All things Visible and Invisible
The Confiteor or “I Confess” ends in petitioning the Angels, the Saints and the gathered faithful led by the Blessed Virgin Mary, to intercede for the sinner to God. Present throughout salvation history are the angels. With the Saints and the baptised, the angels are members of Christ’s Mystical Body.
A truth of the faith taught by the Magisterium, Sacred Scripture and Tradition witness to the existence of angels as those created pure spirits who chose God, His glory, and His Kingdom in the fundamental test of their liberty. Augustine reminds us that “Angel is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is spirit.”
Consider for a moment, an angel was sent to keep Abraham from sacrificing Isaac (Gen 22:11), the Archangel Gabriel foretold the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus (Lk 1) and it was angels who communicated God’s counsel to St Joseph (Mt 1:20, 2:13, 2:19 and 2:22). Angels ministered to Christ in the desert (Mt 4:11), in his agony in the Garden (Lk 22:43) and witnessed to his resurrection (Jn 20:12). Daniel and John provide visions of angels surrounding the throne of God in constant praise and glory of Him (Dan 6:9, Rev 8:2).
In the celebration of the Mass the Church joins with the angels in their angelic hymn of praise. She invokes their assistance that the Eucharistic sacrifice may be taken to God’s altar in heaven, and in the Church’s funeral liturgy she petitions that they be sent to accompany the souls of the faithful into paradise.
The angels stand with us in the Sacred Liturgy. St John Chrysostom said that “When Mass is being celebrated, the Sanctuary is filled with countless Angels, who adore the Divine Victim immolated on the altar.” When the Dominican, Blessed Henry Suso, prayed the Mass it is said that angels in visible form gathered round the altar and some came near to him in raptures of love.
The revelation of St Bridget recounts “an immense number of Angels” gathered around the altar contemplating the priest. “They sang Heavenly canticles that ravished my heart. Heaven itself seemed to be contemplating the great Sacrifice” she says. “And yet we poor blind and miserable creatures assist at Mass with so little love, relish and respect!”
In contemporary liturgical practice the angels have become almost unreal to us – mere words in the prayers of the Mass. And yet trusting in their presence and uniting ourselves more consciously with them at the celebration of the Mass is to open ourselves up to learn through and with them how to worship and praise our God more worthily!
By Michael McKenna, immediate past Director of the Office of Liturgy