Q. What are angels? What role do they play in our lives? What are the “choirs” of angels?
A. Sacred Scripture reveals that there are purely spiritual beings, that is, beings without bodies, that are called angels. While angels are different from human beings in that they do not possess bodies, they are similar to humans in that they have an intellect and a will.
As we look out into God’s creation, we see a myriad of variety. God creates living and non-living things. Among the living there are sentient (able to perceive or feel things)and non-sentient creatures. Using our human faculties, we are able to look at creation and classify creations into categories.
Because God has given us the use of reason, we can also arrive at the fact that human beings, who like others in the material world possess a body, also possess a soul. If we see in creation things that are merely material, and human beings who are body/soul composites, it is at least fitting (although not necessary) that God would create purely spiritual beings as well. And these we call angels.
As purely spiritual beings possessing intellect and will, the angels make an irrevocable choice: to serve God or to serve themselves. They can humbly submit to truth and goodness itself, or in their pride they can reject him. Those angels who choose to reject God are referred to as demons.
The English word “angel” comes from the Greek angelos, which means ‘messenger,’ for they serve as messengers of God. Throughout the history of salvation, angels have been present in their service to God and all of creation.
In the Old Testament, angels announced births, guided the Israelites, and instructed prophets. It is an angel who intervenes on behalf of God, keeping the hand of Abraham from slaying his son, Isaac. And, of course, the angel Gabriel announced the precursor to the savior—John the Baptist—and the savior himself. The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest” in proclamation of the birth of the God-man.
The angels protected Jesus in his infancy, and served him throughout his ministry. They continue to serve the Church today.
In the Church’s Liturgy, she invokes the protection and assistance of the angels. In the funeral rite, the Church asks the angels to lead the soul of the deceased into the paradise.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “from its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by [the angels’] watchful care and intercession” (CCC 336). This indicates the long-standing belief in the Church that each person has a personal guardian angel. St. Basil, the 4th century bishop and Doctor of the Church, alludes to this, saying, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”
The Scriptures speak of Archangels, Angels, Cherubim and Seraphim. St. Paul mentions five other choirs of angels: Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Virtues, and Principalities, titles which refer to their office and duties.
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