Vol. XI, February 2005


The Holy Angels as Educators for a Holy Communion   

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The Church is solicitous that we be well prepared when we approach our Eucharistic Lord. From the very beginning of Mass, the priest invites the faithful: “To prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our sins”. This call to conversion “is brought to light in various parts of the Mass” (Redemptionis Sacramentum [= RS] 80; cf. 80-87). As a result, “the Eucharist purifies the penitent’s heart and stimulates him to conversion, making him aware of his own miseries and moving him to seek God’s pardon” (Congregation for Divine Worship, The Year of the Eucharist: Suggestions and Proposals [= Prop.] 22). Nevertheless, the penitential rite “cannot be regarded as a substitute for the Sacrament of Penance in remission of graver sins” (RS 80). Moreover, the Church explicitly commands: “The First Communion of children must always be preceded by sacramental confession and absolution” (RS 87).

The insistence on purification at the very beginning of the Eucharistic celebration calls to mind the beginning of Jesus’ public life, when He first called for repentance (cf. Mk 1:15). It reminds us of the beginning of the history of mankind, the fall of Adam and Eve, our first parents. Already then, God called on the faithful angels for help: “At the east of the garden [God] placed the Cherubim and a flaming sword which turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen 3:24). This tree can be seen as the first symbol of the Eucharistic “Bread of Life”.

1. “Conversion” is part of the Eucharistic spirituality.

The concern for our purification before approaching Jesus in the Eucharist is certainly not just a disciplinary question of ritual. The holiness of God Who offers Himself in love requires that we approach the altar to receive Him with a pure heart. He Whom St. Gabriel said would “be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35) is our Bread of Life. The Virgin Mary was gifted with the grace of being immaculately conceived, so that she in turn could worthily receive (conceive) Our Lord in her womb, as the Liturgy relates: “Lord our God, You made the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary the home of your eternal Word and the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit” (Opening Prayer of the Mass in honor of the Immaculate Heart, Marian Masses, n. 28).

All mankind acknowledges the fundamental truth: The Holy belongs to the holy ones. Often it is said in Sacred Scripture: “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev 11:44)   And of “those things with which atonement was made,” Moses determined, “an outsider shall not eat of them, because they are holy” (Ex 29:33). St. Paul states with reference to the Holy Sacrifice and the real presence of our Eucharistic Lord: “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the Bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the Body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor 11:28-29; cf. Mt 7:6; Rev 21:27).

The Congregation for Divine Worship writes: “Christ’s monition to be reconciled with our brother before bringing our gift to the altar (cf. Mt 5:23–24) and Paul’s warning to examine one’s conscience before taking part in the Eucharist (“A man should examine himself first, only then should he eat of the Bread...” 1Cor 11:28) should be taken seriously. Without this penitential dimension, the Eucharist is weakened in one of its most profound dimensions” (Prop. 22).

2. The angels are defenders of God.

John Paul II explains in Reconciliation and Penance, 18: “When the conscience is weakened the sense of God is also obscured, and as a result, with the loss of this decisive inner point of reference, the sense of sin is lost. This explains why my predecessor, Pius XII, one day declared in words that have almost become proverbial that ‘the sin of the Century is the loss of the sense of sin’”. Presently, we hear the claim that many Catholics go to Holy Communion without previous purification. This situation calls to mind a certain parable of Jesus. He said they will knock at the door and when the lord of the house appears not to know them, they will exclaim: “‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’” (Lk 13:25-27). How necessary in our day is the purifying action of the Holy Spirit Who “will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn 16:8). In this mission, He integrates the ministry of His holy angels.

 a) The angels make man aware of God’s holiness.

