What Are Angels?
Many people still wonder what angels are. Some think they are the spirits of people who have died, and that we all become angels when we go to heaven. Such is not the case. The angels were God’s very first creation, and they are a separate species, spirits with no bodies. They never have—and never will become human—just as we never have, and never will become angels. (People become “saints” when we die.) The following piece explains much about angels; it was first published in The Maryville (Missouri) Daily Forum, by Sister Mary Annette Leonard O.S.B. who lives in Clyde Convent there, and used with permission.
Angels are so much more than chubby cherubs on greeting cards. They are powerful spirits who know, love and serve God with their whole being. Many years ago I read an article about the angels in which the author associated a particular characteristic or virtue with each of the nine choirs of angels. I remember just the first three. In preparing this article, I found some characteristics of the other six angelic choirs.
- SERAPHIM are associated with love.
- CHERUBIM with keen intellect and insight.
- THRONES with tranquility.
- DOMINATIONS represent the universal sovereignty of our Creator over all things; and their chief virtue is zeal for God’s authority, and zeal that all peoples acknowledge the authority of Christ Jesus, the King of kings.
- PRINCIPALITIES are guardians of entire nations and of very important people.
- POWERS represent that attribute of God by which “He orders all things sweetly” (Wisdom 8:l). The Powers give us an example of strength in meekness, a quality that the martyrs of the Church possessed. They enlighten the lower choirs of angels as to HOW things ordered to be done should be accomplished. St. Gregory said that the Powers plan and direct the campaign against the legions of darkness who wage spiritual warfare against people in the world.
- VIRTUES characterize immovable strength, or enthusiasm in a work to be accomplished. To the Virtues is generally attributed the regulation of the weather. With confidence people pray for their aid during times of drought or severe storms.
- ARCHANGELS are entrusted with the more important messages to human beings. The Archangel MICHAEL led the battle in heaven and cast out the rebellious fallen angels who were led by Lucifer and became devils. The Archangel RAPHAEL accompanied young Tobias in travel, and proposed cures for his bride and father, so he is invoked by travelers, the sick, and the young leaving their family home for the first time. The Archangel GABRIEL delivered the greatest message of all time: that God would assume human nature through the instrumentality of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1). He is invoked as the patron of communicators and people involved in the media.
- GUARDIAN ANGELS are the ordinary messengers and guardians of children on earth. Their characteristic virtue is humility. You may recognize this as a prayer many of us learned as children: O Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule and to guide.
The English word “angel” is derived from the Greek “angelos” (messenger). As with the Archangel Gabriel, angels are considered ambassadors, fittingly endowed with dignity, graciousness, knowledge, and discretion. Angels are also protectors: (Judith 14:20; strengtheners: (Luke 22:43); Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel 14:32-38); Peter’s escape from prison (Acts 12:3-18); God’s messengers: to Gideon (Judges 6:19-23); to Joseph (Matthew 2:13); and to Paul (Acts 27:22-25).
Angels have an intuitive vision of God and thereby know His will. As described in Scripture, angels are powerful, joyful and ecstatic servants of God; toward us humans they are helpful, considerate and compassionate. In the Book of Genesis we read how the angels rescued two boys who were in great danger: Ishmael (Genesis 21:10-19) and Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18).
If we are to believe the testimony of the Scriptures and of the many saints through the centuries, we must admit that the angels are very busy creatures. Of course, their most important reason for being is the contemplation and praise of God; they are experts at it. This constitutes the happiness they enjoy, with which nothing can interfere throughout eternity. The Beatific Vision completely satisfies the angelic nature; therefore there is no monotony, no weariness in heaven for either angels or saints. Yet they can, as we have seen, bring important messages, defend persons and places, punish the wicked, and also and especially watch over God’s little children.
Though we are not strictly bound to believe that a particular angel has been assigned to each human individual, still, since the doctrine of Guardian Angels has always been taught in the Church and many passages of Scripture support it, why deny it? Even the patriarch Jacob proved his belief in Guardian Angels when he imparted his deathbed blessing on the sons of Joseph: “The angel that delivered me from all evils, bless these boys” (Gen. 48:16).
Indeed, Angels are among our friends. In 1916 the “Angel of Portugal” appeared to three little children, Lucia, Jacinto and Francesco and taught them how to pray with attention and to do penance on behalf of sinners. Thus he prepared them to hear and obey Our Lady of Fatima, Mary, Mother of Jesus, who appeared to them later with messages for the entire world.
Our Guardian Angels carry heaven with them and teach each of us its language. The angels are near to us when we worship God together as is mentioned several times in the Catholic Mass. All know the Christmas song of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest…” (Luke 2:14), as well as their “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelations 4:8). Every day, as we are invited to pray with the angels and to invoke their aid, we also need to thank them for never abandoning us, even when we forsake them.