Growing up as a Catholic, the angels were never far from my thoughts. The belief in one’s own Guardian Angel is always comforting. How many of us do not know the Guardian Angel Prayer?
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love commits me here,
Ever this day, be at my side,
To Light and to Guard, to Rule and to Guide. Amen.
When faced with his father’s ghost, the fictional Hamlet exclaims: “Angels and ministers of Grace, defend us”. At his death, his friend Horatio implores: “…And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”. The words reflect the faith of centuries when Catholic believers called on the angels for protection and solace.
What we know about angels from the Bible are through contexts. From the Psalms and the Book of Revelations, we have learned that there are innumerable angels. We have graphic images of them imprinted in our minds. We know them through the shepherds at the Birth of Jesus and we remember them every time we sing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo…” The image of the angel with the flaming sword in the Garden of Eden is quite memorable. ”When He expelled the man…He stationed the Cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.” (Genesis 3:24). Michael appears in Daniel ((10:13, 21, 12:1), in Jude (1:9), and in Revelation (12:7). In the New Testament, we have become familiar with Gabriel appearing to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus and to Zachariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist. In the Old Testament, he appeared twice to Daniel to interpret his visions. Raphael appears in the Book of Tobit and was a great help in his time of need. We also have images of the angel who succored Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, the angel who delivered Peter from the prison, and the angel who met the women who were surprised by the empty tomb of Jesus.
Apocryphal Jewish books like the Book of Enoch and John Milton’s epic, Paradise lost, provide us with several other names for angels.
The Fourth Lateral Council (1215) lays down that angels were “created” and man was created after them. The first Vatican Council confirms it in “Dei Filius”.
We often hear about the hierarchy of the angels. But the Bible itself does not give evidence of that. They are represented as spiritual beings between God and man. There are numerous occasions when angels are mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments, but their hierarchy was still amorphous. The doctrine of angels is part of the Church’s tradition. St. Denis started some order for the angels in De Coelesti Hierarchia, vi, vii, and following this, St Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica (I:108), arranged a systematic ordering of the angels. He divided the angels into three hierarchies, each consisting of three orders, all according to their proximity to Almighty. Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones make up the first hierarchy, the Dominations, Virtues, and Powers make up the second, and the Angels, Archangels, and Principalities make up the third hierarchy. The only Archangel mentioned in the Bible is Michael as it is seen in Jude. The Roman Catholic tradition calls Michael (“Who is like God”), Gabriel (“Power of God”) and Raphael (“God Heals”) as Archangels.
The concept and acceptance of the guardian angel is seen throughout the Bible. “No evil shall befall you, nor shall affliction come near your tent, for to his angels He has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:10-12). Jesus confirms this in his preliminary to the parable of the good shepherd and the lost sheep, “See that you never despise one of these little ones. I assure you, their angels in heaven constantly behold my heavenly Father’s face” (Mathew 18:10).
In our daily lives, the Catholic teachings encourage us to believe in our guardian angels and to look to them for our comfort and protection. They guide us towards good thoughts, words, and deeds. In common parlance, we look to the angel on our right shoulder.
Since the 17th century the Church has celebrated a feast honoring them in October. In the present days, we celebrate the Feast of the Guardian Angel on October 2.
Guardian Angel from Heaven so bright
Watching beside me to lead me aright
Fold thy wings round me O guard me with love
Softly sing songs to me of heav’n above
Beautiful angel my guardian so mild
Tenderly guide me for I am thy Child
Angel so holy whom God sends to me
Sinful and lowly my guardian to be
Wilt thou not cherish the child of thy care?
Let me not perish my trust is thy pray’r
Oh may I never forget thou art near
Keep thou me ever in love and in fear
Waking and sleeping in labor and rest
In thy sweet keeping my life shall be blest