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Vol. XVI, August 2010

“Lord, God of hosts!” (Amos 3:13)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

We took up again the meditation on the angels in Sacred Scripture, coming to the twelve Minor Prophets. The prophets have different relationships with the angels: we discussed Isaiah as the prophet of the Incarnation in five different reflections; Jeremiah as the prophet of the Passion of Christ in another. The angels are powerfully present in the prophet-priest Ezekiel’s texts on the ideal temple and the purification of Israel, while the angelic dimension in Daniel is eschatological and consequently Christological. Similarly we find in some of the minor prophets almost no reference on the angels, in others like the prophet Zachariah a strong presence.

1. The name of God preferred by prophets “Lord, God of hosts”

a) Its use

Before we turn to Zachariah in the next letters, let’s consider a title of God which is very frequently used in Sacred Scripture, and especially among the Prophets, namely “Lord, God of hosts!”, according the most common translation. Of the Minor Prophets, Hosea referred to God by this name (cf. e.g. the phrase we reflected in the last letter) and Amos, e.g.: “Thus says the Lord: …‘Hear, and testify against the house of Jacob,’ says the Lord God, the God of hosts” (Amos 3:12-13). Zephania mentions this name, Haggai and Zechariah almost constantly.

b) Its meaning

The meaning of this name of God expresses first God’s sovereignty: He is the “Lord”! Then, the reference to the Angels, “God of hosts”, affirms His Power. The greater the army and the larger the number of people who are submitted to Him, the more evident is His might and Majesty, the more respectful will be the behavior of the creatures and the more distant his enemies will stand off. For what king with ten thousand goes to meet another with twenty thousand (cf. Lk 14:31-32)?

c) Its preference by the Prophets

We may wonder why the prophets not speak of God Almighty or of the Omniscient Lord. Does the meaning of this name represent the summary of their message as it is of the angels who say “Who is like God!”? Did they wish to recall God’s presence with all His heavenly army, because they needed such angelic encouragement in order to “preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching” (2 Tim 4:2)? Do they sense or have explicit knowledge that prophesies come from God through the angels (cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theo. II-II, q.172, a.2), and therefore speak with preference of Him as the Lord of hosts?

Whatever the reason may be, in the revised translation of the Roman Missal we will be reminded of the prophets every day, as we will pray again with the angels: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts”.

2. The same message and mission of angels and prophets

As priests we share in the prophetic munus. If we look closer at the prophets we will observe that the prophets and angels share the same message and mission, and therefore it is understood the preference of this name of God.

a) The same message

St. Paul insists that there is just one gospel as there is just one Lord and God. Therefore it must be the same among angels and men. In consequence, “if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:6-8). And in the one message we can distinguish a threefold object, in which the priestly prophets and angels meet (cf. Summa Theo. II-II, q.171, a.3):

—His munus propheticum means the confession of God’s word and will, of His commandments and promises, a task with which we meat constantly the holy angels (cf. e.g. Ex 23:20-22; Sl 103:20-21);

—it includes the final goal of man or the eternal life, the motive of all human decisions, and this is already the “home” of the angels, their beatific vision and last interest;

—it consists, in the strict sense, in the foretelling of the future events, and this comes through the angels: “the Divine enlightenments and revelations are conveyed from God to men by the angels” (Summa Theo. II-II, q.172, a.2).

b) The same mission

Both prophets, angels and priests, share also the same mission: to announce the same God and gospel. This leads the priests close to the angels in two ways as there are two consequences of the confession of God, one in heaven and one on earth:

—Jesus said, “I tell you, every one who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God [in heaven]; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Lk 12:8-9; cf. 9:26; we wonder: does this mean, the angelic assistance will be ineffective or even withdrawn from the latter?).

