An Issue dedicated to the angels would not be complete without a Look at the historical activity of the “ministering spirits” on earth, as we know it from the Old and New Testaments. From the time of Adam their most important occupation had been to keep alive the primitive revelation concerning the One True God and the Savior to come, as well as inspiring virtue and warding off the evil influences of the demons.That was no easy task, considering the consequences of the Fall of Adam. It wasn’t too long after the original sin that the land was stained with the blood of the first murder, a fratricide.
In the Old Testament
In Paradise, previous to their sin, our innocent parents were familiar with the angels and, most likely, they were ministered to by them. But the evil spirits were jealous of Adam and Eve. They couldn’t bear the thought that these lower beings reflected the image of God in their souls and were on their way to taking their places in the heavenly kingdom. So, Satan unleashes the lethal lie; it tingles in the ear of our weak mother Eve who gives it her consent; and not content with disobeying God alone, she seeks company in her misery and seduces Adam to do the same. The punishment from the Creator was quick and decisive. Our first parents were ousted from the happy Garden, and two cherubim with flaming swords were placed at the entrance to ward off any approach. There was no question with the good angels to whom they owed their first loyalty.
From that day on, the good angels were at a great disadvantage in trying to guide men unto salvation, considering that every man born was stained with this original sin and its weakening effects.
Nevertheless the good angels did the best they could, inspiring unto good whoever cooperated with their efforts. There were the great Patriarchs of old, one of whom, Henoch, “walked with God” and was snatched away alive by the angels, nor is he to be seen again until the end times and the war against antichrist. But the dart of Satan that had infected man was predominant and, with the passing of two thousand years, it had plunged man into every abomination. Noah, a holy man who had been protected by the angels, preached penance, for God had told him that He was going to destroy all mankind if they did not repent. Noah’s warnings were ignored. Then the spirits of God let loose the waters, and Noah, with the help of the angels, gathered all the animals into his huge ark, and he and his family were saved. That was about 3000 B.C.
Five hundred years later, the angels of God had again to apply the rod to a proud humanity, only this time not nearly so severely as before. In sheer pride, the descendants of Noah had proceeded to build a gigantic tower for no other purpose than self-glorification: “. . . let us make our name famous”, they said, “before we are scattered abroad into all lands.” (Gen.11:4) It is alleged by some that a three hundred foot high ruin, which even today stands somewhere in Iraq, is what’s left of the actually tower. [This writer was not able to find a picture of the monument, nor any more facts to give some credence to the claim.] To teach man not to glorify himself, God sent angels to confuse their tongues so that no one could understand the others. In the end, seventy-two different languages could be counted, whereas before this, since the time of Adam, Hebrew was the one and only tongue. After dispersing in every direction each of the seventy-two groups eventually became a nation. From hereon, until the establishment of the Church, the guardian angels were divided under a Principality and they took on a new role as the guardian Angels of the Nations.
However, once again the good angels were unable to stop the flood of iniquity, and by the time of Abraham, five hundred years later (2000 B.C.), the world again was in a frightful state. Having sworn on an oath that He would never again destroy mankind by water, God called the faithful Abraham to become the father of a holy people, who would have to retain their faith while yet living among the pagans. Abraham was a man to meet such a challenge. Then, by the voice of an angel, God made the promise to Abraham that one of his descendants would be the blessing of all nations. This was the first repetition of the Messianic promise made to Adam in Genesis 3:15.
There was another mighty exception living at the time of Abraham to the general demonic onslaught of evil; that was Melchisedech, the High-Priest and King of Salem. This mysterious man, to whom Abraham himself bowed in reverence, was a most vivid figure of Our Lord Jesus Christ in His Kingly Priesthood, and is considered by some to have been the oldest living descendant of Noah through his son Sem. He and the people of Salem (probably Jerusalem) were a people of whom the Angels of the Nations could be proud.
Based upon the passage from the Book of Exodus, wherein God said to Moses, “Thou canst not see My face; for man shall not see Me and live”, the saints assure us that all the communications of God in the Old Testament were carried out through the instrumentality of the blessed spirits. Therefore, when the Scriptures say that God spoke to this or that prophet, or appeared to him, the sacred writer means to identify the Sender, not the messenger.
Remember the occasion when Abraham and Sarah entertained three young men who they soon realized were angels? One of them, who appeared more resplendent than the other two, represented the Lord God Himself; in fact, Abraham bestowed upon him divine honors by way of a prostration. These three angels came to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with a devastating shower of fire and brimstone; and, in the process of rescuing Lot and his family from the chastisement, they turned his disobedient wife into a pillar of salt. An angel’s power can be awesome!
Again, when Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, the son of the promise, just as he was about to slay the boy, an angel stopped his hand and requested a ram instead of the lad. By this mysterious performance the angels meant to teach all generations, by way of a prophetic figure, that another sacrifice was to come in which the Eternal Father would give up His Only-Begotten Son to be slain for the sins of the world.
