Vol. XI, April 2005


Holy Angels as Guides to the Risen Lord in the Eucharist

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The Biblical text to which the Holy Father linked His reflections for the Eucharistic Year is the encounter of the Risen Lord with the disciples of Emmaus: “Mane nobiscum Domine”—“Stay with us, Lord” (Oct. 7, 2004). It is the Risen Christ Who walks with them. “‘Stay with us’, they pleaded” with Him at the end. “And He agreed. Soon afterwards, Jesus’ face would disappear, yet the Master would ‘stay’ with them, hidden in the ‘breaking of the bread’ which had opened their eyes to recognize Him” (MnD, 1). This means it is the Risen Christ Whom we have before our contemplative eyes in the Blessed Sacrament. The holy angels are the first witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection. Will they help us to see Him present in the Blessed Sacrament?

1. Christ is the eternal Son of the living Father.

Christ is the eternal Son of God Who assumed human nature. He united eternal life and mortality, heaven and earth. He is God among us, divine life in the midst of human beings.

a) Christ is risen.

We celebrate His Resurrection as we ought. Christ truly died in His human nature and rose again to life through the power of His divinity. He took up His body again, showing Himself to His Apostles with the marks of the wounds. He stayed on earth appearing to them for forty days. Having ascended into heaven, He has His body now with Him in heaven.

For those who would approach Jesus merely as man, His state of glory must needs be a great surprise. They would be filled with wonder and awe; they would be without explanation. For us who have the grace of faith, we have practically come to take His state of glory for granted: Christ, the eternal Son of the living Father, can never die; He is always alive; He is the Life as He is the Truth, as He is the Beauty, the Goodness, infinite Being itself for ever, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Since He assumed our human nature, it is true He could and did die. His human body could be and was separated from His human soul (cf. St. Thomas Aq., Summa Theologiae, III, 50,2). But it is also clear that since He is God, He can never have an end. Hence, His body and soul, which at His death were separated for a time from each other, could never be separated from His divinity. Accordingly, His death could not be anything else but a step through the door from this earthly life to the heavenly life, from vulnerable conditions to the transfigured state of the glorified body.

b) The risen Christ is present.

Jesus’ love, however, is so strong that “He found a way to stay ‘in’ us”, and not just “with” us while He is in heaven (cf. MnD, 19). In the preparatory document for the next Synod we read: “From the day of the Ascension, the Church has fixed her gaze on the Lord Who said, ‘No one has ascended into heaven but He Who descended from heaven, the Son of man’ (Jn 3:13). Christ, risen and ascended into heaven with His glorified, earthly body, remains on earth in His Mystical Body, the Church, in her members (cf. 1 Cor 12:5) and in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist” (Lineamenta, 17). Thus, “the flesh of the Son of Man, given as food, is His body in its glorious state after the Resurrection” (John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 18). As a consequence, it follows that “the Eucharist is…in some way the anticipation of heaven, the ‘pledge of future glory’. …Those who feed on Christ in the Eucharist need not wait until the hereafter to receive eternal life: they already possess it on earth, as the first-fruits of a future fullness which will embrace man in his totality” (ibid.).

2. God is surrounded by angels.

We believe in the divinity of Christ which the angels behold in glory, even when it is hidden on the Cross, and also when, together with His humanity, it is hidden in the Holy Eucharist.

a) Christ is always surrounded by His holy angels.

“The eschatological tension kindled by the Eucharist expresses and reinforces our communion with the Church in heaven. It is not by chance that the Eastern Anaphoras and the Latin Eucharistic prayers honor Mary, the ever-Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God, the angels, the holy Apostles, the glorious martyrs and all the saints. This is an aspect of the Eucharist which merits greater attention: in celebrating the sacrifice of the Lamb, we are united to the heavenly ‘liturgy’ and become part of that great multitude which cries out: ‘Salvation belongs to our God Who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (Rev 7:10)” (EdE, 19). More is stated: “Receiving communion means to enter into communion with the Lord and the saints of the Church, both in heaven and on earth” (Lineamenta, 60).

As Christ is the Son of God in heaven and on earth, so He is surrounded by His holy angels there and here (cf. 1 Pet 3:22). He is for the holy angels the same on earth and in heaven. He is their Lord and God, their bliss and happiness, their joy, life and peace in heaven and on earth. They see in Him always their God, they live for Him, they serve Him, in heaven as well as on earth, under all circumstances, and so also in His unfathomable, most humble presence in the Blessed Sacrament.

b) Jesus is hidden in the Eucharist and yet of divine dignity.

