Vol. XI, March, 2005
Holy Angels and the Eucharistic Memorial of the Passion
Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
The Most Holy Eucharist is the memorial of Our Lord’s Passion. We confess in the Liturgy and pray: “ O God, Who in this wonderful Sacrament, left us a memorial of Your Passion, grant, we implore You, that we may so venerate the Sacred Mysteries of Your Body and Blood as always to be conscious of the fruit of Your redemption” (Opening Prayer on Corpus Christi). Let us today ask in what way the holy angels are with us in the celebration of the Eucharistic Mystery as the memorial of the Passion of our Lord.
1. At the Holy Mass Our Lord serves us Himself. “This is the Lamb of God!” we priests say right before Holy Communion, “Who takes away the sins of the world”. For He is slaughtered for our redemption. The angel in Fatima gave the children Holy Communion saying, “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God” (Fatima in Lucia’s own Words, 1976, 65).
Something can be offered only after it is acquired. A meal can be served only after food is bought and cooked. The “oven” for the Eucharistic Meal, in which Jesus is prepared for us, is His Passion and death! He is separated for the sacrifice in the Garden of Olives, destined to death by the High Priest, almost cut into pieces at the flagellation, ridiculed and yet recognized as King at the crowning, and He Himself went outside the city, transforming all things on the Cross through His Love.
Already before His Passion, He made clear that “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from My Father” (Jn 10:17-18). Then, He prayed, “Father, not Mine, but Thy will be done!” To Pilate, Jesus said, “You would have no power over Me unless it had been given you from above” (Jn 19:11). And to the Father again He says, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” (Lk 23:46). And they took Him down from the Cross and put His body in the hands of His Mother, who becomes the Mother of the Church. She laid Him in the tomb. From there He rose to life to meet the Apostles, He the Living One showed His wounds, the marks of His Passion: “See My hands” (Jn 20:27). It is I, the One Who called you, Who lived with you and suffered for you, Who was dead and now is alive again, the same yesterday today and tomorrow!
The Holy Eucharist is the Lord. We receive Him, the sacrificed and risen Christ—this is the entire mystery of faith and love. We should not place “an overemphasis on a single aspect, e.g., on the Eucharist as meal, on the baptismal common priesthood, on the sufficiency of a Liturgy of the Word only and on ecumenical practices at Mass which are contrary to the faith and discipline of the Church” (Synod of Bishops, The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church. Lineamenta, 25).
2. The holy angels are faithful servants of the Lord. He Himself described “the angels of God” as “ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (Jn 1:51). In this they “represent one of the functions of the priest” (F. Sheen, The Priest Is Not His Own—A “must read” for all our priests!—Ignatius Press, 2005, p. 32).
a) They give testimony of Him. They ascend to the Father in heaven and descend from the Father to the people (cf. Jn 12:29). They ascend and descend upon the Son of God at the beginning and at the end of His life, while He lays in the crib (cf. Lk 2:10-14), flees to the desert (cf. Mt 4:11), enters into His Passion (cf. Lk 22:43) and rises from the dead (cf. Mt 28:2ff).
Jesus asked the apostles for help in Gethsemane, “Remain here, and watch with Me.… Watch and pray” (Mt 26:38-41); then He Himself went to pray. When He went back to them after an hour, they were sleeping. Then, however, an angel appeared to Him and strengthened Him.
While Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, Pilate asked about His kingship. Jesus confirmed that He was a king, and as proof, He referred to His army. “You say that I am a king. For this I was born…My kingship [however] is not of this world; if My kingship were of this world, My servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews” (Jn 18:36f.).
And having completed His mission, “an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow” (Mt 28:2-4). He gave this testimony: “You seek Jesus Who was crucified. He is not here; for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay” (Mt 28:2-6). The holy angels were constantly present.
b) Equally, the holy angels are present in the Eucharistic celebration of His Passion, death and resurrection, from its beginning till the end. At the very beginning, the Church directs herself to them: “I ask blessed Mary, ever Virgin, all the angels and saints to pray for me.” Then, we priests exhort the faithful before the Lord comes at the consecration: “Lift up your hearts!” and let “our voices be one with theirs in their triumphant hymn of praise: Holy, Holy, holy…” (Prefaces). Once more, before Holy Communion, the Church is aware of the angels’ presence and calls somehow upon the one who assisted St. John at Patmos, because we priests repeat his words saying: “Happy are those who are called to His supper!” (cf. Rev 19:9).