And God spoke also to Isaac by way of angels, renewing to him the promise He had made to his father; and later He spoke also to Jacob, Isaac’s son. One night, under a starry sky, Jacob fell into a deep sleep and saw the heavens open. The angels of God appeared to him ascending and descending the steps of a ladder that reached up to heaven. On the top of the ladder the Lord God leaned and spoke to His servant, promising to give him the land upon which he slept. The vision is meant to teach us something about the angels: they descend the ladder in order to guard and protect us; they ascend the ladder by their role as supplicators, carrying with them our prayers and good works as an offering to the Most High.
Holy Jacob also had the unique experience of wrestling with an angel. A very extraordinary and amusing event to be sure, but one packed with mystical symbolism. The angel, though a good one, who fought all night with Jacob, symbolized the enemies of the people of God, especially the enemies of the Church of Christ, who would always be there to oppose the way of salvation. Pagan emperors, heresiarchs, secret societies, Communists, Zionists, and hell itself have made constant war upon the Church, but, as Jacob prevailed over the angel, so shall the Catholic Church prevail over all the enemies of Jesus Christ, though not without a struggle. Interesting too, is that the mystical bout of the holy Patriarch occurred at night, when the foe is more difficult to be seen. After crying “uncle”, the loser of the match assumed his usual authority and changed Jacob’s name to Israel , which means “strong with God”.
About the time of Moses, there lived a very holy man in Arabia who was not a descendant of Jacob, but who, nevertheless, received the instruction of the good angels and pleased God in all he did, never once offending. This was Job. So delighted was God with His servant Job that he decided to boast of him to Satan. The wicked spirit was enraged. Having received permission from the Almighty to afflict the holy man, the devil destroyed his family, his possessions, and inflicted on Job himself grievous ulcers from his head to his feet. As we know, this patron of heroic patience remained steadfast in his loyalty to God and refused to speak a foolish word against the Almighty.
But for our purpose there are tremendous truths to be garnered from this unbelievable story concerning the spiritual warfare and the power of the devil. First it must be emphasized that Satan has no power over men that is not permitted by God. If God should allow him such exceptional powers, as he did in the case of Job, it is to bring out even more exceptional good. By temptations and tribulations we are purified and made more pleasing to God. Job was holy before his trials, but he had lots of room for advancement. After his tribulation he rose even higher to astounding heights of sanctity. And Satan was totally humiliated.
But another message comes our way via holy Job. Keep in mind these words of St. Paul, “. . . our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against Principalities and Powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” (Ephes. 6:12). The lesson that God had to instruct Job in by the means of His angel (and angels should know!) is that man is utterly helpless before the demons without the grace of God and the aid of the blessed spirits. In the last chapters of the book, two mammoth monsters, Leviathan and Behemoth, are given an inch-by-inch description. A superficial reading would lead one to think that God was glorying in the muscles and sinews of the whale and the elephant. Rather, in the Lord’s instruction of Job, these two monsters symbolize the demon of cruelty — in the jaws of Leviathan, and the demon of lust — in the belly of Behemoth. Against both these powerful demons, Job learns (and hopefully we also) that men are defenseless unless aided from above.
Then came Moses. A most extraordinary man, he was hand picked by God to lead the Israelites out of their Egyptian captivity, which event occurred around 1500 B.C. During that Exodus Moses practically lived in constant dialogue with God through His angels. At this point in the history of salvation, the people of God, the Church of the Old Testament, is going to be adorned like a Bride with many prophetic figures, thereby receiving, as ornamental gifts, more visible signs of God’s favor and Presence. All the miracles performed for and by Moses are evidences of a new and more intimate covenant between God and His people.
First, from a burning bush, the meek but zealous Moses is called by God through His angel to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Scores of stupendous miracles are performed by the hands of the angels, from the turning of rods into serpents, and rivers into blood, to the parting of the Red Sea. For forty years the angels fed the chosen people in the desert with quail and the manna, which the Psalmist called “bread from heaven”; they brought forth water for them from a rock; and they led them on their way by a pillar of fire at night and a luminous cloud by day. What a faithless and perverse generation we are to refuse to believe that God performed such wonders exactly as the facts are told! Imagine Moses telling us that the waters of the Red Sea stood on end like walls to the right and to the left, while the Hebrews passed through, if it wasn’t so. People would rather believe that their ancestors were gorillas than believe the miracles of the Bible. Yet they say they have the Faith. They have no faith. Do you think the Jews looked to science for an explanation of the pillar of fire? Are we so bold as to declare God incapable of doing anything outside the recurring patterns or laws He has established? How about the plummeting sun at Fatima? Or Joshua’s holding the sun in its place for twenty-four hours? Where were the laws of science then? Or are the laws of nature superior to Him who made them?
The presence of God and His angels was even more visibly manifest on Mount Sinai: with the shaking and rumbling of the earth all around, the blasting of angels’ trumpets amidst fearsome thunders and lightning, and the hovering of a dark yet luminous cloud covering the holy mountain. Moses, aided by his angel, ascended fearlessly to the summit, and spoke to God through His angels with unheard-of familiarity.