Although it has been accentuated that Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament as the risen and transfigured Lord, nonetheless, some persist in thinking that Jesus is not really present in the Blessed Sacrament with His “body and blood, together with the soul and divinity…truly, really, and substantially” (CCC 1374), “in each of the species and whole and entire in each of their parts” (CCC 1377). Others, reflecting upon His state of glory, come to the absurd conclusion that in His transfigured state, since He cannot suffer physically any more, it must also follow that He cannot be offended by anything.

However, we may never overlook the fact that we always stand in a relation to persons and, consequently, all we do or omit before Our Eucharistic Lord touches Him in His divine dignity. We, therefore, with the help of the holy angels, want always to recall that Jesus, the Son of the eternal living God, is personally present in the most simple tabernacle, in which the Most Holy Eucharistic is reserved. He is substantially present   and merits love, worship, honor and glory, both here on earth from us in union with the holy angels as well as from the saints and angels in heaven! That is the reason, why the holy angels stimulate us to observe that to which the Holy Father “appeals urgently” to the priests today, “that the liturgical norms for the celebration of the Eucharist be observed with great fidelity. …It is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality” (EdE, 52). We serve Jesus in His hidden form of presence with the holy angels, and therefore, divinely.

3. We act in the presence of the holy angels.

With the help of the holy angels, we become clearly aware that in Christ the heavenly Liturgy has come down to earth (cf. SC, 8). How many sensitive souls have perceived this and thus found their way to God in the Church through Sacred Liturgy!

We should be active, visible collaborators with the holy angels in making the divine realities palpably present to the faithful in the liturgy.

Like the myriads of angels hosts gathered “around the throne” of the Lamb in heaven (cf. Rev 5:11), so we too want to honor God’s sanctity, first, by caring for the “sanctuary” as a clean, noble and distinctive space, separated from the ordinary: “The sanctuary is…where the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers exercise their offices. It should be suitably marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation” (GIRM 295).

The holy angels place before our spiritual eyes how the heavenly place of God is adorned with the most precious stones. St. John was shown by “one of the seven angels…the holy city Jerusalem. …Its radiance [was] like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. …The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold…” (Rev 21:9-11,18-19; cf. Tob 13:16-17). This “obliges” our love to choose not the most simple sacred vessels that the Church permits, but the most precious that our means reasonably permit (cf. GIRM 327-332; Redemptionis sacramentum, 117-118).

The liturgical vestments are important for the one who knows that he truly represents the One eternal High-Priest, Who is “like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round His breast” (Rev 1:13), before Whom St. John “fell at His feet as though dead” (Rev 1:17; cf. Ex 28:40ff.; etc.; cf. GIRM 335-344; Redemptionis sacramentum, 121-127). A word about clean linens, altar cloths and vestments may also be fitting (cf. Rev 7:9-14; 21:27).

 When liturgical vessels, objects and even lighting are tinsel and junk, people will naturally feel the same vulgar way about God. A holy place demands beauty and sacred art. Candles are not a luxury, but a need of the human heart. You have neon lights at the supermarket but not at a fancy restaurant, where atmosphere is important. Jesus is the light of the world. His angels are figures of light. His liturgical presence should be indicated by “candles, which are required at every liturgical service out of reverence and on account of the festiveness of the celebration” (GIRM 307). There must be “near the tabernacle a special lamp…to indicate and honor the presence of Christ” (GIRM 316; cf. Lev 24:2-4; CIC can. 940). Flowers (GIRM 305) remind us of the exhortation to all creation to give Him thanks and praise (cf. Ps 148).

Time and again in Scripture we find men and angels expressing their reverence and adoration before God by a prostration. In the liturgy, along side the moments where adoration is expressed by kneeling, the “genuflection” simultaneously expresses adoration and the acknowledgement of Christ’s presence.

A very instructive expression of reverence which the holy angels show to God in falling down and worshiping (cf. Rev 5:14) is the “genuflection”. The holy Church confirmed this just recently: “A simple but effective form of Eucharistic catechesis is the material care of everything concerned with the church and especially the altar and the tabernacle: Cleanliness and decor, worthy vestments and vessels, care in celebrating the liturgical ceremonies, genuflection, etc. An atmosphere of recollection should pervade the Blessed Sacrament chapel. This is a centuries old tradition guaranteeing that silence which facilitates dialogue with the Lord” (Congregation for the Clergy, The Priest and the Third Christian Millennium, 1999, III, 2).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

Other points would also merit mention, like sacred music, as we join our voices with those of the holy angels in the praise of God (cf. Prefaces of the Mass). May our union with the holy angels deepen our interior reverence before God and seek to offer this visible expression through the place, form and manner in which we celebrate the Divine Liturgy with the faithful.

In our union with the holy angels we should distinguish ourselves not by the invention of new rites or by “extras”, but by our solicitude to God’s greater glory alongside “His angels, [His] mighty ones…His ministers that do His will” (Ps 103:20-21).

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC