Angels are among us

Miscellany/Deirdre C. Mays

Miscellany/Deirdre C. MaysAt least one aspect of religion that has been completely embraced by the secular world is angels — and demons.

But don’t confuse the reality of angels with their pop culture imagery. They may not be sweet little cartoon characters that sit on our shoulders and whisper good advice — or bad, as the case may be — but they are with us always.

In his book, “Angels (and Demons): What do we really know about them?” Peter Kreft writes: “They’re not cute, cuddly, comfortable, chummy or ‘cool.’ They are fearsome and formidable. They are huge. They are warriors.”

Just look at the Archangel Michael. How fierce was he, leading the forces that pummeled Satan and kicked his sorry self out of heaven?

Michael is one of the more prominent celestial beings, but angels are spoken of throughout the Bible, starting when God made the heavens and earth, and all things both seen and unseen.

Old Testament theology includes the belief in angels as spiritual beings who serve God as the ministers of His will.

Yet because they have been mainstreamed in songs, movies and television, some have come to regard angels as just one more element of fiction.

When asked why people should believe, theologians and others of the faith respond with an air of befuddlement. “Why wouldn’t they believe?” is the general response.

“It’s Biblical,” said Sister Pamela Smith, of the Sisters of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. “It’s been a long-standing tradition in our church.”  

Kreft says, quite simply, the best reason to believe in angels is because one believes in God’s word. Jesus, the Bible and the church all say angels are real.

The catechism of the Catholic Church notes that angels glorify and serve God (59/350-351) and the church joins with celestial beings in adoring God.

It is for this reason that Catholics recognize angels with two feast days. The archangels are honored on Sept. 29 and guardian angels on Oct. 2.

Deacon David D. Nerbun, a seminarian at the Pontifical North American College in the Vatican, said the belief in angels naturally means a belief in demons as well.  

He cautioned that while the faithful have to be aware of demons, “we shouldn’t give them much thought because that detracts from our getting to know God. Pray to your guardian angel and seek God,” he said.

Demons, according to the catechism, are the fallen angels.

God created all angels as good, but they had free will and the possibility of sin. Satan, who was once a good Cherubim, sought to increase his own glory and power. He refused to submit to the power of God and convinced other angels to follow him.

We all know how that turned out. When Lucifer was expelled into hell, the new legion of devils made it their mission from then on to try to recruit man into their revolt against God.

This is where prayer and guardian angels come in.

The role of the guardian angel is both to guide us to good thoughts, works and words, and to preserve us from evil. Their role in our lives has been celebrated by the church since the 17th century.

Many people have stories about their personal experience with angels.

Sister Pam said, along with the power of Jesus, she has felt the presence of a guardian angel since childhood. On more than one occasion, she said she has looked back on an encounter and realized that what she thought was a person was probably much more.

William Durst, who teaches theology at Bishop England High School, said teenagers are just as fascinated by angels as younger children.

Along with the church teachings, Durst and the students also share stories about the intervention of God’s messengers.

“In over 26 years in the classroom I’ve had many students share stories of ways … they’ve been helped by angels. Many of those are times when they felt they or family members were protected by angels,” Durst wrote in an e-mail.

“I also encourage them to acknowledge and develop a relationship with their own guardian angel, calling on him for assistance when needed,” he said.

The ranks of angels

St. Thomas Aquinas used the writings of St. Paul to classify angels, placing them in three orders that each have three choirs.

The first is the highest, the one closest to God, and has seraphim, cherubim and thrones.

Seraphim are the angels who serve as attendants and guardians before God’s throne. They praise God, calling, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” In Isaiah 6:1-7, the prophet recalls that a seraphim touched his lips with a live coal from the altar, cleansing him from sin. These beings have six wings — two cover their faces, two cover their feet, and two are for flying.

Cherubim are the second highest in the choirs of angels and are often depicted as babies with wings in Christian art. Aquinas notes that Satan, the source of evil and prince of darkness, is a member of the choir of cherubim (Ez 28:14). Catholic tradition describes them as angels who have an intimate knowledge of God and continually praise Him.

Thrones are the angels of pure humility, peace and submission. They reside in the area of the cosmos where material form begins to take shape.

The second order of angels is composed of dominions, virtues and powers. This order of angels is charged with governing and ordering the laws of the created universe.

Dominions regulate the duties of the other two choirs, making known the commands of God.

Virtues are sometimes referred to as “the shining ones.” They govern all nature, are in charge of miracles, and provide courage, grace and valor.

Powers are warrior angels tasked with defending the cosmos and humans in the battle against evil spirits.

The last order of angels is most familiar to man. This order is comprised of the principalities, archangels and angels.

Principalities are the leaders of the last order, and direct the actual implementation of God’s will.

Archangels are generally taken to mean “chief or leading angel” (Jude 9; 1 Thes 4:16), and are the most frequently mentioned throughout the Bible. They can come from other hierarchies. St. Michael Archangel is prince of the seraphim. The archangels have served as God’s messenger at critical times, such as the Annunciation and apocalypse.

Angels are closest to the material world and human begins. They deliver our prayers to God and His answers and other messages back to us.

Biblical archangels

Three angels who are mentioned by name in the Bible are Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

Their feast day is celebrated throughout the church on Sept. 29.

Michael the Archangel is often portrayed as God’s warrior. The Eastern Rite and many others place him over all the angels, as prince of the seraphim. He is described as the chief of princes and leader of the forces of heaven in their triumph over Satan and his followers.

Gabriel is of special significance as the archangel who announces some of Christianity’s most important moments. He first appeared in the Old Testament in the prophesies of Daniel and later appeared to Zechariah to announce the birth of St. John the Baptist (Lk 1:11). It was also Gabriel who proclaimed the Annunciation of Mary to be the mother of our Lord and Savior (Lk 1:26).

Raphael first appeared in the book of Tobit (Tb 3:25, 5:5-28, 6-12). He announces: “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” (Tb 12:15)