Then, amidst great thundering, he received on tablets of stone the Commandments of the Most High. Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians lets us know that the law came through the mediatorship of angels, “Why then was the Law? It was set because of transgressions, till the seed should come, to whom he made the promise, being ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” (3:19)
On another mountain, Mt. Nebo, when Moses died there all alone, Satan, came to seize the body of the prophet. The intent of the wicked spirit was to use the body as a means of enticing the Hebrews into worshiping it. Saint Jude, the Apostle, informs us of a drama that unfurled on that occasion, which no one but the angels were witness to: “When Michael the Archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him the judgement of railing speech, but said: The Lord command thee.” (Jude 1:9) How would the Jews have known about this incident if it had not been revealed to them by angels? Nowhere in the Old Testament is it recorded. Is this not proof that the Apostles accepted and venerated the verbal traditions that they had received from their ancestors?
In view of this interesting revelation we can be sure that the guardian angel of the Israelites, promised by God to Moses with the Lord’s word, “My angel shall go before thee…” (Ex. 23:23), and also the guardian angel of all the Patriarchs of old, was none other than Saint Michael the Archangel. In fact, he is endowed with so much authority in the Old Testament theophanies that he is set apart from the other angels and spoken of as if he were God Himself. Abraham addressed the most princely of his angelic guests as “My lord” Assuredly, this was Saint Michael. Then again, in the Book of Exodus, Moses writes, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud…” (Ex. 13:21) The same angel who is here called “Lord” a little later becomes again “the angel of God”. (Ex. 14:19)
Following the angelic path chronologically, to whom but them can we attribute the collapsing of the walls of Jericho at trumpet blasts? Or to whom did Sampson owe his strength? Is there any physical law to connect the strength of muscle with the length of hair? Was David, the shepherd boy, that good with a sling that by natural skill he could place the stone right on target in Goliath’s forehead? — or did angels direct the little missile’s path? If a natural cause can explain the slaying of Goliath, who can explain the more astounding fact that David, when just a lad, with his bare hands slew a lion and a bear?
Sometimes, in the pre-Incarnation era, the effect of the angels’ intervention was even more vividly evidenced. Take the case of the slaughter of the Assyrians. Their impious king, Sennacherib, had provokingly blasphemed the God of Israel and threatened to destroy the holy city, Jerusalem. King Ezechias of Juda prayed to the God “Who sitteth upon the cherubim,” while at the same time the prophet Isaias, who had been elevated in ecstasy to gaze upon the seraphim, was likewise storming heaven for his people. The next morning one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian soldiers were found dead in their camp… victims of divine indignation of angelic proportions.
After the deaths of King David and of his son Solomon, the kingdom of Israel divided (932 B.C.) into that of Israel and that of Juda, and once again the Jews were infected with the vice of idolatry. Idolatry was a perversion of the primitive revelation made to Adam that God would one day become visible; that is, He would become man. And if visible, then imageable. The demons capitalized on this tradition of divine imageability and twisted it into all kinds of perverse idol worship. There simply is no natural explanation, psychological or otherwise, for this gross error found universally among all civilizations. It is a blasphemous parasite whose degrading disorientation can only be traced to diabolic influence. At the coming of Christ, the true Imageable One, the gods of the pagan religions, at least in civilized nations, came crashing to the ground.
The angels brought help to their wayward people with the teaching of the holy prophets Elias, Eliseus, Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, and Daniel, to mention the most preeminent among them. These thundering mouthpieces of God reawakened in many hearts the beauty of Yahweh’s covenant, the holy people’s conditional predilection, and a true spirit of repentance. Furthermore, beginning with King David, and climaxing in the four last mentioned prophets above, the Messianic revelations became more and more clear and descriptive. With these revelations the Bride, the Church of the Old Testament, began to long more earnestly for the coming of her Spouse.
Passing over many other examples of angelic manifestations, we come to one of the most charming in the story of the pious Tobias, who was among those Jews of the northern kingdom of Israel who were taken into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. In reward for his great charity to his people, feeding the hungry, and burying those who were slain by the wicked king, Salmanasar, and left dead in the streets, God sent to Tobias the angel Raphael. The angel appeared in the guise of an ordinary young man for the purpose of accompanying his son, Tobias the Younger, on a journey to a distant land so that he might, before his father’s death, recover a debt from a certain Gabelus. At least ostensibly, this was the reason for the mysterious arrival of the angel in gentleman’s camouflage.
Actually Saint Raphael’s mission was for purposes much more sublime. The charity of Tobias the Elder, which was a spectacle for even the seraphim to behold, practically drew heaven to earth by its magnetic force. Knowing that the Son of God Himself was, in a not too distant time, to leap the bounds of eternity and enter the material world He created, the angels were more than anxious to imitate Him in His descent. And Tobias, more than any other Old Testament figure, resembled the Savior to come in heroically exposing his own life to danger as he went about doing good for his suffering people.
So, the angel Raphael descended from heaven to come to the aid of this precious Old Testament family. Of course, when the angel arrived at the house of Tobias, no one suspected that he was anything more than a very noble young man. Having volunteered to accompany the young Tobias on his mission, they set out together. After one day on the road they came to the dwelling place of a kinsman of Tobias’ named Raguel. Now Tobias was aware that Raguel had a very beautiful and holy daughter named Sara. He was also aware, as must have been all of Israel, that the poor maiden had been terribly afflicted by demons in such a way that they slew her husbands one after another, to the number of seven, before their marriages could be consummated. One can imagine the young man’s surprise when his companion informed him that he was to ask Raguel for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
He said to Raphael, “I hear that she hath been given to seven husbands, and they all died: moreover, I have heard that a devil killed them. Now I am afraid lest the same thing should happen to me.”
