The Role of the Holy Angels
“Angels we have heard on high/Sweetly singing o’er the plains….” So goes a classic Christmas carol. With the holidays in full swing, decorations related to the season abound, among them various forms and styles of angels.
But there is so much more to angels than the images that beautify shelves and mantles.
All these halos and wings have me wondering how much my mental image of angels matches up with what the Church teaches about angels. Are they real? What is their purpose? How do we know they’re real?
Holy angels are not fantasy; they are real. The most obvious place to turn to first is the Bible where we find these examples:
In the Old Testament —
- An angel called out to Abraham, telling him not to harm his son, Isaac, while the former was about to sacrifice his son. (Genesis 22:11-12)
- An angel appeared to Moses as fire in the burning bush. (Exodus 3:2)
- An angel accompanied Israel as they were brought out of Egypt and through their sojourn in the desert. (Numbers 20:16)
In the New Testament —
- The Angel Gabriel announced the good news to the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of the Savior. (Luke 1:26-35)
- Angels came to minister to Jesus after He was tempted by the devil. (Matthew 4:11)
- An angel, sitting on the stone of the empty tomb, proclaimed to the women that Jesus had been raised from the dead. (Matthew 28:5-6)
What are angels?
The word “angel” comes from the Greek “angelos,” which means “messenger” or “one who is sent.”
They are pure spirit — meaning they have no physical bodies — who have intelligence and will. They may, at times, take on human form as is seen in the book of Tobit when St. Raphael helps Tobiah on his journey (St Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica).
From the Catechism:
St. Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel.’”188 With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word”. (CCC329)
What do angels do?
Fr John A Hardon, SJ, explains that angels have a twofold role: “They are to worship God and venerate His divine majesty through all eternity, and they are to assist us in our probation here on earth in order that we might join the angels in heavenly glory.”
Guardian angels are not bedtime stories to make our children feel better. They are a very real and important part of the Catholic Church. Each of us has our own, as do nations and churches.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (334, 336) shows us their current function: “The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels…. From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. ‘Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.’ Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.”
Angels are here to aid us
Holy angels are wonderful blessings from God. Of the more popular prayers are the St Michael Prayer and the Guardian Angel Prayer. Let us thank God for the unseen holy angels who have come to our aid numerous times, for they are “ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).
Hopefully this has provided you with a little more clarity concerning angels.
As for me, now I’ve started down this rabbit hole and I can’t wait to learn more. I highly recommend you read the CCC 328-336 found here. My next stop will be to read this book on angels from Father Pascal Parente. I’ll update a reading list as I find more.
What are your thoughts on angels? What have you read that has helped you understand these beings?