A Summary of Catholic Teaching on Angels
Catholic Apologetics #27
“Your Guardian Angel was one of those great warriors who, together with the Angel Saint Michael, defended the honor of God against Satan. He is still powerful against the devil…and his charity has not diminished, nor will he ever fail in defending us. Develop the beautiful habit of always thinking of him; that near us is a celestial spirit, who, from the cradle to the tomb, does not leave us for an instant, guides us, protects us as a friend, a brother; will always be a consolation to us especially in our saddest moments. Know, my child, that this good Angel prays for you; offers to God all the good works you accomplish; your holy and pure desires. In the hours when you seem to be alone and abandoned, do not complain of not having a friendly soul to whom you can unburden yourself and in whom you can confide your sorrows. For pity’s sake, do not forget this invisible companion, always present to listen to you; always ready to console you.” (St. Padre Pio)
Summary of Catholic Teaching on Angels in General
The angels, while we may depict them in drawings with wings and bodies, are pure spiritual beings – i.e., without physical bodies. As stated in the Baltimore Catechism, “Angels are pure spirits without a body, created to adore and enjoy God in Heaven.” They were created to praise God, manifesting a state of perpetual adoration of the Most Holy Trinity. They are the attendants of God, “mighty in strength,” who “execute His word, hearkening to the voice of His orders” (Ps. 102:20). They act as messengers and are sent to communicate with humans what God’s Will is in a given situation.
All the angels were created by God prior to His creation of man. Like humans, angels have intelligence and free will – the ability to recognize and understand truth, and to embrace either good or evil, to either obey God or rebel against Him. Unlike humans, however, the angels do not experience bodily passions or re-thinking of prior decisions, repentance or amendment for sin. As such, they were given one opportunity by God to either choose Him or not, shortly after He created them. Sadly, as we read in Scripture, many chose to rebel:
“And there was a great battle in Heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels: And they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in Heaven. And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” (Apoc. 12:7-9)
According to this same chapter in the Book of the Apocalypse, we know that roughly one-third of all the angels fell with Lucifer (cf. verse 4). Commenting on this episode, the Catechism of the Council of Trent explains that “although they were all endowed with celestial gifts, very many, having rebelled against God, their Father and Creator, were hurled … [down] and shut up in the darkest dungeon of earth, there to suffer for eternity the punishment of their pride.”
Scripture and Tradition indicate that there are various Choirs of Angels. These levels or orders have distinct qualities and have identifiable roles in the angelic world. St. Gregory the Great (Homily 34, In Evang.) gives us a clear idea of the view of the Church’s Doctors on the point:
“We know on the authority of Scripture that there are nine orders of angels, viz., Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim. That there are Angels and Archangels nearly every page of the Bible tells us, and the books of the Prophets talk of Cherubim and Seraphim. St. Paul, too, writing to the Ephesians enumerates four orders when he says: ‘above all Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Domination’ [Eph. 1:21]; and again, writing to the Colossians he says: ‘whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers’ [Col. 1:16]. If we now join these two lists together, we have five Orders, and adding Angels and Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, we find nine Orders of Angels.”
St. Thomas Aquinas divides the angels into three hierarchies, each of which contains three orders, with their proximity to God serving as the basis of this division. In the first hierarchy, he places the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; in the second, the Dominations, Virtues, and Powers; in the third, the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.
Summary of Catholic Teaching on the Guardian Angels
It is in that lower tier of angels that our guardian angels belong. Theologically, each of us has a specific guardian angel to watch over us night and day (cf. Ps 34:7, Mt 18:10, Acts 12:15), but how often do we recall this sublime reality? Do we ask for their guidance daily or ignore them? Every day when we rise to go about our day and make a morning offering let us thank God for His mercy and pray that our guardian angel protects our body and soul in the day ahead. As stated in the Baltimore Catechism, “Our guardian angels pray for us, protect and guide us, and offer our prayers, good works and desires to God.”
“No evil shall befall you, nor shall affliction come near your tent, for to His Angels God has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (Psalm 90:10-12)
Request your guardian angel’s aid especially in times of spiritual trial and danger, and even in times of physical danger or simple daily difficulties. They serve God completely and devotion to our guardian angels can only lead us closer to Jesus Christ.
Each year the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels on October 2nd, and Tuesday of each week is in a special way dedicated to the angels. But in addition to special devotions to our guardian angels on these days, we can and should invoke our special guardian angel. He is, in fact, right beside your side at this very moment even though you do not perceive his presence.
What Happens at Our Death?
After death, we do not become angels. Our Lord declared: “The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage, but they that shall be accounted worthy of that world, and of the resurrection from the dead, shall neither be married, nor take wives. Neither can they die any more: for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:33-36) He does not say that the saints in Heaven will become angels, but that they will be on a par with the angels.
Angels are completely different creatures; what we hope to become is a saint, and then we will be in Heaven with the angels praising God: “Hosanna in the Highest, Lord God of Peace”.
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga taught that our soul is conducted to the Judgment Seat of Almighty God at the moment of our death by our guardian angel. In fact, our guardian angel will, according to St. Aloysius, present to Our Lord our merits earned in life. And should we be sentenced to a time in Purgatory to expiate the sins on our soul, our guardian angel will visit us, bringing us both comfort and consolation. Our angel will present to us the prayers that have been offered for us and console our soul in anticipation of its future in Heaven.
Yet alas, to those miserable souls who are sentenced to eternity in Hell, they will lose all – hope, salvation, and even the presence and support of their guardian angel. Souls in Hell have no guardians.
Lord, have mercy on us! Angel of God, my guardian, from such a miserable fate, save me and pray for me!
For more information on angels, consult St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings on angels as listed in the Summa Theologiae.[i]
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