Circular Letter: Advent 2014
Commonly Asked Questions on the Angels (Cont.)
In this issue of our Circular Letter we will continue to answer questions about angels that members and friends of the Work of the Holy Angels have asked over the years. We hope that this will deepen and strengthen your knowledge and love of the holy angels.
12. Should we ask our Guardian Angel to reveal his name to us?
This question is closely related to the first question in the last issue of our Circular Letter, namely, “Can we give a name to our Guardian Angel?” The answer to this reformulation of the previous question is again in the negative. The reason for this is that, as we mentioned in the last issue of our Circular Letter, the Church wants to discourage us from assigning or ascertaining the names of the holy angels, with the exception of the three Holy Archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael, whose names have been revealed to us in the Scriptures. (cf. Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments, The Directory of Popular Piety, n. 217, 2001).
In addition to that, special prudence and precaution have to be taken in the case of a name that is given to us either in a dream or in a locution, or by an inspiration that is a response to a prayer request. For not only could the devil easily insinuate himself in these kinds of communications, but also our imagination and hidden desires could cause confusion as well. St. Paul warns us that Satan himself can appear as an “angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). The possibility of communications given in dreams or locutions cannot be altogether excluded. Nevertheless, prudentially, they cannot be accepted when they deal with revealing an angel’s personal name. Any angelic name that is received in answer to a specific prayer request should be disregarded. This is the case since it seems unlikely that an angel, or the Holy Spirit, would reveal to us the name of our Guardian Angel, or the names of other angels for that matter, when the Church has explicitly directed us in an official document not to inquire about the names of the angels, nor to assign names to them. The angels are the perfect models of obedience, particularly with regard to the decisions of the Church.
13. Do we have to speak out loud for the angels to hear us when we pray to them or speak to them?
First, we must be aware of the fact that the angels cannot, as mentioned in the last issue of our Circular Letter, read our minds. Nevertheless, they can know specific thoughts that we willfully desire to communicate with them. The essence of all spiritual communication is the decision that we make to transmit a thought or an idea to another person, be it an angel, a devil, a saint in heaven, or God Himself. Therefore, as soon as we make the decision to speak with or to pray to the angels, they will become aware of what we want to communicate to them.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that even “when our Guardian Angel is in Heaven he knows what is happening to man” (cf. Summa theologiae, q. 113, a., 6, ad 3). Our Guardian Angel can learn about what we want to communicate to him from the Beatific Vision of God, should God will to communicate this to him. Dr. Peter Kreeft observes that, “God tells the angels all they need to know about what is going on in our world. They don’t need to learn about it through sense experience (sic). [In other words,] … angels see the world reflected in God’s mind, somewhat as a listener would see the events of a story told to him by its author” (Dr. Peter Kreeft, Angels and Demons, question no. 37, p. 67). However, this opinion, if taken too far, would remove the need for any communication, not only between angels and men on earth, but also among the angels and saints in heaven. Yet, the moral good of the communion of saints also entails the social dimension of interpersonal relationships which are expressed by acts of communication of information and acts of love. Moreover, this position ignores the common doctrine regarding the Heavenly Hierarchy of the angels. In this regard, St. Thomas and theologians in general hold that God reveals His plans to the Highest Choirs of angels, who then are His ministers in communicating this knowledge and directing the ministries of the lower angels. From this it would not follow, that each angel, in virtue of his own beatific vision, receives all the knowledge that is pertinent to his ministry. The basic principle behind the angelic hierarchy is this: God communicates to His creatures a double share in His goodness: a) the goodness of being (the natural perfection of their nature) together with grace; and b) the goodness whereby they are collaborating causes in the economy of creation in that they causally contribute to the growth of lower creations in perfection.
Finally, while it is certainly within the power of God to reveal the secrets of the heart to any angel, there is no cogent reason why this should generally take place, since it would mitigate against the perfection of the social order in the communion of saints. While the angels may well know our spiritual needs even without such a revelation, our prayers to them are not without purpose. We mention here just two. First, the merit of prayer and the power of hope are necessary conditions for the acquisition of many graces. Hence, the mere knowledge of our need does not entitle, in itself, the angels to mediate to us every grace. Secondly, in and through the communication of prayer we also concomitantly manifest to the angels the dispositions of our heart and soul, which knowledge, in good part at least, pertains to the secrets of heart. This knowledge of our interior dispositions is of great pastoral value to the angel, since by it he can better attune his ministry to our inclination and capacity to cooperate with grace.
