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Vol. XIII, February 2007

 

Angels as Guides to the Glory of God (cf. Ez 40:1-43:9)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

“The hand of the LORD was upon” the prophet Ezekiel once more, and brought him “in the visions of God into the land of Israel, and set [him] down upon a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city” (Ez 40:2). Then, “a man, whose appearance was like bronze, with a line of flax” (Ex 40:3) guided him through the temple (cf. Ez 40-47). We may conclude that this man was an angel, in light of his previous angelic experiences: “The vision I saw was like the vision which I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and like the vision which I had seen by the river Chebar” (43:3). Also other prophets spoke of a similar experience (cf. Zech 2:1-2), as well as St. John the apostle (cf. Rev 21:15). With St. Jerome a contemporary commentary says that “this ‘man’ is not Yahweh Himself, also not Moses, but a heavenly being, an angel who takes measures” (J. Ziegler). Cornelius a Lapide thinks it could be “either St. Michael who presides the over temple and the Church, or Gabriel of whom Dan 9:21” speaks. Therefore, we have here another example of cooperation between the angels and the prophets, between angels and priests.

1. The Guidance By the Angel  

This man had “a measuring reed in his hand” (v. 3) and guided the prophet through the temple area.

a) He said to the prophet: “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear… And behold, there was a wall all around the outside of the temple area, and the length of the measuring reed in the man’s hand was six long cubits …so he measured the thickness of the wall…and measured the threshold of the gate…the side rooms…and the space between the side rooms, five cubits…” (40:4-7), and even “the temple area round about” (42:15). The angel took him apparently through all parts of the temple (except the “inner   room” 41:3), to the north and south, to the west and east, always giving the concrete measure. “Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the east; and the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with his glory… As the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple” (43:1-2,4-5).

Ezekiel’s reaction recalls the prophet Isaiah’s vision: “I fell upon my face. While the man was standing beside me, I heard one speaking to me out of the temple; and he said to me, ’Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel for ever’” (vv. 5-7; cf. Is 6:5).  

b) The Intention

He explained to the prophet the purpose of this vision and instruction: “You were brought here in order that I might show it to you; declare all that you see to the house of Israel… They have defiled My holy Name... Now let them put away their idolatry and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst for ever. …Make known to them all its ordinances and all its laws; and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe and perform all its laws and all its ordinances. This is the law of the temple: the whole territory round about upon the top of the mountain shall be most holy” (43:4, 9-12).

In a word, this is the whole mystery of the temple, of God’s presence with us: Where He is, is holiness, and where holiness is not, there God is not, because He is holy. No minister of God can transmit this message better than those who lively already consciously in His presence and find in it their happiness. “Whoever does not know true love has never known God!” (Maxims of M. Gabriele; cf. Gal 4:9; 1 Jn 4:7-8,20). The holy angels know God. We can say more: The more a creature knows God, the less it thinks about itself and the more consciously it cares for God’s will, for God’s order and word. We can see this in these many precise descriptions which this man gave to the prophet, and which the prophet has handed down to us.

Certainly we ask, what do all these different concrete measures mean for us today. Where they not just for the reconstruction of the temple? Surely, these measurements had that practical purpose; but they also have significance for us today: They reveal that with God is order and harmony, precision and perfection, and consequently beauty and purity. We can see this order throughout creation. In the visible world, for example, certain animals live only in water or up in the mountains; some in hot, others in cold areas, or some plants grow in certain places and die in others. Or again, how ordered is the molecular and even atomic order in the microcosm.

The harmony expressed in these precise measures tells us, therefore, that also all those who are to approach God and to enter into His presence are required similar clarity, order and precise determination. They have to become pure by assimilating God’s order and norms. They have to go through all the “rooms” of virtues and to adjust themselves to the measure God has established for each of them. In St. Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle we might see a translation of this idea into the spiritual life of a soul.

