Angels are created spirits, without bodies, having understanding and free will. The word “angelos” in Greek means “messenger”. Angels are purely spiritual beings that do God’s will (Psalms 102:20, Matthew 26:53).The angels are represented throughout the Bible as a body of spiritual beings intermediate between God and men: “You have made him [(man)] a little less than the angels” (Psalm 8:6). They, equally with man, are created beings; “praise ye Him, all His angels: praise ye Him, all His hosts...for He spoke and they were made. He commanded and they were created” (Psalm 148:2-5; Colossians 1:16-17).
Angels appear in the Bible from the beginning to the end, from the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation. The Bible is our best source of knowledge about angels; for example, Psalms 90:11, Matthew 18:10 and Acts 12:15 indicate humans have guardian angels.
Angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds (Luke 2:14), ministered to Christ after his temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:11), comforted Jesus in his agony in the garden (Luke 22:43) and appeared to announce His resurrection from the dead (John 20:12). Jesus Christ stated the angels of little ones continually behold the face of the Father (Matthew 18:10); this passage has been traditionally cited as biblical evidence of guardian angels. Angels will come with Christ on the Day of Judgment (Matthew 24:31), and the angels will separate the wicked from the just on the Last Day (Matthew 13:49), although they do not know the day of Judgment (Mark 13:32). Christ also said the children of the resurrection will be equal to the angels (Luke 20:34).
An angel of the Lord appeared to Moses (Exodus 3:2) to lead the Israelites from captivity in Egypt to the Promised Land. God sent an angel to punish King David and the Israelites but stopped the angel from destroying Jerusalem after King David repented and offered sacrifice to the Lord (2 Samuel 24). God sent an angel to free the Apostle Peter after he was jailed by King Herod (Acts 12:7-11). Sometimes angels take human form as is seen in the three men who appear to Abraham (Genesis 18), the two angels who appeared to Lot before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and Raphael appearing in human form to Tobias (Tobias 5).
Attendants at God’s Throne
It is as messengers that angels most often figure in the Bible, but their essential and function is that of attendants upon God’s throne in that court of heaven of which Daniel has left us a vivid picture in Daniel (7:9-10) as well as in the Psalms (96:7 and 102:20) and the Prophets (Isaias 6 and others). Our Lord refers to this function as their perpetual occupation (Matthew 18:10). More than once we are told of seven angels whose special function it is thus to “stand before God’s throne” (Tobias 12:15, Revelation 8:2-5). The same thought may be intended by “the angel of His presence” (Isaias 63:9).
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, angels are believed to be present, fulfilling this sacred office and offering the sacrifice and prayers of the faithful to God, as is seen in the following prayer: “We humbly implore You, almighty God, bid these offerings to be carried by the hands of Your holy angel to Your altar on high, in the sight of Your divine majesty....” God’s Messengers to Mankind
God’s Messengers to Mankind
But these glimpses of life beyond the veil are only occasional. The angels of the Bible generally appear in the role of God’s messengers to mankind. They are His instruments by whom He communicates His will to men, and in Jacob’s vision they are depicted as ascending and descending the ladder which stretches from earth to heaven while the Eternal Father gazes upon the wanderer below. It was an angel who found Agar in the wilderness (Genesis 16); angels drew Lot out of Sodom; an angel announced to Gideon that he was to save his people; an angel foretold the birth of Samson (Judges 13); and the angel Gabriel instructed Daniel (Daniel 8:16), though he is not called an angel in either of these passages, but “the man Gabriel” (Daniel 9:21). The same heavenly spirit announced the birth of St. John the Baptist and the Incarnation of the Redeemer. Angels brought the message of the birth of Christ to the shepherds (Luke 2:9), and an angel was given the most glorious mission of all, that of strengthening the King of Angels in His agony (Luke 22:43).
Angels are represented as the constituted guardians of nations at some particular crisis (Exodus 14:19; Baruch 6:6). Similarly, it is the common view of the Fathers of the Church that by “the prince of the Kingdom of the Persians” (Daniel 10:13-21) we are to understand the angel to whom was entrusted the spiritual care of that kingdom.
How large a part the ministry of angels played, not merely in Hebrew theology but in the religious ideas of other nations as well, appears from the expression “like to an angel of God”. An example of this is when St. Stephen’s face is said to have looked “like the face of an angel” as he stood before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:15).
Throughout the Bible, we find it repeatedly implied that each individual soul has its guiding spirit. Thus Abraham, when sending his steward to seek a wife for Isaac, says, “He will send His angel before thee” (Genesis 24:7). The words of the 90th Psalm which the devil quoted to our Lord (Matthew 4:6) are well known, and Judith accounts for her heroic deed by saying, “As the Lord liveth, His angel hath been my keeper” (13:20). These passages and many like them (Genesis 16:6-32, Osee 12:4, 1 Kings 19:5, Acts 12:7, Psalm 33:8) demonstrate the doctrine, as noted above, that every individual has his appointed guardian angel, which is confirmed by the words of Our Savior, “See that you despise not one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in Heaven always see the face of My Father Who is in Heaven” (Matthew 18:10), words which illustrate the remark of St. Augustine, “What lies hidden in the Old Testament is made manifest in the New”. Indeed, it seems that the book of Tobias is intended to teach this truth more than any other, and St. Jerome in his commentary on the above words of Our Lord says, “The dignity of a soul is so great that each has a guardian angel from its birth.”