To which the angel answered, “I will show thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power.” (Tob.6: 15-17)
Tobias, by faith, asked for Sara to wife. But before they could come together, Tobias had been instructed by his companion that he must by prayer, continency, and the burning over hot coals of a fish’s liver, drive away the devil that had afflicted Sara.
You may ask: What does the smoke of fish liver have to do with driving away demons? Good question. You might just as well ask: Why did Our Lord use a paste made from earth and His spittle to cure a blind man? Why cleanse a soul from sin by pouring a little water over a head? Why confer the Gift of the Holy Ghost by signing a forehead with oil?
The answer is that the Will of God has ordained it so. God desires to defeat Satan and sanctify men by means of material, tangible realities. And it is in view of the Incarnation that matter takes on this supernatural significance. For the Eternal Word of God truly became man, with flesh and bones, and eyes, and ears, and a heart. When God breathed the air, which He had created, He sanctified it and made it holy; when He walked the earth, He made the very dust holy; and when He entered the waters of the Jordan to be Himself baptized (though He did not need to be cleansed from sin, as He could have none), He sanctified all the waters of the earth, giving them at that moment an unbelievable power to wipe away original sin and all actual sin. And, as we know, it was God’s material Body that was used to achieve our Redemption on Calvary’s hill as It hung dying on the cross. So it was also in view of this Incarnation to come that God would humble the devil by subjecting him to such a humiliating defeat at the aroma of the rising smoke of burning fish liver.
There is yet another very important lesson to be emphasized: that is the importance of purity. The angel Raphael assured Tobias that the demons have no power over a chaste man. Over an impure man they certainly do have power, not always unto a sudden death, as they did in the case of Sara’s seven husbands, but unto a slow death of body and soul — that they do effect. Impure men are not healthy even in body, due to the fact that the devil owns them and is slowly destroying them. Furthermore, the saints have assured us that impure men give off a stench that the angels cannot tolerate. It is only with the greatest difficulty that the guardian angels can keep their watch over such lustful wards.
At long last, after driving the devil away from Sara, Tobias, with his wife and his noble companion, returned to his father with the recovered sum of money. Then the angel Raphael revealed his true identity to the awestruck family and disappeared from their midst, while, for a full three hours, all lay face down prostrate in adoration.
Around a century later the weakness of the chosen people once again succumbed to the inspirations of the demons. This time it was the kingdom of Juda that merited the divine chastisement, for the kingdom of Israel had ceased to exist after the Assyrian captivity. The tribes of Juda and Benjamin fell to the Persians in 606 B.C. and thus began the seventy-year Babylonian captivity. It is among the children of the Babylonian exile that we meet the great prophet Daniel who, perhaps more than any other of the holy men of old, was most frequented by angels.
This unique prophet first ran into problems when he very cleverly killed the living dragon that the Persians foolishly worshipped as a god. As a result of his zeal, a furious mob forced King Cyrus to cast the prophet into the lion’s den. Not only did the angels protect Daniel from any harm from the lions, but they even provided him a hearty meal in a most amusing manner. Intercepting another prophet named Habacuc, while he was carrying a bowl of pottage somewhere hundreds of miles away in Jerusalem, Daniel’s angel carried the startled man of God by the hair of his head (never dropping the pottage, mind you) and in a matter of seconds deposited him on top of the lion’s den. The astonished prisoner was saved from starvation, and Habacuc, services rendered, received another unusual ride back home. I suppose even angels aren’t above having fun.
Daniel prayed so ardently for his people in captivity that when the angel Gabriel appeared to him for the first time he addressed him as, “Thou, man of desires”. He was the one prophet who saw visions not only of the near future and the coming of the Messiah, but he also received astounding revelations about the attacks to be leveled against the Church right up to the end of the world.
The greatest of the revelations made known to this prophet are contained in the Book of Daniel, chapters ten through twelve. The angel who delivered the messages was the angel Gabriel. Adopting a more spectacular profile than when he would appear to Our Blessed Lady, Gabriel is thusly described by the prophet: “. . . a man clothed in linen, and his loins were gird with the finest gold: And his body was like the chrysolite, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as a burning lamp: and his arms and all downward even to the feet, like in appearance to glittering brass: and the voice of his word like the voice of a multitude.”
The role of Saint Michael as the guardian of Israel and of the holy Church to come, of which Israel is but a figure, is clearly stressed by Michael’s co-seraph Gabriel: “But the Prince of the kingdom of the Persians resisted me one and twenty days: and behold Michael, one of the chief Princes came to help me…” . And again, “None is my helper,” the celestial messenger informed the prophet, “but Michael your Prince.” Towards the end of the message Saint Gabriel goes on to speak of the terrible tribulations the just will suffer at the time of antichrist, but he also assures the trembling Daniel (for the prophet never did get quite used to speaking to angels) that, in the end, with the aid of the Prince of the heavenly host, they will be victorious, “. . . at that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people.” AT that time the children of thy people will be those incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ; they will not be the Jews who have persisted in denying Christ.
