Friends In High Places

This Saturday is the Feast of the Archangels and Tuesday will be the Memorial of the Guardian Angels. It is thus a good occasion for a brief summary of the Catholic understanding and devotion to angels. An angel is a pure spirit created to glorify God forever in heaven. The English word “angel” comes from the Greek and Latin terms for messenger, for the Bible often presents angels as messengers and guardians from God. See, e.g., Gen.19, 22:11; Zech. 1:7-17; Matt. 1:20, 2:19; Luke 1:10-20, 26-38; Heb. 2:2.

Being pure spirits, they are magnificent in splendor and glory, with greater majesty and power than any human even imaginable on this earth. Thus, when people realize that they have seen an angel, they often believe that they will die from being overwhelmed by glory. See, e.g., Judges 6:22, 13:22; Tob. 12:16; Dan. 9:17-19. As a result, among the first words an angel addresses to a human are frequently, “Be not afraid.” See, e.g., Tob. 12:16; Luke 1:13, 2:10. And because angels are so close to God, when people in the Bible see them, they often describe the occasion as seeing the Lord. See, e.g., Gen. 16:13, 32:31; Ex. 3:2-6; see also Rev. 19:10, 22:9-10.

With the majesty and holiness of God with such great power, angels are at the same time the guardians of God’s people, but also very dangerous if approached without the proper respect. See, e.g., Gen. 19:11; Ex. 23:20-24; Num. 22:22-35; 2 Pet. 2:10. Thus, the Book of Revelation thus describes them as both: (1) guiding and guarding God’s people, especially in their worship, but also (2) announcing God’s wrath upon the world. See, e.g., Rev. 7:1-8, 8:3-10:11, 16:1-21.

When these spirits were created, they had one choice, for or against God. The angels who chose to serve God became what we call angels and praise Him forever in heaven with magnificent splendor beyond human understanding. That choice for God required divine grace, for no one can approach God without His special favor; but, as with Mary, that grace was one of attaining perfection, not forgiveness of sins, for the angels in heaven never sinned. God also sends some angels to earth to serve us and carry out His will.

See Catechism 329-35. And so each of us has a guardian angel to guide, protect and pray with us on this earthly pilgrimage. And, as C.S. Lewis points out in one of his books, we each hope to meet one day the angels and say to them, not “Who are you?” but rather “It was you all along whom I sensed as my celestial protector and friend.”