The general doctrine that the angels are our appointed guardians is considered to be a point of faith, but that each individual member of the human race has his own individual guardian angel is not of faith (de fide); the view has, however, such strong support from the Doctors of the Church that it would be rash to deny it. The Bible represents the angels not only as our guardians but also as actually interceding for us. The angel Raphael (Tobias 12:12) says, “I offered thy prayer to the Lord” (also, Job 5:1, Apocalypse 8:4). The Catholic cult of the angels is thus thoroughly scriptural. Perhaps the earliest explicit declaration of it is to be found in St. Ambrose’s words: “We should pray to the angels who are given to us as guardians” (De Viduis, ix).
Hierarchy of Angels
The following passages from St. Gregory the Great (Hom. 34, In Evang.) will give us a clear idea of the view of the Church’s doctors on this point: “We know on the authority of scripture that there are nine orders of angels, viz., Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim. That there are Angels and Archangels nearly every page of the Bible tells us, and the books of the Prophets talk of Cherubim and Seraphim. St. Paul, too, writing to the Ephesians, enumerates four orders when he says, ‘above all Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Domination’; and again, writing to the Colossians, he says, ‘whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers’. If we now join these two lists together, we have five orders, and adding Angels and Archangels, Cherubim and Seraphim, we find nine Orders of Angels.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelic Doctor, wrote extensively on angels in the Summa Theologica. He taught that angels, being spiritual beings, influence mankind by illuminating one’s mind with an idea. Quoting scripture, he named the same nine orders of angels in three groups, the highest hierarchy being next to God: Seraphim (Isaiah 6:2), Cherubim (Genesis 3:24, Ezekiel 10:1-22), and Thrones (Colossians 1:16); the middle hierarchy involved in government: Dominations (Colossians 1:16), Virtues (1 Peter 3:22), and Powers (Colossians 1:16); and the third hierarchy involved in work: Principalities (Colossians 1:16), Archangels (1 Thessalonians 4:16), and Angels.
Michael, as one of the leading angels, is considered “prince” of the heavenly hosts, and he appears twice in the Book of Daniel (10:13 and 12:1). He is the only one in the Bible referred to as an Archangel (Jude 1:9), and he serves a major role in Chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation. The angel Gabriel first appears twice to Daniel (Daniel 8:16 and 9:21) but is best known for the Annunciation to Mary that she would be the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God (Luke 1:26-38). The Book of Tobias (12:15) names Raphael as “one of the seven who stand before the Lord”. Revelation 8:2 also refers to the seven angels who stand before the Lord. Of the seven, we know from the angel Raphael that he himself is one. It is presumed that perhaps Michael and Gabriel are also among this number.
The Fallen Angels
Mention is made of the devil in many passages of the Old and New Testaments, but there is no full account given in any one place, and the Scripture teaching on this topic can only be ascertained by combining a number of scattered references from Genesis to Apocalypse and reading them in the light of patristic and theological tradition. The authoritative teaching of the Church on this topic is set forth in the decrees of the Fourth Lateran Council. After saying that God in the beginning had created together two creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is to say the angelic and the earthly, and lastly man, who was made of both spirit and body, the council continues: “The devil and the other demons were created by God good in their nature but they by themselves have made themselves evil.”
Here it is clearly taught that the devil and the other demons are spiritual or angelic creatures created by God in a state of innocence and that they became evil by their own act. It is added that man sinned by the suggestion of the devil and that in the next world the wicked shall suffer perpetual punishment with the devil.
As may be gathered from the language of the Lateran definition, the devil and the other demons are but a part of the angelic creation, and their natural powers do not differ from those of the angels who remained faithful. Like the other angels, they are pure spiritual beings without any body, and in their original state they are endowed with supernatural grace and placed in a condition of probation. It was only by their fall that they became devils. This was before the sin of our first parents, since this sin itself is ascribed to the instigation of the devil: “By the envy of the devil, death came into the world” (Wisdom 2:24). Yet it is remarkable that for an account of the fall of the angels we must turn to the last book of the Bible. For as such we may regard the vision in the Apocalypse, although the picture of the past is blended with prophecies of what shall be in the future.
To this may be added the words of St. Jude: “And the angels who kept not their principality but forsook their own habitation he hath reserved under darkness in everlasting chains unto the judgment of the great day” (Jude 1:6; cf. 2 Peter 2:4).
