Thursday, 29 September 2011

Do angels really exist?

Archangel St Gabriel

Since today is the Feast Day of the Archangel’s Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, I was giving some thought to the existence of angels. I often get the impression that people don’t really believe in angels. It sometimes strikes me that people often may think of angels in the same way in which they think of Santa Claus. They may speak of angels, but, like Santa Claus, they do not truly believe that angels exist.

Each Sunday, when we recite the Nicene Creed during Mass, we affirm our belief in “one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.

The term “heaven and earth” expresses our belief in the fact that, there is nothing that exists anywhere, which has not been created by God. “Earth” is the term we use to refer to the place of humans and “Heaven” is the term we use to refer to the place of God, the place of the spiritual beings and of course the place of the saints. We also express our belief that there are things that have been created, that we cannot see, but we know for a fact that they exist, because God has revealed this to us through Divine Revelation. Therefore, the existence of these spiritual, non-corporeal, beings is a truth of our faith. Their existence has been confirmed both through Sacred Scripture and through Sacred Tradition.[1]

We should remember that the term “angel” does not express what the being is. The term angel expresses what the being does. It refers to the office of the being. The term “spirit” is what expresses what the being is. For example: The term “accountant” does not describe the being. The term describes what that being does. It describes that beings “office”. The term “human” is what describes the nature of that being. It describes what that being is. Therefore, when we say angel, we are referring to the office of the spiritual being. “Spirit” is what the being is, just as “Human” is what we are.

Spiritual beings are part of God’s creatures. They are immortal. They have free will, just as we do. They are personable, just as we humans are also each uniquely personable. They are given names to denote the service that they perform. For example: The name Gabriel means “The strength of God”, while Michael means, “Who is like God”, and Raphael means “God’s remedy”.[2] They are intelligent and they are more perfect than any of God’s visible creatures.[3] Angels see God face to face. They serve God and they act as God’s messengers. Archangels are angels who deliver messages of greater importance and ordinary angels deliver messages of lesser importance. 

It is God’s will that all of his creatures should be interdependent.[4] All of God’s creatures exist to complete each other and in service of each other. There is solidarity between all of God’s creation, because his creatures exist for the common purpose of giving glory to God. There is therefore solidarity between humans and angels.

There are many examples of how the angels have been involved in our history. Here are some of them:

- Angels were placed as guards at the Garden of Eden[5]
- Angels protected Lot[6]
- Angels saved Hagar and her child[7]
- An angel stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son Isaac[8]
- Angels have communicated the law by their ministry[9]
- Angels led the people of God[10]
- An angel announced the birth of John the Baptist[11]
- An angel announced the birth of Jesus[12]
- Angels protected Jesus as a child[13]
- Angels served Jesus in the desert[14]
- An angel proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus[15]

After the resurrection of Jesus our interdependence on the angels did not stop. The angels continue to serve God and act as his messengers.

- An angel instructs Philip to go meet the Ethiopian Eunuch[16]
- An angel instructs Cornelius to send men to fetch Peter[17]
- An angel rescues Peter from prison[18]

If the angels were involved in the lives of the early Christians, we can rest assured that they continue to be intricately involved in our lives today. Here are some beautiful words from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to remind us of this comforting fact.

From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession." Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life." Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.[19]

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 328
[2] Pope Gregory the Great, Homily 34
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 330
[4] Ibid, 340
[5] Genesis 3: 24
[6] Ibid, 19
[7] Ibid, 21: 17 – 18
[8] Ibid, 22: 11 – 12
[9] Acts 7: 53
[10] Exodus 22, 20 – 23
[11] Luke 1: 11 – 13
[12] Ibid, 1: 26
[13] Matthew 2: 13
[14] Ibid, 4: 11
[15] Mark 16: 5 – 7
[16] Acts 8: 26
[17] Ibid, 10: 1 – 33
[18] Ibid, 12: 6 – 19
[19] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 336

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