Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Catholic Church on Devotion to the Holy Angels

The Agony of Christ, Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, c.1615

With some upcoming feast days for the Holy Angels, I was reflecting on devotion to them following my  recent post on Saint Padre Pio quoting him on the topic.  We look at a number of things in this post related to angels: Devotion, new age perversions, holy angels in Scripture, the liturgy, and an association of faithful who are devoted to the holy angels.

I will be quoting the Holy See's, Directory on Popular Piety in the Liturgy -- Principles and Guidelines.  It is a very long document, which came out in 2001 to clear up confusion on many fronts, and it included a section on the Holy Angels (213-217).

On the one hand, you had some people who have tried to suppress forms of popular piety and devotion as passé. On the other hand, you had people carrying certain forms of devotion to excess, sometimes over devotion to Jesus himself.  In addition, the New Age movement ushered in a love of all things angelic, but some of that was contrary to Scripture.  So, I will also be referencing the Holy See's document on the New Age Movement: Jesus the Bearer of the Water of Life

While I am directly quoting a number of things from these two documents, among others, there is no substitute for reading them in their entirety.  There is a wealth to learn from them both, even if you read just a little each day.  Use a dictionary where necessary, and if you don't get something, just pray for understanding and move on, leaving the matter in God's hands.

There is much on the holy angels in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches us, "The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls "angels" is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition." (328)  You can read the rest there.

Feast Days of the Holy Angels

In the new calendar, we have the feast of the Archangels - Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael - on September 29th.  In the old calendar, this same day is the feast day of St. Michael.  The feast of St. Gabriel, in the old calendar is celebrated on March 24th, the day before the Annunciation; and, St. Raphael is celebrated October 24th.

Both calendars honor the Guardian Angels on October 2nd.

The Holy Angels in the Liturgy: Sanctus. Sanctus. Sanctus.

In Isaiah 6:1-4, we find something familiar from the Mass as we enter the Eucharistic Prayer.

1 In the year of king Ozias’ death, I had a vision. I saw the Lord sitting on a throne that towered high above me, the skirts of his robe filling the temple.2 Above it rose the figures of the seraphim, each of them six-winged; with two wings they veiled God’s face, with two his feet, and the other two kept them poised in flight.[1] 3 And ever the same cry passed between them, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts; all the earth is full of his glory. 4 The lintels over the doors rang with the sound of that cry, and smoke went up, filling the temple courts.
Likewise, in Section 215 of the Vatican document on popular piety, we have the following:
In the celebration of the sacred mysteries, the Church associates herself with the angelic hymn and proclaims the thrice holy God (cf. Isaiah 6, 3)(284) invoking their assistance so that the Eucharistic sacrifice "may be taken [to your] altar in heaven, in the presence of [...] divine majesty"(285). The office of lauds is celebrated in their presence (cf. Ps 137, 1)(286). The Church entrusts to the ministry of the Holy Angels (cf. Aps 5, 8; 8, 3) the prayers of the faithful, the contrition of penitents(287), and the protection of the innocent from the assaults of the Malign One(288). 
Of course there is much more to the angels and the liturgy than can be met with in this post.  Perhaps we can look closer at that in another post.

Elijah Fed by an Angel, Ferdinand Bol, c. 1663

The Holy Angels in Scripture

Section 214 details with book, verse, and some quotes, where we see examples of the Holy Angels in action in Scripture -- both Old and New Testament.  Who can forget that an angel halted Abraham from slaying Isaac (Gen 22:7). Or, when Elijah was assisted by an angel (1 Kings 19:4-8).  The short book of Tobit, which everyone should revisit, tells us how Raphael aided Tobit, Tobias, and Sarah (Tb 12:15).  The same section also calls our attention to other ways we see the angels mentioned in Scripture like when, "they protect the footsteps of the just (cf. Ps 91, 11), they praise God unceasingly (cf. Is 6, 1-4), and they present the prayer of the Saints to God (cf. Ap 8, 34). "

We are also reminded of the holy angels in the life of Jesus:

The faithful are also conscious of the roles played by the Angels in the life of Jesus: the Angel Gabriel declared to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of the Most High (cf. Lk 1, 26-38), and that an Angel revealed to Joseph the supernatural origin of Mary's conception (cf. Mt 1, 18-25); the Angels appear to the shepherds in Bethlehem with the news of great joy of the Saviour's birth (cf. Lk 2, 8-24); "the Angel of the Lord" protected the infant Jesus when he was threatened by Herod (cf. Mt 2, 13-20); the Angels ministered to Jesus in the desert (cf. Mt 4, 11) and comforted him in his agony (Lk 22, 43), and to the women gathered at the tomb, they announced that he had risen (cf. Mk 16, 1-8), they appear again at the Ascension, revealing its meaning to the disciples and announcing that "Jesus ...will come back in the same way as you have seen him go" (Acts 1, 11).
The last paragraph in Section 214 is also worth quoting in full:

The faithful will have well grasped the significance of Jesus' admonition not to despise the least of those who believe in him for "their Angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in heaven" (Mt 10, 10), and the consolation of his assurance that "there is rejoicing among the Angels of God over one repentant sinner" (Lk 15, 10). The faithful also realize that "the Son of man will come in his glory with all his Angels" (mt 25, 31) to judge the living and the dead, and bring history to a close.

So, we cannot be dismissive of the holy angels without going against Sacred Scripture.  They exist. God created them for a purpose. We can, and should venerate them.

Devotion to the Holy Angels

Section 216 gets into proper devotion.  After discussing how love the angels led to cities being named after them, hymns and devotions written for them, we get deeper into Guardian Angels:

Popular piety encompasses many forms of devotion to the Guardian Angels. St. Basil Great (+378) taught that "each and every member of the faithful has a Guardian Angel to protect, guard and guide them through life"(292). This ancient teaching was consolidated by biblical and patristic sources and lies behind many forms of piety. St. Bernard of Clarivaux (+1153) was a great master and a notable promoter of devotion to the Guardian Angels. For him, they were a proof "that heaven denies us nothing that assists us", and hence, "these celestial spirits have been placed at our sides to protect us, instruct us and to guide us"(293).

The document then tells us how devotion to the holy angels is characterized in our lives:

  • devout gratitude to God for having placed these heavenly spirits of great sanctity and dignity at the service of man;

  • an attitude of devotion deriving from the knowledge of living constantly in the presence of the Holy Angels of God;- serenity and confidence in facing difficult situations, since the Lord guides and protects the faithful in the way of justice through the ministry of His Holy Angels.Among the prayers to the Guardian Angels the Angele Dei(294) is especially popular, and is often recited by families at morning and evening prayers, or at the recitation of the Angelus.

Don't name your Guardian Angel

Finally, Section 217 discusses certain problems that can arise, including the naming of angels. Consider that we only know the names of the three Archangels -- Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.  It says:

Popular devotion to the Holy Angels, which is legitimate and good, can, however, also give rise to possible deviations:

  • when, as sometimes can happen, the faithful are taken by the idea that the world is subject to demiurgical struggles, or an incessant battle between good and evil spirits, or Angels and demons, in which man is left at the mercy of superior forces and over which he is helpless; such cosmologies bear little relation to the true Gospel vision of the struggle to overcome the Devil, which requires moral commitment, a fundamental option for the Gospel, humility and prayer; 

  •  when the daily events of life, which have nothing or little to do with our progressive maturing on the journey towards Christ are read schematically or simplistically, indeed childishly, so as to ascribe all setbacks to the Devil and all success to the Guardian Angels. The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture.

Some have pointed out that Mother Angelica, Padre Pio, and others have encouraged the naming of guardian angels.  I know this was the case, but these things were prior to the Holy See's clarification of 2001.  I think the EWTN show on that was filmed before 2001, so this is not surprising.  I have no doubt about Mother's fidelity on the matter, once she was aware.

Angels in the New Age Movement

The Holy See's document on the New Age discusses angels in greater detail in section 2.2.1,  "Enchantment: There must be an angel."

It warns of avoiding a fall into a contemporary form of spiritualism over spirituality (but some of it sounds more like spiritism to me, so I'm wondering about the translation).   It talks about the use of mediums and  "channeling" of spirits, including those of angels.  In the glossary of the document, it defines channeling this way:

"psychic mediums claim to act as channels for information from other selves, usually disembodied entities living on a higher plane. It links beings as diverse as ascended masters, angels, gods, group entities, nature spirits and the Higher Self. "
I have known a number of Catholics who were unaware that using a psychic or medium is gravely sinful.  If you have engaged in these things, they should be discussed in Sacramental Confession.  In fact, Scripture itself is clear.  Among the many things I could cite in the Old Testament, here is one:

"Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God." (Lv 19:31)

And, from the Book of Revelations, also referred to as the Apocalypse (21:8)
"But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death." 
So, Catholics, stay away from these things.  They are foreign to our faith.  We cannot predict the future or seek the unknown by these means.

Within that same paragraph, it also says:

It is probably more correct to refer to this as a contemporary form of spiritualism, rather than spirituality in a strict sense. Other friends and counsellors from the spirit world are angels (which have become the centre of a new industry of books and paintings). Those who refer to angels in the New Age do so in an unsystematic way; in fact, distinctions in this area are sometimes described as unhelpful if they are too precise, since “there are many levels of guides, entities, energies, and beings in every octave of the universe... They are all there to pick and choose from in relation to your own attraction/repulsion mechanisms”.(22) These spiritual entities are often invoked 'non-religiously' to help in relaxation aimed at better decision-making and control of one's life and career. 

The Work of the Holy Angels

Since arriving at Assumption Grotto in May of 2005, I have benefited greatly from the counsel of priests of the Order of Canons Regular of the Holy Cross -- the order entrusted with the association of the faithful, Opus Sanctorum Angelorum (Work of the Holy Angels)

Every time I have gone on one of their excellent retreats or Days of Recollection, it seems someone asks about naming of angels, and the priests are steadfast in quoting the directory heavily discussed in this post.  They discourage it.

In 2010, the CDF offered a public clarification of the status of Opus Angelorum in the Church and it was printed in the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.  I blogged on that issue here because of media distortions and because some are recycling old stories that do not comprehend the growth it has gone through with the explicit help of the Holy See over 20 years.

One thing I have appreciated in the talks of these fine priests, is that everything they say comes from Scripture, the saints, the doctors and fathers of the Church, and from Church documents.  I've learned to go to these same resources when I have questions, specifically because of their method of instruction.

Go to the Opus Angelorum website and click around. Some of the talks are in writing, and there is an online store where you can look at available titles.  I recommend exploring their site and taking advantage of the retreats and talks.

If you cannot make these, you can order CD's at a nominal cost.  One of my favorite talks is, "On Holy Silence."  The overview reads:

Silence is a necessary condition for growth in the interior life. The spiritual doctors of the Church offer practical advice on how to observe 12 forms of silence in order to dispose ourselves for a deeper union in prayer with Jesus and to receive the subtle guidance of the holy angels.

Another one I recommend is Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Angels, and Abortion. That summary reads:

America has been plagued with legalized abortion since the early 1970's, and the demonic industry has grown to astronomical proportions. Yet there is still hope, we do not give up. For God has given us a very special help in Our Lady of Guadalupe and the holy angels.

These links are just a sampling of the writings at the Opus Angelorum site and they speak for themselves. Their references are clearly cited so you know from where they get the information.

For interesting news items I don't have time to blog on, check out my Twitter Feed: @TeDeumBlog

Te Deum Laudamus! Home

The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

Note: The recommended links below are automatically generated by the tool, so they are not necessarily related content.