In the second century before Christ, some three hundred years after the Jews returned from the captivity (536 B.C.), Saint Michael would rise up and do battle against the Old Testament figure of antichrist, Antiochus Epiphanes, who invaded Jerusalem and desecrated the holy temple. Strengthening the valiant hands of the zealous priest Mathathias and his five sons, known as the Machabees, the heavenly Prince rallied the forces of Juda to thoroughly defeat the pagan usurpers. During one of the battles five resplendent angels, bedecked in shining gold armor, appeared next to Judas Machabeus, the greatest of the five brothers, to assure the soldiers of the ultimate victory.
Judaea flourished under the rule of the Machabees, but with the death of the last of the five valiant brothers in 135 B.C., the dynasty degenerated under the weight of vicious intrigues and gross and unnatural assassinations until the Romans invaded Palestine and made Herod, the Idumean, King of the Jews.
Right up to the very dawn of the sunrise of the Messiah’s Coming, we find the angels of the Nations as anxious as they ever were before. The whole world groaned under the yoke of idolatry. Pagan Rome had conquered all the civilized nations and imposed upon them the Pax Romana. In Palestine, the Jews were free to worship freely so long as they paid their taxes. But even the Jews, dominated by hypocritical Pharisees and materialistic Sadducees, were fast falling victim to cynicism and immorality, due to a century of horrid example on the part of their religious leaders.
There was little the angels could do — mankind seemed so hopelessly lost. Invisible eyes turned to God in silent expectation. Had not the sceptre passed from Juda with Herod’s accession? Was He not therefore due to come, the “expectation of nations’; as Jacob had foretold? Were not the seventy weeks of years completed, after which the prophet Daniel had promised, “the Saints of saints was to be anointed”?
Amidst these prayers of the angels ascending to heaven was found the prayer of another, the fire of which surpassed in ardor even that of the seraphim; these prayers were the sighing unto God coming from the heart of a young Jewish maiden of Palestine, in the city of Nazareth, of the house of Joachim and Anna. The virgin’s name was Mary. Unknown even to the angels, the prayers of the humble maiden had been the constant delight of the Most High God.
In the New Testament
Now the time had come. The fullness of the ages had been reached in this holy virgin’s arrival at child-bearing maturity. The Eternal Son of God could not wait one more instant to descend and to become her Child, the Son of Mary. Gabriel, whom we have already met, one of the seven who stand before the throne of God, was summoned before His Majesty.
Meanwhile, the most holy Mary was praying ardently in her poor chamber. The angel Gabriel, who in a flash had descended from heaven’s court to Mary’s, was not at all surprised to find Him from Whose Presence he had been sent already with the Blessed Virgin. “Hail, full of grace,” the angel greeted the maiden, “the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women.” The chivalrous ambassador, perceiving the holy virgin’s perplexity, went on to assure her that the time had come for the Savior’s entrance into the world, and that she had been chosen to be His mother. Mary questioned the messenger, not that she ever doubted the angel’s word — for she knew the prophecy of Isaias concerning the Savior’s virgin birth — but she inquired innocently for the purpose of acquiring information. The angel was most obliging and answered her saying, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee, and the holy One that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
There it was. No greater words had ever been voiced or heard by any creature. Mary gently bowed her head and said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to thy word.” Saint Gabriel and all the heavenly host who had accompanied him rejoiced. And at that instant the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.”
The role now of the angels takes on a new transitional aspect. The King (Christ) has arisen from his sleep and has called for his Bride (the Church). The friends of the Bride hasten with the final embellishments. The angelic activity now is more manifest, if not more spectacular.
First, Saint Joseph, Mary’s virginal spouse, upon perceiving that his most pure bride is carrying a child (for in her humility she could not speak a word to anyone concerning the great mystery that had been wrought in her) is assured again by Saint Gabriel that that which had been conceived in Mary was accomplished by the power of the Holy Ghost. He should not fear to take Mary as his wife for “she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus. For he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt.1:21)
Then, in a stable outside of Bethlehem, while the world was fast asleep on a bitterly cold midnight in December, the days of the Virgin Mary’s deliverance were accomplished, and she brought forth miraculously her Child and her God in the sheer silence of poverty. In company with ox and ass the celestial choirs were wrapped in adoration, while their hearts, along with Joseph’s and Mary’s were bursting with joy.
Meanwhile, one of the blessed spirits slipped away to bring more adorers, and he found some simple shepherds who, in their purity, merited such an honor. As these pastors sat in the quiet of their usual night watch, suddenly the radiant glory of the angel filled the starlit sky with the brightness of God, and the stunned shepherds were cowed in terror: “Fear not!”, the excited messenger said, “I bring you tidings of great joy. . .” After announcing the birth of “Christ the Lord in the city of David,” he was joined by a whole army of the heavenly choirs, who were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will.”
Not too long before, a mysterious star, guided by angels, and of exceptional brightness, appeared in the East. This was a sign for certain philosopher kings of that region that the expected One of the nations had come. You see, the whole world had been awaiting the coming of the promised Restorer; for even the Gentiles, most of whom had gone the way of idolatry, were not unfamiliar with the Messianic tradition. These three kings, though not Jewish, had the true faith, and were among those of a rarer breed, in whom the angels of the nations could delight. In any event, the appearance of that star, which acted so unstarlike in its behavior, was the achievement of a guardian angel, who made use of this eastern tradition of the Savior’s star to bring the first Gentile worshipers to greet the new-born King of kings.
Ever busy in protecting the Divine Child from Herod’s jealous rage, angels worked by way of infusing dreams; first, to the three kings, in order to warn them of the true designs of the wicked king of Judaea, and then to Saint Joseph, to warn him to flee with the Child for some time into Egypt until Herod’s wrath should be appeased, or until he should die. When the Holy Family at last were able to return to Judaea, three years later, the angels joined Our Lord in a hidden life (with but one interruption) until the Savior was told by Mary that the time had come to be about His Father’s business.
At the end of that hidden life, Our Lord being now thirty years of age, the angels make one final appearance before they slip away again, to return at the time of the Passion. Of course we must understand that the angels were always there to minister to Our Lord, as the Royal prophet foresaw, “He hath given his angels charge over thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest perhaps thou shouldst dash thy foot against a stone.” (Psalm 90:11). However, the gospels are quiet on the invisible activity.
This next appearance of the angels was at the end of Our Lord’s forty-day fast in the desert. Satan arrives before them in order to see if he can destroy this holy man in whom he can find nothing of his own. The reality of the Incarnation was never more shuddering in its profound humility: imagine God Himself allowing the infernal wretch to approach and tempt Him. Three times the tempter whispered what he hoped would be irresistible propositions; and three times he was rebuffed by a Power that made him wonder and filled him with consternation. In dejection, the proud spirit went away, “for a time’; the Scripture says. He would return later to vent his fury upon His Victim through the instrumentality of drunken soldiers and the ungrateful Jews of Jerusalem. At the end of the temptations and the fast, Saint Matthew tells us that “angels came and ministered to him.” Quite a different finale then that of the drama in the garden of Paradise, when after another temptation, angels came not to minister but to avenge. That was the Old Adam — this was the New!
We do not meet the angels again until the angel of strength, Gabriel, is sent to console Our Lord in His extreme agony in the garden of Gethsemani, although the Savior often makes mention of the blessed spirits in His teaching. Actually, there is no other reality outside of God that Jesus speaks of more often than the angels. And after the angels He speaks mostly of hell. If there are no angels and no hell, then we have been deceived, which would be a blasphemous thought even to entertain.
To mention just a few of the angelic references: Our Lord clearly told His disciples that the little children have guardian angels who “always see the face of His Father”; He compared Saint John the Baptist to an angel; in His parables, especially when relating what it would be like at His second coming, He often describes the role of the angels; and in the garden before His arrest, He assured His apostles that, if He willed it, He could summon twelve legions of angels to defend Him. (Neither the Jews, nor the soldiers, nor the entire Roman army for that matter, could withstand the defending sword of one angel, let alone twelve thousand. Clearly Our Lord intended to teach a truth in a military language that would be impressive. What the Savior has provided us here is an obvious reference to the destruction of the army of the wicked King Sennacherib, wherein one hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrian soldiers were slain in their camp by the angels of God. (Isaias 37:36)). Furthermore, it would be in the presence of the angels, Jesus said, that He would confess those who confess Him in this life and deny those who are ashamed of Him in this life. And there is so much more.
We have in the gospels the story of the pool of Probatica, into which, we are so innocently informed, an angel descends at certain times to stir the water, and the first person to plunge himself into the pool after the angel comes would be cured of whatever infirmity he lay under. Our Lord who, as God, had sent this very angel to perform such a wonder, did not deny the truth of it when the paralytic by the pool told Him his sad story.
Surely, in Our Savior’s most popularized parable of the Good Shepherd, it is our entire infected race that is to be understood by the one lost sheep. No sooner had Jesus finished His terrifying admonition to those who should ever scandalize a child (all I can think of is those pushing sex education) whose angel looks upon God, than He, out of the clear blue, interjected this telling pastoral parable. The ninety-nine sheep are the holy angels; the Shepherd is the Eternal Son of God. By leaving behind the ninety-nine is meant the descent of the Incarnation. The lost sheep represents mankind, whom the Good Shepherd carries back to the angelic fold on His shoulders, where He also bore the cross. Based upon this lesson, it would seem that the number of angels far surpasses the number of men who will share with them the everlasting glory.
When Jesus bowed His head down on the Cross and died, Saint Matthew informs us that even inanimate nature expressed its grief by a universal earthquake and the splitting of rocks, no doubt the work of the guardian angels of the earth. The Soul of the Savior descended into the heart of the earth to console the holy souls waiting in the limbo of the just. The angels dared not — they could not — enter with Christ into the realm of death (Sheol ). This was the “hell” of which we make mention in the Creed, where Christ descended. Until the Savior should rise and conquer death, those souls, though in grace, were detained there under the power of Satan. From Adam to Saint Joseph himself, no one could escape the banishment from heaven that is the hell of this temporary separation. An awesome sentence! Then came Jesus into their midst to tell them of their deliverance shortly to come and to invite them to witness His Resurrection; in fact, He was to take some of them to share in it by their own resurrections. Above, when the Body of Jesus was buried like other men, the guardian angels waited at the sepulcher for Easter Morn.
When the time had come and the Soul of Christ approached the tomb, the angels adored in His Spirit the One whom they had been adoring in His Flesh. In utter wonder they watched as He who had once called forth Lazarus called forth now His own Body to a Divine Reunion. The glory of it all knocked the Roman guards unconscious as the Risen Savior blinded them by His light. And immediately leaving behind the companions of His Resurrection, He went with Saint Joseph to console His sorrowful mother.
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene and Mary of Cleophas came early that morning to the tomb. They who had proved so faithful in His Passion merited to be both the first witnesses of the Savior’s Resurrection and to converse with angels. For perceiving the stone rolled back, they entered the tomb and found two blessed spirits, disguised as handsome young men in splendid apparel, who informed them that Jesus was not to be found among the dead. The two Marys represent the contemplative life.
Then came Peter and John, who symbolize the active life and the Church militant, racing to the tomb after hearing the news from the women. Saint John, in deference to age and authority, steps back (though he had arrived ahead of Saint Peter) to allow the head of the Church, the same whom he had heard deny his Lord thrice, enter the sepulcher first. They saw nothing; no, not even angels, for the Church must live by faith.
After forty days, the Lord, having appeared many times to further instruct and encourage His disciples, led the infant Church to Mount Olivet where He was to ascend in their sight to His Father. The angels of the nations and all the lower choirs stood by as Jesus, their King, bade adieu to His mother, their Queen; then forming about the Savior a magnificent hierarchic entourage, they slowly lifted Him away in a cloud as He blessed His Bride, the Church, below.
Saint Peter was speechless and so was Our Blessed Lady; all hearts were heavy with sadness as they knelt motionless looking up to heaven. Something had to be done, or the holy people would have gazed into the sky forever. Suddenly, two angels clad in white robes appeared for all to see and hear, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven? This Jesus who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come, as you have seen Him going into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) In other words, there was work to be done.
After Pentecost, as the Church begins to grow, the angels are fast at work preparing Jews and Gentile to receive the good news of salvation. The angels of the nations have now become the angels of the Churches. As we see in the Acts, they are to play a very visible part in the protection of the apostles in order to encourage them through their many persecutions, and to hasten the growth of what Christ had planted so that the Church could be stronger and withstand its persecutors. However, since the coming of the Savior, “the One Mediator of God and man,” the relationship of the angels to men as mediators is no longer the same. In the Old Testament, all communication between God and man came through the medium of the angels. With the Incarnation, God Himself had come into our world and made Himself accessible through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the theme of Saint Paul’s letter to the Hebrews. The Messiah is God. He is higher than the angels “as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels hath he said at any time: ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten Thee’?” (Heb 1:5)
The Apostle Paul in no way means that we are to forget the angels and no longer invoke them, but that our devotion to them must be founded in Christ. From henceforth, “He is the mediator of the new testament.” (Heb 9:15) Therefore, it would be sinful to approach the angels while rejecting Jesus, who is our reconciliation. Only with Jesus can we enter the spirit world of the good angels and pray to them. Without faith in Christ, any communication with angels will only lead to a familiarity with the bad ones. Moreover, any approach to the angels made on the part of one who refuses to acknowledge their Queen, would be insulting to the blessed spirits. Yet, we who are living after the Incarnation should not be less familiar but even more familiar and devout to the angels than those who lived before it. Why? Because the angels are nearer to us than ever — especially, considering the wonderful Gift of the Blessed Sacrament, which they are happy to adore in us every time we leave the Communion rail.
The Acts of the Apostles, which is a history of the Apostolic Church, is packed with even more episodes of angelic interferences. Take the story of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, who, though not a Jew, was a man of faith who pleased God. While at prayer, an angel appeared to him and told him to send for Saint Peter, that he might be instructed in “what he must do” to be saved. How anxiously the angels of the nations scoured the land to find men of good will. Perhaps the angel who came to Cornelius was the guardian angel of Rome. The passage clearly lets us know that the angels hear our prayers, presenting them before the throne of God — if they are presentable — and, what is most important, the message delivered by the angel to Cornelius proves that there are some things that one “must do” for salvation. In this case it was the centurion’s Baptism. At the same time as Cornelius, Saint Peter also received a vision, only there was no intermediary involved — and this demonstrates the superiority of the new dispensation over the old — for, Saint Peter was addressed by the Holy Ghost Himself!
Then there is Saint Peter’s escape from prison. Inspired by the same hatred for the truth as his grandfather, the Herod then reigning, Herod Agrippa I, put Saint James to death, and seeing how delighted the Jews were with his wickedness, he also seized the leader of the new religion, Saint Peter, and put him in jail. There, while the Vicar of the Lord slept in his cell, an angel (no doubt Saint Michael — whom many suspect to have been Peter’s guardian angel) stood by him, filling the place with light. Tapping the Prince of the Apostles on his side, the angel raised him up saying, “Arise quickly!” Instantly the chains around his wrists dropped to the ground. Remember, Saint Peter had been doubly bound with iron chains between two guards. “Gird thyself,” the angel said, “and put on thy sandals… cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.” Two doors and an iron gate swung open before them as the celestial prison-break unfolded before a stunned Apostle’s disbelieving eyes.
It wasn’t until the angel vanished and Saint Peter found himself out on the street that he knew he hadn’t been dreaming. The spectacular then slides into the humorous when the head of the Church politely knocks at the door of Saint Mark’s house, only to find himself left standing outside, while an excited young girl named Rhode runs back inside the house, never thinking to let Peter in, to tell everybody who is at the door. Somewhat perplexed, Saint Peter keeps knocking, while everyone in the house is debating whether Rhode is mad or perhaps had seen “his angel.” At long last they came to the door and saw for themselves.
A similar prison-break had been prepared by the angels for Saints Paul and Silas from a jail in Philippi. Though no angel was seen, a terrible earthquake shook open all the prison gates, while an invisible visitor clipped off their iron bands like paper. To our amazement, Saint Paul decided not to avail himself of the angelic courtesy, and he and Silas remained where they were as an act of charity to the prison guard, whom Saint Paul had anticipated converting, and who would have killed himself in order to escape his own punishment had they made their getaway.
Then, in the story of the deacon Philip, it wouldn’t be at all unreasonable to suppose that the angel who miraculously relocated the zealous deacon from Samaria to a road hundreds of miles away leading to Gaza, was the guardian Prince of the Ethiopians. The eunuch, whom Philip was directed to intercept, was the treasurer of Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia. This pious man was on his way back to his country, after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, when he was met and instructed in the Faith by Saint Philip. The conversion of this eunuch was the beginning of the spreading of Christianity in Africa. His mission accomplished, “the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more.” (Acts 8:39)
Over and over again we see the angels interceding, rescuing, and encouraging by their powerful protection the missionary work of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. At times the latter had to be directed where or where not to go in his zeal to convert the nations. Twice the Holy Ghost had to prevent him from going to places where he would not have been received: first, when he was on his way east to Asia; and then again, when he attempted to go north to Bythynia (northern Turkey). Not knowing where to turn, an angel appeared to him in a vision and beckoned him to come over and help the Macedonians across the Aegean Sea (Greece). Then when Saint Paul was being taken prisoner to Rome, his ship was caught in a terrible gale, and an angel appeared to him in sleep and assured him that, though the boat would be wrecked, all the men would be saved. And so it was.
Finally, Saint John the Beloved Disciple, the last of the twelve Apostles to die (100 A.D.), opens up for the faithful in his book of Revelations a whole panorama of the angelic world never before witnessed by mortal eyes. Here, in the beginning chapter, the Apostle greets the churches in the name of the Eternal God and wishes them grace “from the seven spirits which are before his throne. ” Then, by way of admonitions to be delivered to the seven angels of the seven churches of Asia Minor, the sacred writer is commanded to record those things which are to be made known to him concerning the state of affairs in the early Church.
The Book enters into the area of supreme mystical prophecy by way of a fearsome variety of chastising agents, who are usually the angels, sometimes even the demons. The good angels are described as carrying the prayers of the saints in golden vials, full of sweet odors, before the throne of God. The seven angels before the throne appear in chapter eight, standing in the Presence of God with ready trumpets. Another angel approaches the Most High with a golden censer to offer the prayers of the just on the earth. Filling the censer with fire from the altar of God, the angel casts the ashes upon the earth, with thunders, and voices like a multitude, and a great earthquake. As each of the seven spirits sounds his trumpet, new and more devastating chastisements are revealed and poured out upon an unrepentant mankind. At the blast of the sixth trumpet, a voice is heard, “Loose the four angels, who are bound in the great river Euphrates.” And these four demons are let loose to slay sinners.
Although Saint Michael is not mentioned by name in chapter ten, certainly it is he who appears to the old Apostle and is called by him a “Mighty Angel.” This Angel came down from heaven, “clothed with a cloud; and a rainbow was on his head; and his face was as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire. And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot upon the earth. And he cried with a loud voice as when a lion roareth . . .” This is the Angel of the Judgment. The prophet then saw him lift up his hand and swear by the living God “that time shall be no longer.” And thus one day it shall happen just as Saint John saw it so long ago in vision.
As we see from those Apocalyptic verses (Ch. 12), already quoted in the beginning of this article, Saint Michael is specifically designated the leader of the angelic army against the forces of Satan. Toward the end of the revelations, in chapter twenty, Michael appears again as the angel “having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain… ” Laying hold of the dragon, who is Satan, the Prince of Archangels binds him with the chain and casts him into the pit for a thousand years “that he should no more seduce the nations.” But after the thousand years “he must be loosed for a time.” The “times” that the angel was referring to, as you may suspect, must be our day.
But after this last assault on the saints, which will be so tremendous as to deceive “if it were possible even the elect,” Satan and antichrist together will be “cast into the pool of fire” to be tormented “day and night for ever and ever.”
The honors of that final hurl, as we may surmise from the Apocalyptic description, are reserved for Saint Michael.