LITURGY MATTERS: One with the Angels

By Michael McKenna, Archdiocesan Master of Ceremonies

Each year toward the end of September and again in early October, the Church commemorates the holy angels in its liturgical calendar.

A synthesis of the doctrine of the Magisterium regarding the angels can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (328-336, 350-352) – the existence of these spiritual, non-corporeal beings referenced in the Sacred Scripture is a truth of faith.

Mystically present and active throughout creation, in the events of Scripture, in the liturgy, and in our daily lives, they can go unnoticed as our senses are dulled to their presence on account of sin.

Pope Benedict XVI notes that each of the three Archangels names end with the Hebrew word for God – “El”. God, he said is inscribed in their names, and in their nature.

The Church Fathers have long spoken of the angels’ presence during the sacrifice of the Mass. Perhaps amusingly, Origen warned that the holy angels listened to the homily and judged it.

St John Chrysostom wrote that the angels surround the priest, “the whole sanctuary and the space before the altar is filled with the heavenly Powers come to honour Him who is present upon the altar”.

Our liturgy is intended as a visible reflection, and an efficacious symbol, of the heavenly liturgy of the angels. The Church joins with the angels in her worship and invokes their assistance.

We hear in the Roman Canon reference to the action of God’s holy angel in bearing the gifts presented in this world to His “altar on high”.

This unity of the two is particularly articulated in the Preface, where the Church unites herself with the Thrones and the Dominations, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, to sing the angelic hymn of praise.

Saint John Chrysostom says of the Preface, “Think now of what kind of choir you are going to enter.

Although vested with a body, you have been judged worthy to join the Powers of heaven in singing the praises of Him who is Lord of all.”

He further states, “Behold the royal table. The angels serve at it. The Lord Himself is present.”

The Jesuit, Jean Cardinal Daniélou, observes that the chant of the Seraphim expresses holy fear, an awe shared with the highest creatures in the presence of God.

This mystical reality invites us to better understand the holiness of the Eucharist, which leads us, with the Seraphim, into the presence of the all-holy God, hidden only by the fragile species of bread and wine.

Sursum corda!

Tags: Liturgy