There are more references to the holy angels in the holy Mass. We join in their praise “Glory to God in the highest…” (Lk 2:14). We priests are reminded of the encounter between the prophet Isaiah and the Seraph in our silent prayer, “Almighty God, cleanse my heart and my lips…” before we read the holy Gospel (cf. Is 6:6-8). We refer to them when we confess God as the “Creator of heaven and earth”, and ask in the Our Father, that “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” that is, by the angels. Even when we greet the people with the words “The Lord be with you,” we might think on St. Gabriel and ask him to join us, as he greeted Our Lady, representing the entire mankind, with these words (cf. Lk 1:28).
c) The testimony of the presence of the holy angels at the Holy Mass is found throughout the entire History of the Church. St. John Chrysostom, like St. Gregory and St. Augustine, speaks of angels crowding around, bowing profoundly, “worshiping Him Who lies on the altar”. “The angels surround the priest. The whole sanctuary and the space before the altar is filled with [them], the heavenly Powers come to honor Him Who is present upon the altar.” (cf. Danielou, The Angels and Their Mission, Westminster 1976, pp. 62-67). The angels ascending and descending, “welcome the King of the universe, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts” (Cherubikon of the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom).
St. Bridget wrote in her Revelations: “One day, when I was assisting at the Holy Sacrifice, I saw an immense number of holy angels descend and gather around the altar, contemplating the priest. They sang heavenly canticles that ravished my heart; heaven itself seemed to be contemplating the great Sacrifice (cf. St. Hildegard, Scivias 11,6). St. Faustina describes the Seraph who brought her Holy Communion thirteen times (cf. Diary, 1676). Saint Padre Pio admonishes Fr. Alessio, who wondered about the particles which had fallen out of his control: “Thank your Guardian Angel who did not let Jesus fall on the floor…What do you think the angels do around the altar?” (Fr. A. Parente, “Send Me Your Guardian Angel” Padre Pio, 96). In conclusion: Whereever their Lord is, there are also His faithful heavenly servants.
3. Their presence in His Passion surprises men as it surprised St. Peter. He thought to be present at the Passion of the Lord means to fight and free Jesus from it. However, Jesus taught him, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Mt 26:53-54).
The holy angels see the Father and His will. They see the spiritual dimension of life. They learned of the value of suffering. We speak of the angels today almost solely as miracle workers, because only by their extraordinary interference do we recognize their presence. Sacred Scripture, however, manifests them more as guides to the Cross. We see this demonstrated in the first reported word of an angel in Scripture. For to Hagar the angel says, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” (Gn 16:9; cf. Circular, March 1996) Therefore, we can say when we celebrate the Holy Mass consciously with the holy angels that they introduce us into a deeper spiritual level. They make us see with the eyes of God and understand His intentions. They encourage us to live with the love of the Holy Spirit, their Lord, and not to be afraid of the fire which works our transformation. Knowing by faith of the divine power and angelic assistance, we desire to be transformed, purified, shaped and conformed to Christ.
Uniting ourselves more consciously with the holy angels at the celebration of the Holy Mass means to be lifted up in our heart and mind, so that we learn through and with them how to praise God worthily! The union with them introduces us priests deeper into our union with Jesus Himself, the only High Priest Who first, before them, descended and then ascended. He is the Mediator in Whose mission we participate as priests. They help to establish the “ladder of Jacob” above the altar, but they will not substitute us. With and through them, we will grow towards Christ. They help us to listen to the Father like Jesus in the Liturgy of the Word; to take up the Cross and surrender ourselves with Jesus at the offertory and consecration; and to receive Him at Holy Communion as the deepest renewal of our priestly union with Him.
4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!
Angels bring not heaven to earth, but help to bring earth to heaven. Let us ask for their help for a deeper and more conscious union with the Lord. Let us call upon them, and celebrate, with their assistance, the Holy Mass as our most solemn prayer to God. “May (Mary) who was a victim with her Son teach us never to go to Calvary without having our hearts pierced with a sword,” because “the first crack in the priesthood comes in our attitude toward the Eucharist: the holiness with which we offer Mass, the sensitiveness of our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament” (Sheen, ibid., pp. 22, 217). Because we are consecrated to Christ Crucified, in the attentive celebration of the Holy Mass we find the true joy of our priesthood.