Article 36 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Father John G. Hillier
Do you remember the Swedish pop group, Abba, back in the 1970′s? Perhaps you recall one of their more famous songs, “I Have A Dream,” where they declare in the lyrics again and again – I believe in angels!
I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream – I have a dream
Throughout the Sacred Scriptures many references are made to angels including the examples cited in the Catechism: “they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham’s hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets … Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself” (ccc 332).
More explicit examples include the following:
- In the Book of Exodus God speaks to the Hebrew people, “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared” (Exodus 23:20).
- In the 91st Psalm we read the words later quoted by the devil when he tempts Christ in the desert: “For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11-12).
- In the 2nd Book of Kings we read how God protected Jerusalem from Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians: “That night the angel of the Lord went forth and struck down one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp.”
- The prophet Daniel tells us how the faithful Jews refused to worship the golden statue set up by the Chaldean king, Nebuchadnezzar; how they were thrown into a fiery furnace; and how they were saved by an angel: “But the angel of the Lord went down into the furnace with Azariah and his companions, drove the fiery flames out of the furnace” (Daniel 3:49).
- After Peter was delivered from prison by angel, the disciples said in astonishment: “It was his angel” (Acts 12:15).
- In the Gospel of Saint Luke, we find God’s angels at work everywhere. The archangel Gabriel tells Zechariah that he is to be the father of John the Baptist (Luke 1:12-17). He announces to Mary that she is to be the mother of the Savior of humanity (Luke 1:26-33). On Christmas night a multitude of angels appear to the shepherds, announcing Christ’s birth and singing “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth among people of good will” (Luke 2:14). And it was an angel of God who warned Joseph of Herod’s intention to kill the Christ Child (Matthew 2:13). You see then, that God is very definite about the presence of the angels who act as his messengers and our protectors!
Angels are among “the unseen.” They are “spiritual, non-corporeal beings” (ccc 328) created by God and referred to in the Creed we profess each Sunday when we pray the words: “of all things visible and invisible.” The Catechism tells us that, unlike human beings, angels are “purely spiritual creatures” (ccc 330). Like human beings, they have “intelligence and will” and are “personal and immortal creatures” of God (ccc 330).
Like human beings, angels “belong” to Christ (ccc 331). As already mentioned, on the occasion of Christ’s birth their song of praise resounded: “Glory to God in the highest!” (Luke 2:14) Not only do they “protect Jesus in his infancy, (but also) serve him in the desert, (and) strengthen him in his agony in the garden … they will (also) be present at Christ’s return, (and) they will … serve at his judgment” (ccc 333).
The angels belong to Christ “because he has made them messengers of his saving plan” (ccc 331). They stand also as guardians or, to use the words of Saint Basil, “beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd” (ccc 336). Each of us has a guardian angel. This is implied in Sacred Scripture and is found in the constant Tradition of the Church. After Peter was delivered from prison, the disciples said in astonishment: “It was his angel” (Acts 12:15).
Next time you attend Mass and participate in the official Liturgy of the Church, notice how often angels are mentioned. “In her liturgy,” the Catechism tells us, “the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God” (ccc 335). We even celebrate and honor certain angels with their own feast days including the Archangels (Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, Saint Raphael), and the Guardian Angels.
Finally, when we take our last breath, the Funeral Liturgy will invoke the angels on our behalf: “Saints of God, come to your aid! Hasten to meet you, angels of the Lord! … May Christ, who called you, take you to himself; may angels lead you to the bosom of Abraham.” The final prayer at the cemetery then surrenders us to the mercy of God with these parting words: “May the angels lead you into paradise; may the martyrs come to welcome you and take you into the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem.”