The Work of the Holy Angels
& Its Mission within the Church
The Work of the Holy Angels is a recognized spiritual movement within the bosom of the Holy Catholic Church which aims at fostering an intimate collaboration with the holy angels for the glorification of God and for the sanctification (salvation) of souls. As such it is a spiritual gift of God to the Church, one, however, which occasions special joy in heaven inasmuch as it promises to facilitate greatly the salvific mission of the holy angels. The Holy Spirit has poured out innumerable charisms upon the Church, both decorating the Spouse of Christ and preparing her for every good work. The Apocalypse offers us a prophetic vision of the progress of the Pilgrim Church upon earth as it is cleansed and purified through time in preparation for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. There we behold the significant but largely invisible mission of the holy angels, Christ’s servants, sent out to invite us and prepare us for the coming of the Lamb. In the panorama of the Apocalypse, indeed, throughout Holy Scripture the holy angels exercise a vast array of ministries. Pope John Paul II does not hesitate to affirm that the angels carry out a “messianic ministry” under Christ and in the service of the Church.
How rarely the faithful advert to the importance of these supernatural ministries exercised by the holy angels. Unseen, they are everywhere active in the life of the Church. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that all the extraordinary gifts of grace in the Church are appropriated to the Holy Spirit Who communicates them through holy angels. Similarly, in the individual life of souls when it comes to actual graces St. Francis de Sales notes, “The means of inspiration that God uses are infinite.” Such actual graces are also largely mediated to us by holy angels. We may infer this truth from another statement of St. Thomas: “Man cannot progress to merit except by the divine help, which is extended to man by means of the ministry of the angels. And accordingly, the angels cooperate towards our every good (action).”
Given therefore that “the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of the angels,” one might well expect that there be special charisms properly dedicated to the angels and their ministry within the Church, drawing our attention, on the one hand, to this powerful source of help, and subsequently, soliciting a reciprocal response of collaboration together with our “fellow servants” [Apoc 19:10; 20:9]. In fact, two such charisms exist with precisely these goals in mind. Interestingly enough, each came into existence during the papacy of the “Angelic Pastor” about the time of the declaration of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother into Heaven. Could the mystery of the angelic mission fittingly have come into its own in the Church before the declaration of the Dogma of the presence of their Queen, body and soul into heaven, thus confirming her capacity to exercise her regal office in the economy of salvation as Mediatrix and Mother in the Order of Grace over and through the angelic choirs? Herein we may behold the heavenly ladder of grace properly articulated: it flows down from the Blessed Trinity over the God-Man Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and man. [1 Tim 2:5] And then, since Christ came to us through Mary, so does His grace now pass through her Immaculate Heart, from whence it is distributed over the holy angels and throughout the Church.
The first of these angel charisms, the Philangeli, is a popular spiritual movement seeking to spread an awareness and gratitude for the ministries the holy angels exercise in our behalf and to encourage the faithful to confidently call upon them for help. What characterizes the second charism, the Opus Sanctorum Angelorum (Work of the Holy Angels), is the conscious endeavor on the part of the members to collaborate with the holy angels in the economy of salvation before God. Such an aspiration is only possible in view of the Communion of Saints, a call of grace and the common finality that all the members of the Mystical Body share both on heaven and on earth.
The need for such charisms is illustrated by an incident in the life of Fr. Louis Edward Cestac, the saintly founder of the Servants of Mary. Our Lady appeared to him one day, saying that the faithful should implore her to send the holy angels to our aid. He objected that her personal intercession must certainly be sufficient to obtain this favor from God. Whereupon the Blessed Mother returned: “Prayer is a condition willed by God, and the more insistently and the more often petitions are made, the more powerfully would I come with the Holy Angels. I will come to the aid of the Church with a whole legion of angels to save it.”
The Work of the Holy Angels (OA for short) arose through the instrumentality of Gabriele Bitterlich (b. 1897), who from early childhood had enjoyed a singular intimacy with her own Guardian Angel, who conversed with her visibly, counseled and guided her. This grace remained a very personal and private matter until the latter part of the 1940’s when the intensification of this charism, together with her obedience to her spiritual director led to the initiation of the Work of the Holy Angels at Innsbruck, Austria. From the beginning of this charism, the focus of the angels was always upon the greater glorification of God and the salvation and sanctification of souls, particularly of priests. Only from this perspective could the apocalyptic proliferation of the angelic mission within the Church be properly understood.
The sacred prototype for the Work of the Holy Angels is given in the last work of Holy Scripture, the Book of Revelations, in which a ’door is opened in heaven’ [Apoc 4:1] so that through the visions of St. John we might behold the work the holy angels carry out before the throne of God in the commission of the Lamb. The singular mediatorship of Christ the High Priest not only expresses itself in the various sacerdotal participations among the faithful in the militant Church, but is also shared in and manifests itself in the angelic ministries. We find this verified in the Apocalypse where Christ the High Priest sends His angels forth into the world to purify and prepare the Church, His bride, for the Wedding feast of the Lamb.
Two aspect of John’s focus in the Apocalypse must be understood in order to properly appreciate these angelic missions. First, we need to understand that John wrote this book as a consolation for a Church already in the midst of persecutions. Accordingly, the apostle’s focus attention was not focused on the bleak side of the chastisements (the purification they were actually undergoing), but on the triumphant issue of the saints and the Church as the immaculate Bride of Christ. [Apoc 19:10; 22:9] Secondly, St. John focuses primarily on the angelic ministries, not because he considers them exclusive, but because they are invisible and because they are the heavenly help sent by Christ to his servants on the earth. Accordingly, the angelic ministries are not to be understood in a vacuum, as eschatological interventions which can only be passively endured, and which would thus stand in contradistinction to the sacerdotal ministries within the Militant Church on earth. Rather the angels come precisely as “fellow-servants [of those] who keep the witness of Jesus,” [Apoc 5:6] and their intervention similarly requires our active cooperation.
Indeed, inasmuch as fellow-servants, their mission by Christ implies a simultaneous call on us to a common mission and a common service under the common Headship of Christ. This Christological dimension of the angelic mission needs to be accentuated because it is largely overseen and ignored. To ignore their role as ministers of Christ’s light and grace in the economy of salvation is to lose sight of an integral part of the mystery of Christ acting in the Church. To ignore the angels is to ignore Him who sends them! John could not have presented this truth of the ministerial union of the angels with Christ more emphatically than by declaring that the seven eyes and the seven horns of the Lamb are the seven spirits sent out to reconnoiter the earth. St. Thomas did not hesitate to state: “the angels themselves were ministers of Christ’s priesthood.”
The Beginning of the Opus Angelorum
At the beginning of the Work of the Holy Angels we find a small group of priests, seminarians and laymen who had become familiar with the charism and writings of Mrs. Bitterlich and desired to correspond and unite more intimately with the holy angels in their ministries. From the very beginning, Bishop Paulus Rusch, initially administrator for the diocese, recognizing a particular charism, took a personal interest in the movement and oversaw its development. For many years he personally issued the “imprimatur” for the Circular Letters. He appointed Msgr. Walter Waitz to be Mrs. Bitterlich’s confessor and director, and who oversaw and collaborated in the development of the Work for many years.
The writings of Gabriele Bitterlich contain an urgent appeal for prayer and reparation, for a more intensified union with the holy angels. Indeed, they called for a strengthening bond of a consecration to one’s Guardian Angel and to all the holy angels so that the faithful might more assiduously fulfill their vocation before God and contribute more efficaciously to the work of Christ, “filling up in their flesh the sufferings which are wanting to Christ’s Passion for His Body the Church.” [Col 1:24] How reasonable is our need for this angelic strengthening, when we consider that the very Son of God in the weakness of the flesh, “made a little less than the angels” [Heb 2:7; cf. Ps 8:4-6], was strengthened by an angel when He called out in His Agony to the Father: “And there appeared to Him and angel from heaven, strengthening Him.” [Lk 22:43]
Both because the writings of Gabriele Bitterlich contained many quite personal matters — being as they were a journal of her spiritual contact with the holy angels and her own call to victimhood (often for particular souls) and the inclusion of the names and ministries of many angels not found in Sacred Scripture, the writings were not circulated widely. Still, already in 1951 some of these writings were presented to Pope Pius XII, with other works presented at a later date. Bishop Rusch was kept regularly informed through Msgr. Waitz as well as by means of a regular but infrequent personal contact with Gabriele Bitterlich. That initial prudence with respect to the dissemination of the writings, which yielded more and more to an eager zeal on the part of some sacerdotal directors in the spiritual movement, somehow anticipated the later decisions of the Church.
At the personal initiative of Bishop Rusch the Confraternity of the Guardian Angels was canonically founded and erected in the Diocese of Innsbruck in 1961 with its consecrations to the Guardian Angel and to all the holy angels. The finality of this ecclesial institution was to foster the sanctification of its members and a deeper collaboration with the holy angels in the glorification of God and for the salvation of souls. In the latter part of the 1960’s the Movement also began to set up Confraternities of Priests in the Opus Angelorum in different dioceses around the world in order to help priests in their spiritual lives and to help coordinate the apostolate on a local basis.
The Doctrinal Foundation
The doctrinal foundation for the spirituality of the Work of the Holy Angels are the truths of the faith contained in Scripture and Tradition. A special mention, of course, goes to the angels, but in their proper place as servants: their importance is in relationship to God and to man. There can be no question that the Blessed Trinity, Eucharistic Adoration, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Holy Cross (Passion and Death of our Lord) as the instrument for the redemption of mankind constituted the true center of the Work of the Holy Angels in the conception of Gabriele Bitterlich, with men and angels joined together under the Queenship of Mary serving these ends. These mysteries of the faith found a particular and poignant expression in Mother Gabriele’s writings along side her extensive contact with many angels.
The depth and extent, however, to which her writings dealt with the vast world of the angels raised occasions considerable discussions and questions which eventually lead to their examination by the Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith, both at the request of several bishops and the Direction of the Work of the Holy Angels.
The examination of the names of the holy angels, the corresponding presentation of a particularized doctrine on the structure and functions of the choirs and groupings of the holy angels (as well of the fallen angels) and certain practices associated with this body of doctrine constituted the essential points in the examination of the writings and practices of the Work of the Holy Angels by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith between the years 1977-1983 and 1987-1992. The very length of the studies indicates something of the complexity and depth of the issue.
The result of the final examination was issued in the Decree of the Holy Office from June 6th, 1992 in which it was declared that only the certain deposit of the Faith could constitute the spiritual foundation for any institute within the Church. This is simply a theological principle which is valid for all times and places in the Church. Now from the examination of Gabriele’s writings it was determined that they contained the names of individual Angels and a certain body of particularized doctrine on their ministries and rankings which are extraneous to Scripture and Tradition; hence, this portion of her writings could not be used as the basis for the spirituality or practices of any institute of the Catholic Church. At the same time, the Congregation, aside from several clear and particular restrictions, left a large body of Gabriele Bitterlich’s writings untouched.
The decree, moreover, acknowledged the ecclesial status of the Work of the Holy Angels. In fact, the Congregation made no judgment on either the personal life of Gabriele Bitterlich or even upon the origin or veracity of her writings, but only maintained that a part of what stands written in her manuscripts goes beyond what is verifiable in Scripture and tradition.
The Place of Charisms in the Church
The question arises, “If no private charism can ever add anything new to the Apostolic Deposit of Faith nor constitute a foundation for an ecclesial institute, then what is their purpose and function in the Church?” Charisms, as a gift of the Holy Spirit, are intended to serve as a beacon in the Church, focusing their light on those truths of the Faith which are opportune (and perchance neglected) for the present hour in the life of the Church. In this the Holy Spirit can evidently communicate prophetic charisms and lights to the Church that look to the future or deal with particulars not contained in the Deposit of Faith. Such charisms may also act as a catalyst, stimulating theological discussions and research which lead to an organic development of doctrine from within the Church’s treasure of divine truth.
The judgment or discernment of the authenticity of a charism belongs to the Church. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “No charism is exempt from being referred and submitted to the Church’s shepherds. ’Their office [is] not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good,’(a) so that all the diverse and complementary charisms work together for the common good’(b)”. Charisms are tested in three ways: 1) by an examination of the doctrine they contain and the practice they propose; 2) by the consideration of the virtue of the bearer of the charism (in particular their faith, obedience and humility); and 3) by the fruits accruing to individuals and to the common good of the Church from the charism. When the Church tests the authenticity of a charismatic person or of the ecclesial movements that arise from specific charisms, she looks particularly for the practice of the virtues of humility and obedience as signs that the charism is of divine origin. At times the trials used to test for these virtues are severe.
When it comes to “testing the spirits” of the bearers of charisms and associated movements, these are often best tested by verifying the humility and obedience of such individuals and groups. Without these virtues, no charism, even if it should begin in a positive spiritual source, could not remain free of stains. Moreover, the scandal caused by pride and disobedience would be greater than any supposed spiritual benefit could pretend to offer. Clean water poured into a dirty cup gets dirty and no one wants to drink it, nor should they be advised to. This is the practical wisdom of the Church.
Now, note that humility and obedience are manifested through exercise and trials. To test gold and silver, a very hot fire is required. The trials necessary to verify deep humility and holy obedience are likewise rather intense. St. John of the Cross observed that these trials need to be very serious, in order to separate true charisms from false charisms, having noted that there is no devil who would not suffer something for his honor. Since the exorcism of demons in the case of spiritual possession can entail a very intense spiritual battle, one should not be surprised that demons behind false charisms also have their own degree of tenacity. Moreover, the individual human beings involved, may themselves be acting in good faith. The lives of the saints and their works bears out this principle: their works were proved by fire.
Aside from this moral dimension of necessary, of course, the doctrinal content of charisms must be tested for their doctrinal true and opportuness. When the Holy Spirit inspires a charism, it is not only true but it is opportune, that is, fitting for the needs of the Church in the present hour.
However true a charism or a prophesy may be, its acknowledgment by the Church can never be construed as an ’incorporation’ of facts by a mere process of aggregation, whereby something new be added to the Deposit of Faith. Rather, such prophetic lights ought to stimulate a natural and organic development within Sacred Tradition, within the Church itself. Vatican II writes in this regard:
“The Tradition that comes from the Apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This come about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts (cf. Lk 2,19 and 51). It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of the truth. Thus, as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth, until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her.”
To illustrate this point with a particular case: After Pope Pius IX had solemnly declared the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception (1850), the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes (1854) and told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The purpose of this message was not to corroborate the infallible Magisterium of Christ’s successor upon earth (as is often popularly but falsely understood), but rather to act as a catalyst for further doctrinal development. One possible area of development would be to take up the medieval doctrine of the impeccability of Mary. The Dogma declared that she was conceived without sin; the doctrine, proposed by medieval theologians and more recently by Scheeben, argues that Mary was impeccable, that is, incapable of any sin by a singular gift of grace. Moreover, they explain that this privilege of impeccability is the grace by which she, as Mediatrix of grace, stands related to the infallibility of the Church. Gabriele Bitterlich presented this thesis in the simple image of the inseparability of the Immaculate Conception and the Papal Tiara
The other direction of dogmatic development was that taken by St. Maximilian Kolbe in which he developed the theology of Mary’s relationship to the Holy Spirit Whom he calls the Divine “Immaculate Conception”. The stimulus for Maximilian’s research was the Blessed Mother’s statement to Bernadette. “Why”, he wondered, “did she say, ’I am the Immaculate Conception’?” But the conclusions of his contemplations were drawn from the treasury of the Church and so the fruits contributed to the development of Mariology. Gabriele Bitterlich arrived at an analogous enrichment of Mariology by considering the Mary in her ultimate receptivity, conceiving God from God, and then applied this to the Holy Spirit, Whom she represents in a special way in creation. This she understood to be a part of the revelation of the “Great Sign in the heavens” in Apocalypse 12, which she affirmed, constituted, together with the mystery of the therein implicit mystery of the Incarnation, the trial of the angels.
Similarly, a great deal of work doctrinal development needs to be undertaken with regards to the mission of the Angels in the Economy of Salvation. Like Mary, they too are a special revelation of the Holy Spirit. As St. Basil noted:
“The angelic powers are not by their own nature holy… rather, they are sanctified by the Holy Spirit. ’He makes His angels spirits, and His ministers a flaming fire’ (… Holiness is not part of their essence; it is accomplished in them through communion with the Spirit. They keep their rank by persevering in goodness, by freely choosing to never abandon serving Him, who is good by nature… If all God’s angels praise Him, and all His host, they do so by cooperating with the Spirit…. They accomplish their proper work by the Spirit’s power. All the indescribable harmony of the heavenly realm, whether it be the praise of God or the mutual concord of the bodiless powers, would be impossible without the authority of the Spirit. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is present among those created beings which are not gradually perfected, but are immediately perfect from the moment of their creation.”
Those who knew Mrs. Bitterlich, her deep love for the Church, for priests, and the great mystical sufferings into which Christ called her to share, see her extensive experiences with the angels in the light of a special exemplarity. They are comparable to the close angelic contacts of St. Simon Stylite, St. Gemma Galgani and St. Francisca of Rome, to mention but a very few of the saints who enjoyed a close bond with the holy angels. The latter, St. Francisca of Rome, for example, at that point in her life where she was called to found a religious community, received the knowledge that the angel who had hitherto accompanied her, in addition to her own Guardian Angel, would then be relieved by an angel from a higher choir. In such cases, then, it is less the particular knowledge of this or that angel which matters, than the generic example of a special intimacy with the holy angels.
Their lives point to the invisible collaboration that constantly takes place with the angels in the Mystical Body, and indicates how rich and particular it may become in individual cases of great sanctity. It would be fair to say that Gabriele’s vision and conviction is that the activity of the holy angels belongs to the very essence of the spiritual life, rather than to relegate contact with the angels to the rank of something extraordinary meant only for a few, thus disassociating it from the organic growth in holiness. In this conviction she merely joins the position of the great saints and theologians. To quote the angelic doctor: “It is manifest that in things to be done human cognition and affection can vary and fall short of the good. And therefore it was necessary that angels be assigned to guard men, by whom they are directed and moved to the good.” St. Ignatius evidently wrote his rules for the discernment of spirits on the conviction, based both on doctrine and personal experience, that our contact with the angels, good and bad, is a regular occurrence in the spiritual life.
To these general considerations must be added the circumstance of the present hour in the History of Salvation. Pope John Paul II has indicated on several occasions that we truly are living in the last times. whence a particular relevance falls to the Apocalypse and the therein presented angelic missions.
From Individual Charisms to Communities
From individual charisms, then, the step is to the charism of communities or movements or spiritualities in the Church. In this there is an analogy to the Mystery of the Incarnation: the gifts of grace are received by an individual (or a small group), and then, with the blessing of the Church, this seed is planted and grows within the field which is the Church, producing its fruits in the Spirit. Theologically, it is clear is that every community and institute in the Church has its own charism which is a participation in the Life and Mystery of Christ. “The charism of an institute includes an originating and vivifying rapport with the Spirit and an experience with Christ emprivileging one of His mysteries or ministries… It demands a continuity with the charism of the founder.” It is also clear that faithfully living these charisms implies a cooperation with an angel (or angels) through whom the Holy Spirit communicates this grace.
Beyond this, there may also be a charism of the holy angels as such. As we have seen, a charism implies a participation in and an imitation of Christ. The mission and ministry of the angels is precisely this. This is most biblical since in the Old Testament God constantly worked through His angels in guiding the patriarchs, Moses, the Prophets, indeed, in guiding His people and preparing them for the coming of Christ. St. Thomas taught that all the angelic apparitions of the Old Testament had the common purpose of preparing mankind for the coming of God in the flesh.
Christ come and glorified, also works through the angels in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Apocalypse. His last words in Scripture, “I Jesus have sent My angel to you with this testimony for the Churches”[Apoc 22:16] evidence the importance He attached to this mission.
A charism of all the angels, would have to be a charism that reflects the plenitude of the angelic ministries inasmuch a participation in the Mystery and Mission of Christ. For this reason, the charism of the Work of the Holy Angels is built upon the most fundamental and generic principles of faith and the spiritual life and is closely oriented towards the exercise of Christ’s priesthood in the Church.
The Charism of The Work of the Holy Angels in the Light of Scripture and Tradition
The underlying truth behind the Work of the Holy Angels is this: they are God’s first creatures, created for His praise and glory, created as His ministering spirits, to be sent as messengers of His word, and for the assistance of the heirs of salvation. The angels were created in view of mankind, in view of Christ. The mystery of man’s growth in grace could have been accomplished in only one of two ways. God, for His part, does not need the angels, even as he does not need, absolutely speaking, the priesthood! He could simply directly create and infuse every actual and sanctifying grace into the hearts of men without any element of ministry or collaboration. However, in creating God chose to communication His goodness to creatures in two ways: first, the goodness of being; and secondly, the goodness of contributing to the perfection of one’s fellow creatures.
In the order of grace, this implies supernatural ministerial powers. He confers these upon man through the sacramental power and character of holy orders. In the case of the angels, He made their ministerial power coextensive with their grace and glory, such that they can in some fashion communicate to angels and men below them the light and grace that they first received from God. “The angels,” affirms St. Thomas, “who enjoy the fullest participation in the divine goodness, impart to those below them whatever they obtain from God.” St. John of the Cross describes this in The Dark Night of the Soul. How few appreciate the essential role this Doctor of the Church attributes to the Holy Angels in the spiritual progress of the soul:
Jeremiah shows clearly that the soul is purged by the illumination of this fire of loving wisdom (for God never bestows mystical wisdom without love, since love itself infuses it) where he says: ’He sent fire into my bones and instructed me’ (Lam 1,13) And David says that God’s ’wisdom is silver tried in the fire’ (Ps 11,7) that is, in the purgative fire of love.
It is rightly and truly said in Scripture that all the works of the angels and the inspirations they impart are also accomplished or granted by God. For ordinarily these works and inspirations are derived from God by means of the angels, and the angels also in turn give them to one another without delay. This communication is like that of a ray of sunlight shining through many windows placed one after the other. Although it is true that of itself the ray of light passes through them all, nevertheless each window communicates this light to the other with a certain modification according to its own quality .
God’s light, which illumines the angels by clarifying and giving them the savor of love — for they are pure spirits prepared for this inflow — illumines man, as we said, by darkening him and giving him pain and anguish…. This very fire of love enamors a man impassionately and afflictively until it spiritualizes and refines him through purification, and he becomes capable of the tranquil reception of this loving inflow, as are the angels and those already purified.
The efficacy of the angel’s ministry in our lives depends upon our cooperation with God’s grace. The more we cooperate, the better. The less,… the worse for us. Let me draw a simple analogy by comparison. All the faithful are aware that the Blessed Mother is the Mediatrix of grace. This means that grace comes (at least, is offered) to all souls through her loving heart. Some reject this, some are ignorant, some are aware but apathetic, some gratefully acknowledge her spiritual motherhood, while still others have consecrated themselves totally to Christ through her, so as to cooperate as perfectly as possible with her. Evidently, while all receive the offer of grace through her,… the actual influence of Mary is strongest in those who lovingly accept and seek to cooperate with her.
This same principle applies in our relationship with the holy angels. Those who devoutly cooperate with them will benefit the most from their ministry of grace. The will to cooperate with God is implicitly an acceptance of the angel in one’s life. But in God’s plan — when we consider how the patriarchs, prophets, apostles and Blessed Mother actively cooperated with the holy angels — we are called to much more personal bond with the angels.
The angels are our fellow heirs of eternal life and beatitude in God, we shall be united with them eternally in the blissful, jubilant liturgy in heaven. We are presently — in the measure that we heed the call — their fellow servants upon earth, also called to labor for the sanctification and salvation of souls. By our prayers and merit we may help direct a more abundant stream of divine grace through the angels upon souls.
Cooperating with the Holy Angels
The question is, how do we cooperate with the holy angels? To this urgent and practical question, we shall give a schematic answer: fourfold is the cooperation God foresee between men and angels, inasmuch as fourfold is our participation in the mystery of Christ. First, we share in His life of prayer. Secondly, we receive His word and share in His revelation of the Father. Thirdly, we are called to participate in His redemptive sacrifice. In the fourth place, we are sent out into the world with a share in His divine mission.
I. Praying and Adoring with the Angels
The angels were first of all created for the praise and service of God, and that as such they have the mission to lead the people of God to the place He has prepared for us:
Bless the Lord, O you His angels, you mighty ones who do His word, hearkening to the voice of His word!
Bless the Lord, all His hosts, His ministers that do His will” [Ps 103:20-21]
A thousand thousands served Him and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. [Dan 7:10]
Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation? [Heb 1:14]
The holy angels have a prominent role in the heavenly liturgy and in the liturgy of the Church:
And the four living creatures never cease to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” [Apoc 4:8]
While the myriads of Angels sing: “Worthy is the Lamb to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” [Apoc 5:12]
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. [Apoc 8:3-4]
The Church witnesses to the importance of the angelic praise in her own liturgy when she daily implores God to allow us to be joined to their unending hymn of praise: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” The lesser is infallibly joined to the greater. Moreover, if the angelic liturgy were not essentially Christological, there would be no purpose in the Church’s desire to be joined with the angels: hence, the liturgy of the Apocalypse and that of the Church demonstrate the Christological nature of the angelic ministries and liturgy.