In the Old Testament, we have a brief reference to the fall in Job 4:18: “In his angels he found wickedness”. But to this must be added the classic text of the prophet: “How have you fallen from the heavens, O morning star (Lucifer), son of the dawn! How are you cut down to the ground, you who mowed down the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will scale the heavens; above the stars of God I will set up my throne; I will take my seat on the Mount of Assembly, in the recesses of the North. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will be like the Most High!’ Yet down to the nether world you go to the recesses of the pit!” (Isaias 14:12-15)
More Scriptural Passages of Importance on Angels
The Fall of Adam and Eve
"The Lord God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he had been taken. When he expelled the man, he settled him east of the garden of Eden; and he stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, to guard the way to the tree of life.” – Genesis 3:23-24
“Meanwhile, Jacob left Bersebee and journeyed toward Haran. He came to a place where he spent the night because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, put it under his head, and went to sleep there. He dreamed that a ladder was set up on the ground with its top reaching to heaven; angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” – Genesis 28:10-12
God Sends an Angel to Lead Moses
“Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for My name is in him. But if you hearken attentively to his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” – Exodus 23:20-22
St. Raphael the Archangel
“I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the Lord.” – Tobias 12:15
The Book of Psalms
“The angel of the Lord, who encamps with them, delivers all who fear God.” – Psalms 33:8
“For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” – Psalms 90:11-12
“Bless the Lord, all you His angels, you might in strength, who do His bidding, obeying His spoken word.” – Psalms 102:20
Daniel in the Lions’ Den
“The king rose very early the next morning and hastened to the lions’ den. As he drew near, he cried out to Daniel sorrowfully, ‘O Daniel, servant of the living God, has the God whom you serve so constantly been able to save you from the lions?’ Daniel answered the king, ‘O king, live forever! My God has sent His angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not hurt me. For I have been found innocent before Him; neither to you have I done any harm, O king!’” – Daniel 6:19-22
The Angel Appears to Zachary
“And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right of the altar of incense. And Zachary, seeing him, was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zachary, for thy petition has been heard.... I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God....” – Luke 1:10-13,19
The Angel Appears to St. Joseph
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” – Matthew 1:18-21
The Angel Appears to the Blessed Virgin Mary
“In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, Full of Grace! The Lord is with you.’” – Luke 1:26-28
An Angel Appears to the Shepherds
“And there were shepherds in the same district living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by them and the glory of God shone round about them, and they feared exceedingly. And the angel said the them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be to all the people; for today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign to you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavely host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will.’” – Luke 2:8-14
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
“But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’” – John 20:11-1
The Angel Rescues St. Peter From Prison
“The very night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison; and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, ‘Dress yourself and put on your sandals.’ And he did so. And he said to him, ‘Wrap your mantle around you and follow me.’ And he went out and followed him; he did not know that what was done by the angel was real but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened to them of its own accord, and they went out and passed on through one street; and immediately the angel left him.” – Acts of the Apostles 12:6-10
Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” – Hebrews 13:1-2
“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.” – Apocalypse 8:1-2
“Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its 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 its angels were thrown down with it.” – Apocalypse 12:7-9
The Destiny of the Fallen Angels
“Then he will say to those on his left hand, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.’” – Matthew 25:41 “And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels: and they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduces the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” – Apocalypse 12:7-9
Meditations on the Angels and Us
“Compared with ours,” says the learned French Dominican orator, Jacques-Marie-Louis Monsabré (d. 1907), “how calm and how luminous is the knowledge of pure spirits! They are not doomed to the intricate discoursings of our reason which runs after the truth, composes and analyzes, and laboriously draws conclusions from premises. They instantaneously apprehend the whole compass of primary truths. Their intuition is so prompt, so lively, so penetrating, that it is impossible for them to be surprised, as we are, into error. If they deceive themselves, it must be of their own will. The perfection of their will is equal to the perfection of their intellect. They know not what it is to be disturbed by the violence of appetites. Their love is without emotion, and their hatred of evil is as calm and as wisely tempered as their love. A will so free can know no perplexity as to its aims, no inconstancy in its resolutions. Whereas with us, long and anxious meditation is necessary before we make a decision, it is the property of the angels to determine by a single act the object of their choice. God proposed to them, as He does to us, infinite beatitude in the vision of His own Essence, and to fit them for so great an end, He endowed them with grace at the same time as He gave them being. In one instant they said yes or no; in one instant they freely and deliberately decided their own fate.”
“Let us not be envious,” Dom Gueranger reminds us. “By nature, the angel is superior to us, but ‘to which of the angels hath He said at any time, Thou art My Son?’ (Heb. 1:5) The only-begotten Son of God did not take to Himself the angelic nature.... How can we understand this attraction of God towards what is feeblest? We can only worship it in humble, loving faith.”
Excerpted from the Catholic Encyclopedia, The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger and other sources
Queen of Angels August Queen of Heaven, heavenly sovereign of the Angels, who from the beginning received from God the power and the mission to crush the head of Satan, we humbly beseech thee to send thy holy Legions, so that, under thy command and by thy power, they may pursue the devils and combat them everywhere, restrain their audacity and drive them back into the abyss. Who is like unto God?
O good and tender Mother, thou shalt always be our love and our hope! O Mother of God, send thy holy Angels to defend me and drive far from me the cruel enemy. Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us and guard us. Amen.
Prayer to Your Guardian Angel
Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love commits me here
Ever this day be at my side
To light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.
© 2010 Carmelite Monastery