Catholicism 101: Angels

Angels are pure spiritual creatures of God who have understanding and will. They have no bodies, cannot die, and are usually not visible. They live constantly in God’s presence and convey God’s will and God’s protection to man. (YouCat, question 54)

When you think of angels, what do you usually picture? White robes and large feathery wings, blonde curls and golden harps? Bleh. I never got the stereotypical view of angels. I mean, really, there’s gotta be more to them than laying on fluffy clouds all day. Right?

Right. There’s so much more I’ve learned. Nine choirs, seven archangels, and our very own guardian angel watching over each of us. We’ve left fluffy cloud territory now.

Nine choirs of angels

The first I had ever heard of the nine choirs of angels was in 2011, when the new mass translation was introduced.

And so, with Angels and Archangels,
with Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory,
as without end we acclaim:

(for those who may be lost, this is when we sing the Sanctus: Holy, Holy, Holy…)

Thrones? Dominions? Wait, what? This sent me scrambling for scripture, poring over my catechism, and googling everything I could think of. What I found was interesting and a little heady, so I’m not going to go into super detail on it. Angels are divided into nine different sects, or nine choirs: Seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, and angels. Whoa. I was just getting used to the idea of angels that didn’t play harps all day!

I found a reference to one of the choirs in scripture, one I know I’ve read before but must have not paid much attention to. The seraphim appear once in scripture, in Isaiah 6:1-7. They are described as having 6 wings, 2 each covering their face and feet, and 2 to fly with. When Isaiah felt unworthy to look upon God because of his sin, one of the seraphim touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal, cleansing Isaiah of his sin. The seraphim are the attendants around the throne, and are constantly praising God, calling out “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His Glory” (Isaiah 6:3)

Does that sound familar? If you go to mass regularly it should. The Sanctus says pretty much that, just worded differently. Pretty cool yeah? I love that we have the chance to praise God just like the angels do, same words and all.

Archangels

Archangels were something I didn’t hear a lot about growing up in the Baptist church. St. Gabriel was only mentioned around Christmas (although he wasn’t called a saint!), with his role in the Annunciation. As for St. Michael, the only way he ever got mentioned is if we has a preacher who loved preaching about the end times and his fight with Satan before throwing the dragon into hell.

On the flipside, I’ve heard so much about the archangels since becoming Catholic. Officially there are seven archangels, three of which we know by name: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. The other four are not officially named, and different sources cite different names for them. I’m still learning more about the archangels and the important role they play in the Church. I do know St. Michael is routinely called upon for protection against danger, especially in cases of spiritual adversity. The cathedral nearby says the St. Michael prayer after every mass, and I believe our CSO does too, but I hardly get to go out there for mass.

Guardian Angels

And through scripture, not only do we hear about all the angels worshiping in heaven, and learn about the mighty archangels, but we also know that each of us has a guardian angel assigned to us.

“For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ — Psalm 91:10-12 (NIV)

How cool is that? Each of us has an angel watching over us 24/7, to keep us safe and help us to choose good over evil. Yes, we as humans have free will, and yes we will screw up. Quite often, most likely. But the guardian angel is there to be our conscience of sorts. I know I need to listen to the little voice in the back of my head more often.

I have a very small angel medal I wear constantly. As soon as I saw it at my local Catholic bookstore, I felt this intense connection to it and bought it on the spot. I’m not sure if it’s St. Gabriel or a general guardian angel pictured. I’ve shown the medal to both my campus minister and priest, and they have no clue either.

Whether it turns out to be St. Gabriel, or another angel, I truly believe that whoever he is (I’m convinced it’s a he), he’s my guardian angel (can archangels be guardian angels too? Something to ask Fr. B). I refer to him as Blue. Yes I know the whole deal about not giving your guardian angel a name. I consider it a nickname of sorts for him, and it really does help me to have a way to address him or refer to him in my mind.

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