Guardian Angels

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October 2: Guardian Angels—Memorial

Liturgical Color: White

So the Supreme Majesty has given charge to the angels. Yes, He has given charge to His own angels. Think of it! To those sublime beings, who cling to Him so joyfully and intimately, to His very own He has given charge over you! Who are you? “What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?” As if man were not rottenness, and the son of man a worm! Now why, do you think, he Has given them charge over thee? — To guard thee! ~Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Reflection: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Matthew 18:10).  Jesus speaks these words immediately before He teaches the Parable of the Lost Sheep that shows Jesus’ deep love for each and every person, for each of the “little ones.” Not only does He seek out the lost and straying sheep, He also gives them their own guardian angels, who always look upon the face of God, and whose sole task is to care for us, to get us to Heaven. It is these angelic beings whom we honor today.

The fact that every person is assigned a personal guardian angel is deeply rooted not only in Scripture but also in the writings of the saints and the teachings of the Church. In the Psalms we read, “For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11–12). Saint Jerome, in commenting on the above-mentioned passage from the Gospel of Matthew, says, “The worth of souls is so great that from birth each one has an angel assigned to him for his protection.” Saint Thomas Aquinas says, “Each man has an angel guardian appointed to him. This rests upon the fact that the guardianship of angels belongs to the execution of Divine providence concerning men” (Summa Theologiae 1.113.2). More recently, Pope Saint John Paul II taught, in a General Audience on August 6, 1986, “God has entrusted to the angels a ministry in favor of people. Therefore the Church confesses her faith in the guardian angels, venerating them in the liturgy with an appropriate feast and recommending recourse to their protection by frequent prayer, as in the invocation “Angel of God.” Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Saint Basil, says, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” (CCC #336).

Though the reality of guardian angels is often spoken of to children as a comfort to them when they face fears, the guardian angels are for all of us, and we ought not forget about our own. Angels are not only intercessors, they are mediators. This means that God entrusts them with His divine power, to act in His name and on His behalf, to deliver His grace, reveal His Truth, direct us down the right path, and protect us from evil. Though God is fully capable of distributing His grace Himself, it is His will that all He bestows upon us come to us through mediators who are instruments, cooperating with His divine plan.

The memorial that we celebrate today did not become a universal feast until the latter part of the seventeenth century, when Pope Clement X placed it on the Roman Calendar. Pope Leo XIII elevated the feast and emphasized its importance in the late nineteenth century. Around the time he did so, he also composed the “Saint Michael the Archangel” prayer and mandated that it be prayed at the end of every Mass. The feast of the Archangels is celebrated September 29, and a few days later, the memorial for all the guardian angels. These two feasts emphasize the fact that God uses some angels for specific purposes that affect all people and that He uses guardian angels to care for each of our specific needs.

Based upon the Old and New Testaments, the teachings of early Church Fathers, and the detailed teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Church generally accepts that there is a hierarchy of angels consisting of nine choirs that are further divided into three triads. The first triad consists of the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones. Their duty is exclusively the service of God, worshiping Him continuously. The second triad consists of the Dominions, Virtues, and Powers. These three choirs are tasked with the governance of the created Universe. The third triad consists of the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. These beings are closest to humanity and act as mediators between God and man. Thus, though Saint Thomas defined the guardian angels as the lowest of the choirs of angels, this should only be understood to mean that their direct concern is the care of humanity. Nonetheless, they continually behold the Beatific Vision.

Regarding the function of the guardian angels, Saint Thomas Aquinas gives the most detail (See Summa Theologiae 1.113). As mentioned, he teaches that every person receives an angel at birth. This means that guardian angels are not tied to baptism but to human activity in this world, specifically human activity that begins at birth. These angels are not recycled, so to speak, but are assigned to one person and one person alone. The guardian angels can act upon our senses and imaginations, inspiring us one way or another. They can put ideas before our minds to direct us toward God’s will, but they cannot control our wills. By working upon our senses, they can cause us to feel what is right or wrong and urge us to make the right choices. They act contrary to the fallen angels, or demons, who tempt us through false reasoning and base sensate delights. Finally, in Heaven, the guardian angel’s role of leading us to salvation will be complete. Saint Thomas believed that even in Heaven they will have the role of communicating with us and will continue to enlighten us with God’s never-ending and deepening Truth.

