Sep 27, 2011

9/29: An angel stood by the altar - Feast of the Archangels

Marco d'Oggiono 1470-1530: The Archangels: Triumph over Lucifer

The Word for Sept 29th:

We see them on jewelry, above a child’s crib, on Christmas trees and cards, on bookshelves and in gift shops, in stained glass, beside altars in Churches and in cemeteries near a grave site. The members of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) have a golden one at the top of a spire on their temples, what are they? Angels of course. They seem to be everywhere. We believe that we have a guardian angel to protect us and particularly in the case of children, parents encourage them to pray to their guardian angels. October 2nd in our liturgical calendar is the Feast of the Guardian Angels.

This Thursday we celebrate a mighty feast; that of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Is the Church just recalling an ancient myth or fable or does it base its belief on fact? In other words, do angels really exist? Some, Catholic people included, do not believe in angels or at best rarely think of them. I think this may be an especially challenging concept for our atheist friends. If they do not believe in the existence of a divine being why would they believe in angels – benign lesser spirits between God and humanity. Their existence defies both science and reason but stands in the realm of faith.

Angels are the subject of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. There are more than 200 references to angels throughout the Scriptures. They serve as messengers from God, as defenders in battle, as a guide through the desert, the one who announced to Mary that she would be the human mother of the savior, as a warning to Joseph; the evil Satan tempts Jesus in the desert, as one who will separate the sheep from the goats at the last judgment. We read about them in the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Kings, Chronicles and in all four of the Gospels and the Book of Revelation. Such a plethora of testimony from these spirit beings can only be more than just a myth.

This Thursday’s Feast of the Archangels reminds us of the divine attributes of God and that these beings of light are the direct messengers from God. If humankind is made in the “image of God” as Genesis reminds us, so too must these heavenly beings be even more “like God” in that they are pure spirits.

The names of the Archangels Michael (who is like God), Gabriel (power of God) and Raphael (medicine of God) all support the reasoning that we are not simply left on our own to carry on through this life. They act as the chief angels; messengers who bear divine decrees. Between us and our creator stand these creatures to aid us, protect us, guide us, and defend us in times of temptation.

How often do we think of them or refer to them in conversation? Not very often unless we happen to see a painting, a card, or hear a song with angelic reference. Have you prayed to angels? Do they play an active, conscious role in your life?

Whenever I find myself about to begin a long journey, such as by car or plane, I always pray for the protection of the angels. While that may more often be related to a vacation or a trip of several hours ahead of me, I think angels play a special role towards the end of our lives; literally near the hour of our death.

Michael, Gabriel and Raphael who we remember on this Thursday’s Feast assure us that God is constantly before us.

Belief in angels is not necessary for salvation but it certainly does support our Christian faith in the benevolence of God. These spirits are here for us.

Pope St. Gregory the Great (13th century) wrote this about angels: Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser important are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels . . . (Homily on the Gospels)

Belief in angels is anything but a childhood fantasy. It is another reminder of the well-known phrase: “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”

Almighty God,
In a wonderful way you guide the work of angels and men.
May those who serve you constantly in heaven
Keep our lives safe from all harm one earth.

(Opening prayer for Mass of the Archangels)