stands for all angels, while in Eph 1:21, just for one particular choir). The Little Flower also invited the holy angels to bless God. Possibly inspired by her spiritual Mother, Saint Theresa of Avila (cf. Life, 38,19-20), she invited during Holy Communion, “all angels and saints to come and to sing songs of love. Then, it seems to me, Jesus is content to be received so solemnly, and I participate in His joy” (Story of a Soul, ch. VIII). The Psalmist justifies this recourse to the angels by mentioning some of their characteristics. This serves us as a short but beautiful lesson about our heavenly brothers.
a) The angels are like older brothers.
He first calls the angels “mighty ones”. They are creatures much more perfect than we are. In the scales of natural perfection they are far above man. In them, man finds, as it were, an older brother and a strong support. Created by the same Father, called to the same destiny and happiness, man expects to encounter them well on the way to their goal.
b) The angels are models of selflessness.
Further, the Psalmist tells us that the angels are “hearkening to the voice of [God’s] word”. How often man falls due to his “own will”. He increasingly realizes that the greatest freedom would be to entrust his free will to God’s will. The angels are characterized by their attentive orientation towards God, the root cause being their total selflessness: They are free of any self-will, of any shadow of pride, self-preoccupation or selfishness. In the depth of their being—if we may say so of an angel—they totally admire and love their Lord and God.
c) The angels are “His ministers that do His will”.
The Psalmist names yet a third characteristic of the angels: They are those “who do [God’s] word...His will!” The angels are not simply enjoying the beatific vision. Seeing God as He is makes them understand that there is nothing more honorable than to abandon oneself totally to Him, to place all that we have at His disposal and to serve Him. “All is Yours, O Lord; from You I received all, to You it still belongs at every moment and in every circumstance.” That is to say, the knowledge of God in the beatific vision raises the angel perpetually to the maximum degree of their love. Hence, they are most desirous to glorify and serve Him.
These characteristics suffice to distinguish the faithful and holy angels from their fallen brothers. They are utterly marked by the presence of God! Like Mary, they are “virginally” free and silently open for the will of God. Like her, they made obedient service their life-program, so to speak. Should we not be anxious to receive them as friends before God? Should we not also wish to become one with them, repeating the prayer of our Lord at the Last Supper, “that they [we] may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee” (Jn 17:21)?
3. We “want to make a covenant”.
The Lord expects from the soul holy fear, faithfulness to His covenant, and obedience to His commandments. The fact that the angels are not only “mighty”, but also “do His commands”, will gladly help man to obey God’s commandments, too! They who selflessly hearken to God’s voice can be a support for man’s faithfulness to the covenant with God! This is why the Work of the Holy Angels, with the blessing and approval of the Church, invites us “to make a covenant with” the holy angels, God’s faithful “servants”. Through “union with” them and with their help, we may hope that His grace will become even more effective in us for His glory and the coming of His Kingdom. Moreover, they will keep us on course: “Not to us, O Lord, but to Your name give glory!”
United with the angels, we will be able to glorify Him more fittingly. For this reason together with the Psalmist, we shall call upon the angels saying, “Bless the Lord” with us!
a) How beautiful…
How beautiful and harmonious would such a union among men and angels be, where none thinks of himself, but all are directed totally to God and His glory! This fullness of love and harmony cries out for realization in the highest possible measure. It should embrace everything that exists, just as the ministries of the angels embrace all things. In fact, the Psalmist concludes his song with this exclamation: “Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion” (v. 20).
b) What an exchange...
What an exchange of talents, forces and graces takes place in this union as a secondary effect. Man gains strength and faithfulness in his commitments from the angels, while the angels learn the mercy and patience of their Lord at the side of man (cf. Lk 15:7,10). The angels, who are already definitively united with God, help man to remain faithful to the covenant of the Lord and to obey in holy fear.
c) The created three bless the Uncreated THREE.
Finally, the love of God and the enthusiasm over His kindness to men raise man up to the angels. At the same time, God’s will, power and might brings the angels down to the life of man. The Psalmist recalls the omnipresence of God: “His kingdom rules over all” (v. 19). Then, adding immediately the reference to the angels as “mighty ones who do His word”, he refers to their mission throughout all creation. Angels and men are united not only in the glory of God, but also in their works, which embrace the whole of the physical universe. Thus, these three dimensions of created being (angels, mankind and the physical creation) are gathered about the Lord in a circle, as it were. These three creatures sing and “adore the thrice-holy God” (CCC, 335): “Bless the Lord, O you His angels...Bless the Lord, all His works...Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
If we could only be more conscious of the presence of the many holy and zealous angels about us! They are not just examples for us, so that we should live like them. Rather, they are here with us now. They are well disposed to unite themselves with us, to help us with our vocation before God, especially in our service of the Lord and in the Liturgy! Therefore, the grace of God is beckoning us “to make a covenant with them” to work for the glory of God and the coming of His Kingdom “in union with” them!