As we honor the celestial hosts of the guardian angels, ponder your own angel today. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in the Spiritual Exercises, gave us a detailed map for how they communicate with us. Consider reading his wisdom. In Heaven, we will enjoy an eternal face-to-face relationship with our angels. That relationship will be perfectly steeped in the love of God, and our union with them will be unbreakable. While on earth, we often pay little attention to our angels, but they are forever attentive to us. Though we might not always speak prayerfully to our intercessors and mediators, try to do so. Our angels daily communicate to us. Do you listen? Do you hear? Work to discern your angel’s actions in your life, so that this angelic mission can be better fulfilled. Have confidence that you have a mediator who stands before God and does nothing other than plead on your behalf, continuously working to bring you to eternal salvation.

Prayer: 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. Angels of God, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

Reflection taken from:

Saints and Feasts of the Liturgical Year
Volumes One–Four

Further Reading:

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Pope John Paul II

Catholic Saints & Feasts

Catholic Encyclopedia

Butler’s Lives of the Saints

Pope John XXIII

Catholic Culture

Catholic News Agency

Catholic World Report


Catechism of the Catholic Church

National Catholic Register


All Saints for Today

All Saints for the Liturgical Year

Saints A–Z>>>

From the Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913:

That every individual soul has a guardian angel has never been defined by the Church, and is, consequently, not an article of faith; but it is the “mind of the Church”, as St. Jerome expressed it: “how great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” (Comm. in Matt., xviii, lib. II).

This belief in guardian angels can be traced throughout all antiquity; pagans, like Menander and Plutarch (cf. Euseb., “Praep. Evang.”, xii), and Neo-Platonists, like Plotinus, held it. It was also the belief of the Babylonians and Assyrians, as their monuments testify, for a figure of a guardian angel now in the British Museum once decorated an Assyrian palace, and might well serve for a modern representation; while Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar the Great, says: “He (Marduk) sent a tutelary deity (cherub) of grace to go at my side; in everything that I did, he made my work to succeed.”

In the Bible this doctrine is clearly discernible and its development is well marked. In Genesis 28-29, angels not only act as the executors of God’s wrath against the cities of the plain, but they deliver Lot from danger; in Exodus 12-13, an angel is the appointed leader of the host of Israel, and in 32:34, God says to Moses: “my angel shall go before thee.” At a much later period we have the story of Tobias, which might serve for a commentary on the words of Psalm 90:11: “For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways.” (Cf. Psalm 33:8 and 34:5.) Lastly, in Daniel 10 angels are entrusted with the care of particular districts; one is called “prince of the kingdom of the Persians”, and Michael is termed “one of the chief princes”; cf. Deuteronomy 32:8 (Septuagint); and Ecclesiasticus 17:17 (Septuagint).

This sums up the Old Testament doctrine on the point; it is clear that the Old Testament conceived of God’s angels as His ministers who carried out his behests, and who were at times given special commissions, regarding men and mundane affairs. There is no special teaching; the doctrine is rather taken for granted than expressly laid down; cf. II Machabees 3:25; 10:29; 11:6; 15:23.

But in the New Testament the doctrine is stated with greater precision. Angels are everywhere the intermediaries between God and man; and Christ set a seal upon the Old Testament teaching: “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). A twofold aspect of the doctrine is here put before us: even little children have guardian angels, and these same angels lose not the vision of God by the fact that they have a mission to fulfil on earth.

Without dwelling on the various passages in the New Testament where the doctrine of guardian angels is suggested, it may suffice to mention the angel who succoured Christ in the garden, and the angel who delivered St. Peter from prison. Hebrews 1:14 puts the doctrine in its clearest light: “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?” This is the function of the guardian angels; they are to lead us, if we wish it, to the Kingdom of Heaven.

St. Thomas teaches us (Summa Theologica I:113:4) that only the lowest orders of angels are sent to men, and consequently that they alone are our guardians, though Scotus and Durandus would rather say that any of the members of the angelic host may be sent to execute the Divine commands. Not only the baptized, but every soul that cometh into the world receives a guardian spirit; St. Basil, however (Homily on Psalm 43), and possibly St. Chrysostom (Homily 3 on Colossians) would hold that only Christians were so privileged. Our guardian angels can act upon our senses (I:111:4) and upon our imaginations (I:111:3) — not, however, upon our wills, except “per modum suadentis”, viz. by working on our intellect, and thus upon our will, through the senses and the imagination. (I:106:2; and I:111:2). Finally, they are not separated from us after death, but remain with us in heaven, not, however, to help us attain salvation, but “ad aliquam illustrationem” (I:108:7, ad 3am).

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