14. “Has the number of the Angels increased since their creation?”
It is believed by the saints and theologians of the Church that all the angels that exist today, have existed in the past, and will exist in the future, were created by God all at once at the dawn of creation. In other words, as Joan Cruz points out, “it is the universal Catholic belief that after the battle in which the defeated angels were transformed into devils, the number of angels has remained the same. Their number was complete from that time until now” (Joan Cruz, Angels and Demons, p. 14).
Based upon revelation the Church teaches that God created the whole universe at the beginning of time (cf. CCC 327). Only man came about as a subsequent crowning to creation. Hence, this tenet of our faith would preclude any further creation of angels as well as any further physical creation within the universe.
15. Does a lay person have the right and the power to command the devil to leave other persons, places, or things?
Prayers of command, directed to the devil to leave another person, place, or thing, can only be made by a priest. In this regard, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, when he was the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, issued a directive to all the bishops in 1985. The directive stated that not only “it is not licit for the Christian Faithful to use the formula of exorcism against Satan and his apostate angels”, but also that “people not duly authorized ought not to direct prayer meetings in which are prayed prayers to obtain the expulsion of the devil, prayers, which directly address the demons, or manifest the desire to know the identity of the demons” (cf. Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, September 29, 1985. 11 Protocol, No. 291170).
Nevertheless, he went on to explain that “the formulation of these norms must in no way dissuade the faithful from praying so that, as Jesus taught us, they may be freed from evil (cf. Mt 6:13).” What is more, he stressed, “pastors… should make use of this opportunity to remember what the Tradition of the Church teaches with regard to the proper function of the Sacraments and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of the angels, and of the saints in the spiritual battle of Christians against the wicked spirits” (ibid.).
Lay persons, however, in virtue of their baptismal grace, have the right and authority to command the devil to leave themselves. Nevertheless, we must always keep in mind that the devil has a superhuman strength and intelligence. We are no match for him one on one with only the powers of our human nature at our disposal. We will be easily defeated by him, therefore, if we try to fight him with only our own power and strength. We do well to fight infernal fire with heavenly fire. For this reason, we need to ask Mary, Queen of the Angels, St. Michael the Archangel and our Holy Guardian Angel to fight our battles with the devil for us. For they have not only thousands of years of experience in spiritual warfare; but they also possess the most powerful supernatural spiritual weapons available in Heaven and on earth.
16. Did Jesus have a Guardian Angel during His earthly ministry?
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that Jesus did not need a Guardian Angel during His earthly life because He was guided immediately by the Word of God. That is to say, His human faculties of intellect and will were under the immediate direction of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to whom He was united in Person. As such, Jesus enjoyed an infinitely greater principle of guidance and protection than any angel could provide. This also holds true of His human faculties, since He already enjoyed the Beatific Vision to a degree vastly surpassing that of all the angels. For this reason, it was fitting that Jesus should have, not a Guardian Angel as superior to guide Him, but rather a ministering angel (or angels), as inferior to Him, to serve Him (cf. Summa theologiae, I q.113, a. 4, ad 1). In other words, Jesus had at least one, or possibly several angels, to assist and serve Him during His time on earth. However, none of these angels could be considered as a Guardian Angel.
17. How can I tell the difference between an inspiration coming from the Holy Spirit and an inspiration coming from my Guardian Angel?
For the most part, we cannot tell the difference between the two. The reason for this is that, ultimately, every good inspiration that we receive originates with the Holy Spirit, but is delivered to us by means of an angel. For as St. John of the Cross points out, “Wisdom descends from God through the first hierarchies [of the angels] unto the last and from these last unto men…. Ordinarily, these inspirations are derived from God by means of the angels, and the angels in turn give them to one another without delay. This communication, then, is like that of sunlight shining through many windows placed one after the other” (St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, chapter 12, paragraph 3).
To use another image: the inspirations of the Holy Spirit pass to us through our Guardian Angel in a way that is similar, we could say, to the way in which electrical energy passes from an electrical transformer to an electrical appliance. Just as an electrical transformer filters, modifies, and adapts the voltage of an electrical current so that it will give the right amount of energy to the proper appliance at the opportune time and in the right way; so too our Guardian Angel filters, modifies, and adapts the inspirations and graces that the Holy Spirit wants to give to us, so that we can make use of them according to the amount of grace and wisdom that we possess.
The manner, then, in which inspirations may be traced back to the Holy Spirit are twofold. First, the Holy Spirit can entrust any angel with a special mission, much as St. Gabriel was entrusted with the message of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Secondly, the ministry of every angel is carried out in the power of the Light of Glory and in the efficacy of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Hence, in the ordinary exercise of his ministry, every light, strength and counsel he communicates to us resonates with the power of the Holy Spirit working through His seven Holy Gifts!
18. What about the St. Michael Chaplet?
It is a pious tradition that St. Michael the Archangel revealed to a holy person that he would be pleased if prayers were prayed not only in his honor, but also in honor of all the Choirs of Angels. Moreover, he revealed to this holy person that he would repay all those who practiced this devotion with great graces, particularly in those times when the Church would experience some special trial.
For this reason, believing in this apparition, a holy Carmelite nun from the convent of Vetralla, Italy, made it her practice to pray the Chaplet regularly. It was at the request of the nuns of her convent that Pope Pius IX granted, by a decree in 1851, a partial indulgence to anyone who would pray the Chaplet. This special Indulgence, however, is no longer valid today. It was not retained when the collection of prayers graced with indulgences was revised after Vatican II. Nevertheless, the fact that an indulgence was granted initially by a Pope indicates the value of the Chaplet in the eyes of the Church. In short, we may confidently make the praying of the Chaplet a part of our devotion to the holy angels.
19. If I send my Guardian Angel to help another person will I be left unprotected while he is away?
We have nothing to fear if we ask our Guardian Angel to help another person. For our Guardian Angel can move about anywhere in the universe with the speed of thought, since he is a pure spirit, and is not weighed down by a body of flesh and blood. As St. Thomas Aquinas points out, “the swiftness of the angel’s movement is not measured by the quantity of his power, but according to the determination of his will” (Summa theologiae, I,q. 53, a. 3, ad 1).
What’s more, our Guardian Angel can make his power felt at two or more places at the same time, while still remaining in Heaven before the face of the Father. For as St. Thomas Aquinas points out, “an angel is in a place by the application of his power” to a particular place at a particular time, and not by any kind of physical presence (cf. Summa theologiae, I,q. 52, a. 2). And so, just as I can raise my arm and my leg at one and the same time through the power of my soul, so too can an angel apply his power to various places at one and the same time, even though the distances between these two places may be hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart. The range of an angel’s power is not infinite, of course, as God’s is. Nevertheless, we could safely assume that the range of our Guardian Angels power extends to everywhere on earth. Indeed, by uniting us in his “thought” we become “one place” for the angel.
At the same time, it remains true that our Guardian Angel cannot be in different spiritual “places” at the same time. How are we to understand this? The power of an angel is channeled through his will. His will is the appetite of his intellect. What he has “in mind”, then, he can act upon, whether it is an individual, a family (even with its members dispersed) or a crowd, a continent, a solar system, or a galaxy. Evidently, there is magnitude limit to the power of any individual angel, which we human beings cannot know or measure; still it is certain that the universe is entrusted to the ministry of the angels. For this reason, it must be true that some powerful angels guide and direct entire galaxies and more. We can perhaps imagine this like a beam of light or the force of gravity. These, of course, are physical realities, and therefore only images to give a notion of angelic power.
It therefore, also follows that the angel cannot divide his intellect in two, such that he simultaneously ponders two different realities. For this reason, he can only act on one of them, the one about which he is actually thinking. Here again, our human thought is quite limited; we do not know the precise limits that regulate the union of diverse objects in the angelic intellect.
20. If I commit a mortal sin, will my Guardian Angel abandon me?
Our Guardian Angel will never leave our side, no matter how deeply we may fall into mortal sin, and no matter how far away we may go from God and the Church. However, if we turn our back on God, and commit a mortal sin, then our relationship with our Guardian Angel will be damaged. For this reason, communication with him will become more difficult due to our hardness of heart and the loss of grace, since our Guardian Angel normally speaks to us through our conscience. Hence, if we refuse to listen to our conscience and commit a mortal sin, it is like refusing to respond to a phone call from our Guardian Angel, or disconnecting our internet connection to his web page. If we fall into the state of mortal sin, then, the capacity of our Guardian Angel to help us will be severely limited. For he will always respect our free will, and will never force himself upon us.
We must always keep in mind, then, that our Guardian Angel has been given to us precisely in order to help us to know and do the will of God. And so, if we, in effect, tell our Guardian Angel—by committing a mortal sin—that we care very little about knowing how to do the will of God, then he will not be able to help us very much. Nevertheless, in His goodness and mercy, God can still send our Guardian Angel to help us when our life may be in grave danger, for example, in a car accident. In any case, notwithstanding our eventual hardness of heart, our Guardian Angel is always seeking the best means and the most fitting moment to offer light in order to lead us to repentance and conversion.
21. Does our Guardian Angel become sad or angry if we commit a sin?
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that angels “do not grieve, either for the sins [committed by men] or for the pains inflicted on men [by God]”. (Summa theologiae, I, q. 113, a. 7.) St. Thomas arrives at this conclusion because he reasons that the angels want only what God directly wills or allows to happen. Therefore, since the sins of humans beings are allowed by God’s permissive will, then the peace and happiness of the angels are not disturbed by them. St. Thomas speaks thus to counter the idea that the essential happiness of the saints and angels in heaven could be diminished by sins upon earth. At the same time, the angels share in the compassionate love of God towards all mankind, and especially toward the person to whom they have been entrusted by God to act as a Guardian Angel.
Moreover, the angels, because they are spiritual persons who do not possess a body, do not have emotions like human beings do. Nevertheless, we could certainly assume that the angels are not indifferent to our actions. For this reason, they cannot but be pleased by our good deeds, and somehow saddened by our sins. For as Jesus Himself reveals to us in the Gospel, there is “rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (cf. Lk 15:10).
22. Do individual countries and nations have their own Guardian Angel?
It is taught by St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as many Fathers and Doctors of the Church, that every country has its own Guardian Angel. In fact, St. Clement of Alexandria goes so far as to state that whole “regiments of angels are distributed over nations and cities” (cf. Fr. Pascal Parente, The Angels, p. 119).
It should be noted in particular that Portugal has had a strong and deep devotion to its Guardian Angel for centuries. In fact, that nation was given approval by Pope Leo X in the sixteenth century to introduce a special feast day in order to honor its Guardian Angel. The feast day falls on June 10th of each year. France, similarly has consecrated itself over the centuries to St. Michael the Archangel as her patron. This consecration goes back to King Charlemagne in the early years of the 9th Century.
What’s more, all Americans should be aware of the fact that a statue has been erected at the National Shrine of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Washington, NJ, in honor of the Guardian Angel of the United States. The statue stands ten feet tall and weighs five tons. It is carved out of carrara marble by a world famous Portuguese sculptor. It was consecrated on July 4th, 1982.
Prayer to the Guardian Angel of the United States
O Glorious Guardian Angel of the United States, to whom God has entrusted the care of our beloved country, we honor you and thank you for the care and protection you have given to this great nation from the first moment of its inception.
O Powerful Angel Guardian, whose watchful glance encompasses this vast land from shore to shore, we know that our sins have grieved you and marred the beauty of our heritage. Pray for us.
O Holy Angel, before the throne of God. Obtain for us, from the Queen of Heaven, the graces we need to overcome the forces of evil so rampant in our beloved land.
Help us, our God-given protector and friend, to respond wholeheartedly to the urgent pleas of the Mother of God at Fatima. Assist us to offer the prayer and sacrifice necessary to bring peace and goodness to our nation.
We want to make you known and loved throughout our land, so that with your help we may become once more “a Nation under God”! Amen.
Imprimatur: Most Rev. Patrick O’Boyle, Archbishop of Washington, May 8, 1959
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