—The consequence on earth is this: Confessing God brings hatred, persecution and, not too seldom even martyrdom: How much the prophets suffered because they did not foretell what the people wanted to hear, but the word of God! To mention just some: Elias and Jeremiah, John the Baptist and Stephen; the correct fulfillment of the prophetical task leads into the spiritual battle and requires the presence of the holy angels which are implicitly called upon too when we cry out to the “Lord of hosts”.

c) All is given into Christ’s hands

Calling God “Lord of hosts” is a confession of confidence in His great and powerful army and is a declaration to be willing to fight for Him. The first fighter for God is Christ, the Son of God Who fought under the banner of the Cross. “The Father has given all things into His hand” (Jo 3:35; cf. 17:2), so that He is “the centre of the angelic world” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 331) as He has called His apostles “to be with Him” (Mk 3:14).

The Son of God became man to bring man and all creation back to God, but—because of sin—not without battle. The fathers of the Council saw it and mentioned it clearly:

“The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity” (Gaudium et Spes, 37.2).

The Catechism quotes it and adds as comment: “This dramatic situation of ‘the whole world [which] is in the power of the evil one’ (1 Jo 5:19; cf. 1 Pet 5:8), makes man’s life a battle” (CCC 409). In fact, when we reflect well about the Son of God who became man, all indicates of this battle (cf. CCC 457):

He is our Saviorbecause we were lost;

He is the Light of the Wordbecause we were found in darkness;

He is the Doorbecause we were prisoners;

He is the Way and Pastorbecause we were without control;

He is the Truthbecause we were ignorant;

He is the Lifebecause we were threatened with eternal death;

He is the Lambbecause we needed an expiatory sacrifice before the Father;

He is the Bread of Lifebecause we were hungry;

He is the Peace of the worldbecause we were fighting one against the other.

The mission of the prophets and the angels is one: to announce the “Lord, God of hosts”, the conqueror, and to bring light and peace.

3. Angel and priest, going two by two

Finally, it remains just to say that, according the will of God, angels and priests should actually fulfill this mission together.

a) The complementary union

While the words of human prophets reach the physical ears, angelic messengers speak to (enlighten) the spiritual ears of the heart. Human words touch the outside, angelic words eco in the conscience. Man’s transmission is always colored by the human talents and temperament, the angel’s purity makes their transmission transparent to God. To be aware of our limitations, but also of the hardheartedness of the people to whom we are sent invites us to call for angelic help to a more effective complement of the one mission.

b) The team composed by God

God, in fact, sends the angels and does not dispense the prophets. The angels can and should strengthen and lead the prophetic priests, give life to their words and protect them from those who oppose them. We might mention here the great prophet Moses in his mission among the Chosen People: “Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared…” (Ex 23:20); or Elisha who confessed to his servant: “’Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ … the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kgs 6:16-17).

And, when Jesus sends His disciples “two by two” (Lk 10:1), then we may also think of the angelic companion which He adds to each one who receives the prophetic mission. Do we not know about a special presence of the angels in the mission of the apostles (cf. Acts 8; 10; 12; 16; 27)? St. Peter Canisius gave testimony of this gift in his Confessions: Speaking of the day when he received the mission for Germany, he recalled: “You know, Lord, how much and how often you confided me Germany on that day… I should work together with the heavenly protector of Germany!”

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The new translation of Sanctus, the prayer of the Angels, in the Holy Mass will help to associate us more consciously with the prophet Isaiah who “said: ‘Woe is me! … for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’“ (Is 6:3, 5). The powerful and liturgical prayer of the Seraphim can become, each time we say it, the renewal of our “Adsum!” to the priestly ministry, the short version of our consecration to the holy angels, the confidential surrender of all our priestly duties to the care of our heavenly brothers who declared themselves “fellow servant with you and your brethren the prophets.” They may become the secret of our ministry, as they are with us all, but first of all “with those who keep the words of this book”, who are faithful in the mission, and with those who adore our “Lord, the God of Hosts”, according their guidance: “Worship God!” (Rev 22:9).

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC
ASSOCIATION OF PRIESTS
IN THE WORK OF THE HOLY ANGELS