From The Holy Angels
Lest we come to think of the angels as long since buried in the tomes of old theological treatises, covered over and musty with the dust of the long ages of our indifference, let us turn to our daily, and especially our Sunday worship.
Attention to the angels is drawn in many a prayer. The Angelus bell of the Catholics reminds us of the angelic salutation of the Mother of God. Alas, this lovely custom is dying out.
The Roman Catholics have dedicated the second of October to the commemoration of the guardian angels and keep a day of honor for the archangels Gabriel and Raphael. Saint Michael had several feastdays over the centuries, but his feastday is now a festival in honor of Saint Michael and all the holy angels on September twenty-ninth. He is, of course, the most popular of the archangels and his is the only feast the Reformers retained. We find this lovely collect in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, originally taken from the Sarum Missal. It brings out the two most important attributes of the angels found in the Holy Scripture: their service of God in Heaven, and their help and protection of men on Earth:
O Everlasting God, who hast ordained and constituted the service of Angels and men in wonderful order; mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels always do thee service in Heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may succor and defend us on Earth: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In the Lutheran tradition angels are always thought of as messengers who are agents in the answering of prayer. Their prayer book also incorporates the foregoing collect for Saint Michael and All Angels, as well as the Te Deum of Matins which in the Lutheran Prayer Book used this exclamation of the Ambrosian hymn: “To thee all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein. To thee cherubim and seraphim continually do cry: Holy, Holy, Holy.” And, too, their liturgy employs the time-honored Sanctus.
The general feeling among other Protestants is that although there is no reason why angels should not exist, we Christians no longer have need of them to carry our prayers to God. No Protestants, though, seem to object to the use of every angelic appellative in praise, and so these are found in many lovely hymns sung in almost every Protestant church; all churches in some way do mention angels, even where they regard this only as poetic license.
An angelic hymn common to several churches is The Great Doxology, or the Gloria in Excelsis, the opening words of which are those sung by the angels when they announced the birth of Jesus Christ to the shepherds at Bethlehem. The whole of it is a kind of shout of praise to the glory of God. Its form is not exactly similar in the East and West, but it is used by both. The Roman Catholics use it in the Mass, whereas the Orthodox use it in Matins with the text on Sundays and feastdays slightly different from ordinary days.
The angels are remembered and honored in many a lovely prayer in as many languages and by as many faiths. Here, for example, is a prayer used in Orthodox Lauds as also as a private prayer in the morning:
Angel of God, my holy guardian, given me by God to protect me, I pray thee earnestly; enlighten me this day; from all harm shield me; toward good advise me; and on the path of salvation guide me.
How much more happily and confidently would we walk into the coming day were we aware that God has given us a special companion to guard, protect, and enlighten us. Our guardian is an objective reality, integrating God’s particular love for us as individuals. He is an expression of God’s fatherly care, a companion who does not fall asleep at night, and never leaves us alone or lonely in the dark.
Angel of Christ, holy guardian mine, who covereth my soul and body, forgive me the wrongs of this day, protect me from the evils of the enemy, and pray for me, unworthy sinner though I be, that I may yet be worthy of the boundless goodness and mercy of the Holy Trinity, of the Theotokos, and all the saints. (Private Morning Prayers)
There is also this very naïve little prayer used by most Orthodox children:
Angel, little angel mine, given me by God: I am small, you make me big; I am weak, you make me strong.
Roman Catholics have a votive Mass called the Mass of the Angels which has its own Gregorian music. There is also a prayer to Saint Michael, previously recited after Low Mass and which can well give strength and hearten any soul:
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protector against the malice and snares of the devil. We humbly beseech God to command him, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the divine power of God, thrust into hell Satan and the other evil spirits who roam about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful prayers of the Roman rite is that said immediately after the consecration, asking God to accept the Holy Sacrifice:
We humbly beseech Thee, Almighty God, command these to be carried by the hands of Thy holy Angel to thine Altar on High. . . .
When the priest at Mass blesses the incense he prays:
By the intercession of blessed Michael the Archangel, standing at the right hand of the altar of incense, and of all his elect, may the Lord vouchsafe to bless this incense, and receive it as an odor of sweetness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
These many prayers have the function of sustaining and continually reminding us that the angels never have ceased to have a very real part, an active part, in our worship and also, by invoking them we keep intact our union with them. This has strong Scriptural basis, especially in Saint Paul’s doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, in which all members have their particular office (Romans 12:4-8) as “fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19) The angels’ intermediary attribute of course goes back to the Old Testament.
We can be certain that the holy service of the church would not integrate angels if they were but pious fiction, or belonged to a past era. Past and present in eternity does not exist, and time itself is of very small importance. People today accept, even without understanding, the overpowering pronouncements of science which envisage the possibility of a time when men traveling faster than light will instead of flying forwards actually go backwards to before now! Time for us is still bound by night and day; once we surpass the speed of light, time will, even in human calculation, lose its meaning. But, strangely enough, as we accept these speculations of science, we meanwhile shelve eternal truths! Moonshots make people interested in what lies out in space; the Christian must be interested in what lies beyond it – in the heavenly world.
God still is the central and focal reality of life, however we dodge and hide from him. His heavenly hosts surround him and open the ring to include us. This, without the aid of man-made spaceships, but by the quiet act of true prayer, by the giving of self to God, by the power of a love which is not earthbound, that has not its source in us, but in God himself. “Herein is love, not that we love God, but that he loved us.” (1 John 4:10) This is the mystery, the explanation of why man dares to believe that he not only may, but does, join his feeble voice to that of the heavenly host. The truth of this can be truly apprehended only by personal experience, not visionary, but inward knowledge.