The loss of the sense of sin is rooted in the loss of the sense of God. Many times in history the holy angels made man aware of God’s holiness. Consider Moses before the burning bush, when “...the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (cf. Ex 3:1ff.). Consider Joshua who at the appearance of the angel “fell on his face to the earth and worshiped” (Jos 5:14). And how greatly was the prophet Isaiah impressed when he beheld the comportment of the Seraphim before the throne of God. “One called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke” (Is 6:3-4; cf. Rev 4-5). Similarly, the angels directed the shepherds to the joy of seeing their Savior in the crib. The angels bow down before God and adore Him. They recognize His greatness and sanctity even in His Eucharistic presence. In like manner, all those who are guided by them also recognize and adore Him.

b) The angels make man aware of his littleness and sinfulness.

When Joshua saw the commander of the Lord’s army, he “...said to him, ‘What does my lord bid his servant?’ And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, ‘Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so” (Jos 5:14-15). Right after his own vision the prophet Isaiah described what impression it had made on him. “And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Is 6:5). St. Peter reacted similarly to the miraculous catch of fishes: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk 5:8).

When man finds God through or even present in the holy angels, he perceives His sovereignty which lies far above all creatures and His authority over all creatures; he palpably understands God’s right to command and to require obedience and an accounting. As a man’s idea (concept) of God grows, so too does a man’s understanding of his own littleness, of his limits and even of his sins increase.

3. The angels help man toward union with God.

God wounds so that He can heal (cf. Deut 32:39). As His faithful servants, the holy angels act in a similar fashion at His behest.

a) The angels are anxious for our reconciliation.

The Seraph brought to Isaiah the burning coal, which we might understand as a symbol of purifying love. “Then flew one of the Seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: ‘Your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven’” (Is 6:6-7; cf. Zec 3:1-7). Even if the angels in their clear vision of God have little comprehension for sin, they bow before the mercy of God. Moreover, in imitation of Christ they are anxious to bring the sinner to reconciliation with God. Jesus says of them: “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:10).

b) The angels help towards conversion.

Several reasons can be found for why the holy angels can be called helpers towards man’s conversion. First, they are sent by God to go before man (cf. Ex 23:20). They know God’s plan for man and His expectations. Further, the angels are always with man and, therefore, are testimonies of all his words and actions. These two points make them the best helpers in man’s examination of conscience, “the confrontation of our thoughts, words, works and omissions with the Gospel of Jesus” (Prop. 22).

Secondly, the angels burn with zeal for God: “He will not pardon your transgression; for My Name is in him” (Ex 23:21). An angel exhorted the prophet Elijah twice: “Arise and eat” (1 Kings 19:5,7). An angel admonished the disorientated apostles through the women to get up and go “to Galilee; there you will see Him” (Mt 28:7; cf. Lk 1:19-20). And, finally as St. John attests, “The angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (Rev 19:9; cf. St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises Week 1 and the lessons of the angel of Portugal in Fatima). The holy angels stimulate the will of man to repentance and conversion, be it out of obedience to God, be it out of his interest in man’s happiness. They help him to attain the essential dispositions for a fruitful reception of Holy Communion, the “sense of God” and the “sense of sin” as well as faith and trust in His Eucharistic presence.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Because of their zeal for the Lord, the holy angels help us to see “our miseries clearly, as they are…[This] frees us from attitudes of self-pity, maintains us in the truth before God, moves us to profess the mercy of the heavenly Father…and leads us to the Sacrament of Penance. This, in turn, then leads us to attitudes of praise and thanksgiving” (Prop. 22).

When our Lord called us, we responded with generosity. We wanted to serve Him with a pure heart and burning love! He still expects these attitudes from us (cf. His communications to St. Faustina with regard to the Holy Communion of priests and religious, Diary, n. 71, 588, 1683). Let us, therefore, daily renew our friendship and “covenant” with the holy angels that we may become ever more worthy fellow servants with them before the Lord and in the service of His people. Let us help the Church (i.e., those souls entrusted to us) to present herself “...clothed with fine linen, bright and pure…[at the] marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:8-9). May she appear   “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing…holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC