“See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and obey him.” -Exodus 23:20-21
I grew up having a devotion to angels, especially the archangels Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow. Because my sister was born on this feast, my parents gave her the middle name Gabriela in honor of my mother and of the Archangel Gabriel – messenger of Good News. When I was a child, my mom often mentioned Raphael the Archangel as one of her favorite saints. She had prayed to him as a single woman because of his role in the Book of Tobit in bringing together Tobias and Sarah. Because of his intercession, she said, she met and married my father. Throughout their marriage, a photo of St. Raphael has always hung in their bedroom. Our devotion to St. Michael was uttered each day as we asked for his protection and intercession in the St. Michael prayer.
Because of my upbringing, I have come to know and love the angels as allies and friends. But what exactly is an angel? Are they ghosts, human beings with wings, or simply fairytales? In a morning meditation in 2014, Pope Francis urged us not to consider the Church doctrine on the existence of angels to be “a little imaginative.” Angels are real and active in the life of the Church and world today. “As purely spiritual creatures,” the Catechism writes, “angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures.” (CCC330). The Church’s teaching on the existence of angels comes from Scripture and Tradition.
Angels are the result of God’s creative work. When we say in the Nicene Creed that we believe in things both “visible and invisible,” we testify to the existence not only of physical creation, but also of spiritual creation. As servants of God, angels appear numerous times throughout Scripture in various roles and capacities. Angels guarded the Garden of Eden after the Fall of Adam and Eve, led the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land, announced the birth of John the Baptist, appeared to St. Joseph in several dreams, and perhaps most notably, announced the birth of Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Scripture also notes that the angels ministered to Jesus after his forty days of prayer and temptation in the desert at the beginning of his ministry, and that Christ was strengthened by an angel during the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
Not only did angels exist in Biblical times, but they are also present to each one of us every day. St. Basil the Great taught that "each and every member of the faithful has a Guardian Angel to protect, guard and guide them through life.” The Catechism reiterates this belief, stating, “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life."
Angels, therefore, were created by God to praise and glorify him, as well as to serve as his messengers and our protectors, instructors, and allies. Our guardian angels are a gift from God to help each one of us achieve eternal life. As we read in Hebrews, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” The beauty of their existence means that, as human beings, we are never alone. We journey through this life with a celestial companion who wills our good and helps us achieve sanctity.
Pope John Paul II wrote that devotion to our guardian angels and the angels overall leads to two outcomes: gratitude to God and peace and confidence. As we know, growth in the spiritual life can be difficult on our own. Each day we are called to overcome many temptations and weaknesses, to be healed, to grow in virtue. In God’s generosity, he not only gave us the gift of the Church and sacraments to receive grace and strengthen us on our journey; he also gives us celestial help through the existence of angels.
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Archangels tomorrow, Pope Francis leaves us with pertinent and thought-provoking questions:
“How is my relationship with my guardian angel? Do I listen to him? Do I say good morning to him in the morning? Do I ask him: ‘Watch over me when I sleep?’ Do I speak with him? Do I ask his advice? … We can answer this question today, each of us: how is our relationship with this angel that the Lord has sent to watch over me and accompany me on my journey, and who always sees the face of the Father who is in heaven?”
— Pope Francis, Homily, October 2, 2015
On November 1, 1950, Pope Pius XII issued the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (The Most Bountiful God) which declared “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” In doing so, Pope Pius defined for all time that the Assumption is a belief of the Catholic faith (cf. CCC, 966). And though the decree itself is only sixty-four years old, it succinctly shows that the belief spans all the way back to the beginnings of the Christian tradition.
But what are the implication of this teaching and its feast day for the everyday faithful? First of all, it further illustrates Mary’s importance not only for Catholics but also for all mankind. This feast is but another way in which the Church honors the vessel that brought the Messiah into the world. It is through Mary that the human race received its savior. Therefore, one can see her Assumption into Heaven as a beautiful gift given to her by God. After living a truly exemplary life of faithfulness and love, God saw fit to bring her body and soul into paradise where, as PopePius puts it, “as Queen, she sits in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages.”
The Virgin’s Assumption, however, is also a gift to the faithful.The Holy Father writes, “while the illusory teachings of materialism and the corruption of morals…threaten to extinguish the light of virtue and to ruin the lives of men by exciting discord among them, in this magnificent way all may see clearly to what a lofty goal our bodies and souls are destined.” Mary was the first disciple of Jesus; she was the perfect disciple of Jesus. At the Wedding at Cana, she tells the servers, “Do whatever He tells you.” This is the same kind of trust all the faithful should try and emulate. And, after living a model life, she was gifted with her body and soul being brought up to Heaven. That is exactly the same hope that all Catholics (should) share.
The Nicene Creed sums it up quite well: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end…I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Catholics believe that at the end of time itself, when Christ comes to “render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace,” all the dead will be resurrected (cf. CCC, 682). Those who enter Heaven will be restored, body and soul, to the gloried beings they were always meant to be before the Fall. Thus, the Assumption of Mary is not just a one-time occurrence, but rather a foretaste of what will happen at the end of days. It was not only a gift to the Blessed Mother, but also a gift to mankind. Humanity received a glimpse into what lies ahead for those who follow the example of a woman who put her whole heart, her whole faith, and her whole being into the care of a man she knew as her son and the Son of God.
Victor David is a Collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and is a staff member at The Catholic University of America, his alma mater, in Washington, D.C. He is a member of the Catholic University Knights of Columbus.