2. The Angel’s Task

The angel appears here with a fixed role: God sends His angel before Himself to prepare a place and prepare man for His coming. The angel should guide man through the temple to the gate of the appearance of God’s Glory. The angel is sent also as leader or guide to God; he introduces man into God’s world and brings so the creature finally before its Creator.

a) The Angel as Interpreter

It becomes also clear that the angel is not a mediator in the full sense in which the term is applied to Christ (cf. 1 Titus 2:5), but rather an interpreter, a translator of God’s will into a form which man can perceive and understand. The angel sees God in the light of glory and is called by God for this service. Besides this open communication, there is still an infinite distance, an “abyss” (cf. Ps 42:8) between the angels and God just as there is between man and God. When God approaches man or calls him nearer to Himself, then the angel seems to step back, leaving the way free for union with God.

In fact, according to nature, men and angels are much closer to one another than to God. In the economy of grace, however, this changes. Through and after the Incarnation of the Son of God, after God became visible to man, man can see and hear Him (cf. 1 Jn 1:2-5). St. Paul describes this mystery, “the unsearchable riches of Christ…the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;” it is, according him, “that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:8-11). Then, in the Sacraments and the sanctifying grace given directly by God through His indwelling in souls, man can be united with His God. Whether a mystery or grace, these are “things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Pet 1:12).

b) The Intensification of the Angel’s Mission

 In view of the Incarnation, should one expect an essential change in the tasks of the angels? An intensification, yes! But already in the Old Testament the angels were sent in service of Christ who was to come, preparing His way. Hence, it is no surprise that in the vision of John “one of the seven angels…had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls” (Rev 21:9, 16)? The angels help to prepare each soul for Christ’s coming.   In this fashion each soul has to progress through its “Old Testament time” and “New Testament time”, and needs the guiding angel’s help till it arrives at the One Mediator, Christ, in the Sacraments and finally at the gate of heaven. The experience of many Saints confirms this leading task of the angels, but also its intensification. In Fatima the children were prepared by an angel to meet Our Lady. After she appeared, the angel seems to have disappeared. Even in the description of the 3 rd secret of Fatima we find this change: They saw “an angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendor that Our Lady radiated towards him…” and he just “cried out … ‘Penance, penance, penance!’” At the end of the world, the angels even “gathered up the blood of the martyrs”.

3. The Requisite Collaboration of Man

The angelic mission, in order to be fruitful, requires a docile heart as he found in Ezekiel. The angel asked the prophet: “Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your mind upon all that I shall show you.” (v.4). Eyes and ears are the main doors of man to the outer world. The receptivity should be concentrated in the angel’s message. Should this correspond to the threefold coming of God, through His works first which can be seen, then through His Word, the Son, Which has to be heard, and finally calling man himself to Him? Man is expected to follow the instruction till he finds himself before the Glory of God! There he will fall on his knees, and the angel with him (cf. Apoc 5,7-8) This is the authentic fruit of the encounter with God: in the recognition of one’s   own nothingness, to become small and humble. We men with unclean lips need first a certain illumination to see the need of purification, then through deeper lights grows the desire for the union with God. Man issues from the sinful race; the angel comes out of the Divine Light like a guide. We all will meet finally with GOD Himself, God granting. That is why we pray in our Consecration Prayer (approved in 2000 by the CDF):

I beg you (holy Guardian Angel): protect me against my own weakness and against the attacks of the wicked spirits; enlighten my mind and my heart so that I may always know and accomplish the will of God; and lead me to union with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood,

Our personal way and our prophetic task become easier with the help of the holy angels. We ought to cooperate with them, and imitate their many virtues. Let us open ourselves, our eyes and ears to them in meditation and prayer, rather than filling ourselves with the chaff of the world, TV etc. Let us call upon them and ask for their guidance as Ezekiel was once guided. Then the yoke of the priesthood will become easy, and the burden of work light. And is this not God’s intention when He sends His holy angels into our life? They are always here for us!

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC