“Queen of Angels, pray for us”
– Litany of Loreto
Angels of the Old Testament
Many of the Books of the Old Testament speak at length about Angels.
Beginning with the appearance to Hagar in the Book of Genesis, Angels go on to make various appearances – for example, to Abraham on two occasions (on the second, calling himself ‘Oracle Of The Lord’).
The Archangel Raphael appears in the Book of Tobit, binding a demon on one occasion, as well as bringing healing. Only he is mentioned by name in the Old Testament. Angels are mentioned in Exodus, Numbers, Zechariah, Judges and I and II Chronicles.
To put it plainly, Angels are very much a part of the story of God coming to us.
The Gospel Angels
The New Testament also mentions Angels quite frequently. As in the Old Testament, their function is to direct us, to call us back to the path of God, and to communicate the will of God to us.
The Gospel of Saint Luke opens with the story of the Angel of the Lord appearing to Zechariah and announcing to him the impending birth of his son, Saint John the Baptist. The story then moves to Nazareth and the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, requesting Her consent to conceive and bear the Son of God.
Angels appear in the story again at the Birth of Jesus, telling the good news to the shepherds, who then travel to see the Child and relate to Mary and Joseph what they have experienced – “and Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in Her Heart” (Lk.2:29).
And so from the very first moments of our salvation history, Angels have been present and have taken an active role as that story of salvation is played out.
The Angels of Fatima
In our own age, Angels have again been active and present, particularly at the appearances at Fatima.
In 1916, the year before the children saw the Blessed Virgin, they were visited on three occasions by an Angel; he taught them how to pray – in words (giving them specific prayers) and in attitude (showing them the reverence that prayer demands). These Angelic visits were a precursor for the visits of the Mother of God the following summer.
When the Holy Father Pope John Paul II released the text of the Third Part of the Secret of Fatima in 2000, this text revelead to us that Angels figured prominently in the story once again.
In writing of what she experienced that day, Sister Lucia wrote –
“After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’.”
On this occasion, the Angel seems to be demanding justice for the sins against God, calling us to do penance for those sins. The description of the Angel carrying a ‘flaming sword’ makes us wonder if this might be the great Saint Michael, although the Angel here is not named.
The Church and Angels
This role of the Angel in the vision is also reminiscent of something written by Pope Benedict XVI on the feast of the three Archangels in 2007 –
“But what is an Angel? Sacred Scripture and the Church’s tradition enable us to discern two aspects. On the one hand, the Angel is a creature who stands before God, oriented to God with his whole being. All three names of the Archangels end with the word “El”, which means “God”. God is inscribed in their names, in their nature. Their true nature is existing in his sight and for him. In this very way the second aspect that characterizes Angels is also explained: they are God’s messengers. They bring God to men, they open heaven and thus open earth. Precisely because they are with God, they can also be very close to man. Indeed, God is closer to each one of us than we ourselves are. The Angels speak to man of what constitutes his true being, of what in his life is so often concealed and buried. They bring him back to himself, touching him on God’s behalf.”
(On the subject of giving names to Angels, it should be noted that the Church is not at all in favour of this, with the exception of Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, whose names are found in Scripture. The Holy See’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2001) has this to say –
“The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture”.
At a Council in Rome in 745, Pope Zachary forbade the naming of Angels; a similar condemnation was made at the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle, in 789.)
Saints and Angels
Not surprisingly, Angels figure prominently in the lives of a great many of the Saints, and have done so throughout the course of the centuries.
There are many such examples to illustrate this point, but for the purpose of this piece I will mention only one – the first Saint of the Third Millenium, Saint Faustina Kowalska, through whom we were given the Divine Mercy devotion.
In her spiritual Diary, ‘Divine Mercy In My Soul’, Faustina writes on many occasions of her experience of Angels, as on this occasion –
“Then I saw one of the seven Spirits near me, radiant as at other times, under a form of light. I constantly saw him beside me when I was riding on the train. I saw an Angel on every Church we passed, but surrounded by a light which was paler than that of the Spirit who was accompanying me on the journey, and each of these Spirits who were guarding the Churches bowed his head to the Spirit who was near me.. I thank God for His goodness, that He gives us Angels as companions.” (Diary, para.630)
Perhaps the most singular mention of Angels in the Diary of St Faustina is the instance where she records the occasion on which she was given the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. This took place on Friday 13th September 1935 –
“In the evening, when I was in my cell, I saw an Angel, the executor of Divine wrath. He was clothed in a dazzling robe, his face gloriously bright, a cloud beneath his feet. From the cloud, bolts of thunder and flashes of lightning were springing into his hands; and from his hand they were going forth, and only then were they striking the earth. When I saw this sign of divine wrath which was about to strike the earth.. I began to implore the Angel to hold off.. and the world would do penance. But my plea was a mere nothing in the face of the divine anger.. At that very moment, I felt in my soul the power of Jesus’ grace, which dwells in my soul.. I found myself pleading with God for the world, with words heard interiorly. As I was praying in this manner, I saw the Angel’s helplessness; he could not carry out the just punishment which was rightly due for sins. Never before had I prayed with such inner power as I did then. The words with which I entreated God are these – ‘Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, for our sins and those of the whole world; for the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world’.” (Diary, para.474-475)
Fatima and Divine Mercy
It is impossible to read this entry above from the Diary of Saint Faustina and not be struck by the similarity to the words of Sister Lucia about the Angel in the third part of the Secret of Fatima; both Angels are calling down the just wrath of the Almighty, in punishment for the sins of humanity – and on both occasions, the means are given to allow us to plead for mercy. We are given the Message of Fatima, and the Message of Divine Mercy.
We are reminded of the necessity of living a Sacrament life as part of the Church; of praying always, especially the prayer of the Rosary and of the Divine Mercy Chaplet; and of the need to make reparation to God for our sins and those of the whole world.
Perhaps it would not be putting too much emphasis on it to say that thesese two devotions – Fatima and Divine Mercy – are the pre-eminent devotions of our day, given to us in this age for a very good reason.
The Fallen Angels
Moving now to the other end of Scripture, we read in the Book of Revelation –
“Then war broke out in Heaven; Michael and his Angels batlted against the Dragon. The Dragon and it’s Angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. The huge Dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and it’s Angels were thrown down with it.” (Rev.12:7-9)
We should be clear that as much as the Angels of the Lord are always present in our story of Salvation, so too are the Angels of the Evil One. Whilst the former have the goal of getting us safely to Heaven, the latter waste no time in doing all in their power to drag us to Hell. And their power is not inconsiderable – they are, after all, Angelic beings with all the intelligence given them by God. Now, of course, they are demonic in their intent.
It is a strange and curious thing that in these times, there seems to be a greater level of belief in Angels, even amongst those who profess no religious faith – but without that solid grounding, there is a great risk of deviation and of being deceived; not all Angels are what they seem to be.
It is also true that there are those who worship the Deceiver, who call upon his Angels – the Demons – and are subject to them and to their influence. The Deceiver is also called ‘the Father of Lies’ – and not without good reason. Whilst he would have us worship him as God, he is not God; there is only one God. Pride was always his downfall and always will be.
It is said that the Lord revealed something of His plans for the salvation of humanity to the Angels, and notably the Mystery of the Incarnation – and it was at this moment that Lucifer declared ‘I will not serve’. He, the great Angel, would not submit to God Made Man.
Not surprisingly, neither would be honour or respect the Woman who would become the Mother of the Lord.
It is easy, then, to see why the Devil bears such a particular hatred toward the Blessed Virgin – She, a ‘mere’ Woman and human being, is far greater that he could ever be.
Queen of the Angels
For a very long time, the Church has saluted the Blessed Virgin as ‘Queen’, by Her prerogative as Mother of the Lord, He Who is the King of kings.
In October 1954, Pope Pius XII wrote a beautiful Encyclical entitled ‘Ad Caeli Reginam’ (‘To The Queen Of Heaven’) ‘on proclaiming the Queenship of Mary’. In this, he wrote –
“It is Our pleasure to recall these things in the present encyclical letter, that We may renew the praises of Our heavenly Mother, and enkindle a more fervent devotion towards Her, to the spiritual benefit of all mankind.
From early times Christians have believed, and not without reason, that She of whom was born the Son of the Most High received privileges of grace above all other beings created by God. He ‘will reign in the house of Jacob forever,’ ‘the Prince of Peace,’ the ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’. And when Christians reflected upon the intimate connection that obtains between a mother and a son, they readily acknowledged the supreme royal dignity of the Mother of God.
Hence it is not surprising that the early writers of the Church called Mary ‘the Mother of the King’ and ‘the Mother of the Lord’, basing their stand on the words of St. Gabriel the Archangel, who foretold that the Son of Mary would reign forever, and on the words of Elizabeth who greeted Her with reverence and called Her ‘the Mother of my Lord’. Thereby they clearly signified that She derived a certain eminence and exalted station from the royal dignity of Her Son.
So it is that St. Ephrem, burning with poetic inspiration, represents Her as speaking in this way: ‘Let Heaven sustain me in its embrace, because I am honored above it. For heaven was not Thy mother, but Thou hast made it Thy throne. How much more honorable and venerable than the throne of a king is her mother’. And in another place he thus prays to Her: ‘. . . Majestic and Heavenly Maid, Lady, Queen, protect and keep me under your wing lest Satan the sower of destruction glory over me, lest my wicked foe be victorious against me’.” (‘Ad Caeli Reginam’, parae.7-10)
Those Angels who remained faithful to the Most High salute Mary now and always as their Queen, and the Church upon earth echoes their praise of Her.