A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Angels All Around

Fr John Rea sm

Lines from a chorus popular in Charismatic circles have been floating around in my head: We are standing on holy ground. And I know that there are angels all around. Let us praise Jesus now. We are standing in his presence, on holy ground.

In a little over three weeks, three sensible, ordinary, down-to-earth people spoke to me, in a matter of fact way, about seeing angels. One said that in a dream, the words ‘warring angels’ occurred.

That sent me scurrying to my Bible. One of the first texts I lit upon is in the Book of Joshua. A man stood in front of Joshua with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua asked him if he were with the Israelites or against them. He replied, "No; but as commander of the army of the Lord, I have now come" (Joshua 5:13-15).

Warring angels also occur in the life of Elisha the prophet. “Then Elisha prayed, and said, ‘O Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.’ So, the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6: 15-17).

St Michael and the dragon
St Anne's Church, Strathfield, NSW

Then, in Revelation 12 there is the war in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon and his angels.

So, three incidents in a little over three weeks, and the recurring words, ‘There are angels all around,’ prompted me to try to learn more about angels.

I learned that there are nine choirs of angels, and all nine are named in the Bible. All nine can see God, but there is an ascending order among them, according to how close each choir is to God. For this reason, in the sixth century AD a man who wrote under the pseudonym of Dionysius entitled his study of angels ‘The Celestial Hierarchy.’ Pope St Gregory the Great, St Thomas Aquinas and others who have written about angels have drawn on Dionysius’ work.

The two highest in the hierarchy are the Cherubim and the Seraphim. The second lowest are the Archangels. Angelologists agree that there are at least seven in this choir because of the Archangel Raphael’s comment to Tobit. “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” (Tobit 12: 15).

Apparently, there was some kind of angelic frenzy among Christians in the eighth century. People were often taking many words in common use and adding a Hebrew ending to them; either –el or –irion, and declaring the results to be angels. They weren’t, and the widespread practice caused confusion. To settle everything down a church council in 745 decreed that only those angels are to be invoked whose names are in the Bible -- Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. These three respectively are in charge of the messenger angels, the warring angels and the healing angels.

These reflections are best ended with words that Pope Emeritus Benedict used to end his homily on the First Sunday in Advent 2009:

‘Dear brothers and sisters, we would take away a significant part of the Gospel if we left aside these beings sent by God to announce his presence among us and to be a sign of that presence. Let us call upon them often, that they sustain us in the task of following Jesus to the point of identifying ourselves with him. Mary, Queen of Angels, pray for us!’

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