Again, the Church prays that God command His angel to take our sacrifice and spiritually present it to Him in heaven so that it be a source of all grace and blessing for us Vatican II did not hesitate to declare:
In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem towards which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God…. With all the troops of the heavenly host, we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord…
The efficacy of their participation in the heavenly liturgy flows from their perfect plenitude of grace. Pope John Paul II explains:
“They are united to God by the consummate love which flows from the beatific vision, face to face, of the most Holy Trinity. Jesus Himself tells us this: ’The angels in Heaven always see the face of my Father Who is in heaven’ ’To see the face of the Father always’ in this ways is the highest manifestation of the adoration of God. One can say that this constitutes the ’heavenly liturgy’, carried out in the name of all the universe, with which the earthly liturgy of the Church is incessantly joined, especially in its culminating moments.”
II. Contemplation with the Help of the Angels
The angels are the ministers of the Word. This fact is evident from the following passages:
“I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you to bring you this good news.” [Lk 1:19]
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His servants what must soon take place; and He made it known by sending His angel to His servant John. [Apoc 1:1]
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches.” [Apoc 22:16]
The angels proclaimed the birth of the Baptist [Lk 1:12ff], the mystery of the Incarnation to Mary [Lk 1:26ff], to St. Joseph [Mt 1:23], and Christ’s birth to the shepherds.[Lk 2:10ff] It was also the angels who first revealed the mystery of the Resurrection [Mt 28:2ff; Mk 16:3ff; Lk 24:23] and explained the mystery of the Ascension [Acts 1:10ff] to the disciples. In the Old Testament they brought the word of God to the patriarchs, to Moses and to all the prophets.[cf. Is 6:6ff; Zach 3:1-5; Dan 10:8-10, 18]
The angels not only communicate the message, but are also sent to purify and strengthen souls to receive and understand it properly. Moreover it is not only a question of extraordinary messages and occasional visits on the part of the angel, but the entire spiritual life as well is a holy, albeit, invisible collaboration with the holy angels. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares:
Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are His angels: “When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him…(a) They belong to Him because they were created through and for Him… They belong to Him still more because He has made them messengers of His saving plan. [no. 331]
From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their (the angels’) watchful care and intercession (a). ’Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life’ (b). Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.[no. 336]
The reality and presence of the Guardian Angel in our lives is one of the foremost talents God has entrusted to us. If the soul avails itself conscientiously of this font of grace, it may hope to make great and rapid progress in the spiritual life.
III. Laboring for the Salvation of Soul
The angels also constitute the militant host of God in the battle against evil. It must surely be evident to reflective souls that in the plan of Divine Providence, the victory of the Church, presented to us in Holy Scripture as a share in Christ’s victory over evil, (“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” [1 Jn 3:8]) is to be accomplished through a holy collaboration with the angels: “I am your fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus.” [Apoc 19:10; cf. 22:9] No one but the Lamb was worthy or able to open the sealed book of Divine Providence, but when Christ opened book, He sent forth His angels into battle for the protection and purification of the Church.
St. John, the author of the Apocalypse, shows us how intimately the angels are associated with Christ in this struggle for the salvation of souls when he declares that the seven eyes and the seven horns of the Lamb are the 7 angel spirits before the throne of God.[Apoc 5:6] Christ also makes use of the holy angels “in the accomplishment of His saving mission to men.” The power of Christ is wielded in the sword of the angels, in a singular way by St. Michael, who, in his humility and under the Sign of the Woman clothed with the sun, cast the dragon and all his fallen angels out of heaven.[Apoc 12:7ff]
Consider how earnestly Christ presents the ministry of the angels to us in the Apocalypse: “He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments… I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels”.[Apoc 3:5] As Pope John Paul II notes, Christ attributes to them “the function of witnesses in the last divine judgment about the fate of those who have acknowledge or denied Christ.” Reasonably this witnessing comes from the fact that they are the ordinary ministers of actual grace, and so shall bear witness to man’s acceptance or rejection of grace. When souls cooperate with this grace, they may rejoice in the angelic help, which is never inferior to our tribulations:
Elisha said, ’Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha pray, and said, ’O Lord, I pray Thee, open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of he 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]
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good.[Ps 34:7]
Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent. For He will give His angels charge of you to guard you on all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.[Ps 91:9-12]
One of the favorite titles for God in the Old Testament is, “Lord God of Hosts” which not only serves to exalt God over all the created spirits, but also accentuates His will to protect His people through the holy angels. This message of angelic protection is expressed in the defensive walls of the Heavenly City, with the angels standing watch at the Gates:
One of the seven angels spoke to me, saying: ’Come I will show you the bride of the Lamb’…. and he showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down from heaven. It had a great high wall, with 12 gates, and at the gates 12 angels.[Apoc 21:9-12]
Once we have surveyed this protective, militant mission of the holy angels in Scripture, we are not at all surprised that the Church, the new Israel, places herself under the protection of St. Michael the Archangel, and diligently calls upon the angels whenever she formally wields the sword of exorcism.
Still, the ultimate victory over evil is not by the sword, but by the Cross. As pure spirits, glorified with Divine Life, the angels cannot suffer themselves, but they can succor those who in the imitation of Christ shoulder the Cross for the redemption of the world. As an angel strengthened Christ, they are sent to strengthen us. Was it not the angel at Fatima who instructed the children: “Make of everything you can a sacrifice and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners… Above all, accept and bear with submission, the suffering which the Lord will send you”? This doctrine corresponds perfectly to the life of Christ, to the lives of the saints and the call to reparation as it is understood and practiced in the Work of the Holy Angels.
IV. Sharing in the Salvific Mission of Christ
The holy angels help us carry out the will of God both with respect to the light of knowledge and strength for its accomplishment. This light varies from the light of our vocation to the little insights and admonitions as to how we should better accomplish the will of God in daily life. The holy angels, beginning with our Guardian Angels, help us see by the light of faith that our mission before God consists in the sanctification of daily life. They want us to understand that sanctity does not depend upon great outward tasks and assignments but rather from the greatness of the love with which we accomplish our daily life. The way of the Work of the Holy Angels is not a high path of spiritual notoriety but the narrow path of fidelity in the imitation of the Holy Family.
Even while the message of St. Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin brought to her the light of her singular vocation, and so motivated her to extraordinary acts of fraternal charity towards her cousin Elisabeth, it did not withdraw her from her humble disposition and place as the handmaid of the Lord. Rather it confirmed her in the humility of her Faith. In Sacred Scripture, except where the angels communicate the clear light of a (new) vocation, their assistance is directed towards a better understanding and accomplishment of God’s actual will in our present state of life.
Union with the holy angels is salutary for the spiritual growth of soul as long as it is understood and lived in the imitation of the humility and docility of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The angels are radically ordered to Christ in their ministry, and seek no glory for themselves, but only for Christ and His Father in the unity of the Spirit.
The angelic mission takes place in the Church, the Body of Christ, into which their ministry is integrated and subordinated. In this way, the Saints can be assimilated into the Choirs of the holy angels and all the holy angels brought to perfection in Christ in Whom “all things in heaven and earth” are to be united and recapitulated.
Our report would be incomplete, if we did not observe that the angels are also interested in our daily life and needs. Our prayers to God for help are ordinarily answered through their assistance. In Tobit we can read: “The prayer of both was heard in the presence of the glory of the great God. And Raphael was sent to heal the two of them.”[Tob 3:16] His mission entailed manifold helps, which we may understand generically of the mission of every Guardian Angel:
1) to heal Tobit’s blindness (the angel is concerned about our physical well-being); 2) to arrange Sarah’s wedding with Tobias (the angel is concerned with helping us find and live our vocation and state in life); 3) to accompany and protect Tobias on his journey and prosper his human fortunes; 4) to drive off and bind the evil spirit; 5) to try Tobit, so that he be worthy of even greater reward; 6) to instruct them in the wisdom and providence of God; 7) to instruct them in the path of virtue; 8) to teach them to praise and give thanks to God, and 9) to bring their prayers before the most High. [cf. Tob 3:17; 12:6-15, 20] As St. Raphael explained to Tobit: “When you prayed, …I brought a reminder of your prayers before the Holy One…. So now God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law, Sarah. I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.” [Tob 12:12, 14-15]
Great and manifold, then, is the help which we may confidently expect through the ministry of the Holy Angels. “The things that are seen are passing, but the things that are unseen are everlasting.” [2 Cor 4:18] Let us take to heart the final exhortation of Pope Pius XII, that angelic pastor, who exhorted us to cultivate a familiar relationship with the Holy Angels in this life and look forward to spending a blessed eternity together with them in heaven.
Fr. William Wagner, ORC
© 2021 Opus Sanctorum Angelorum, Inc.