You might not think too much about it, but you are likely aware that we are surrounded by invisible beings called angels. Let’s take a closer look at what angels are and what their role is in our lives and our salvation.
Angels are purely spiritual beings without bodies that still possess intelligence and will. Despite not having a body, each angel is considered an individual just like you or me. Angels were created prior to humanity and are higher than humans in the hierarchy of creation. They are more beautiful, glorious, and perfect than any visible creation. (CCCC #330) It is important to note here that angels are entirely different beings than humans. Sometimes you might hear someone say that their deceased loved one has become their “guardian angel.” While it might be comforting to think that, humans can never become actual angels. Rather, their soul, which is also purely spiritual and not physical, carries on into the afterlife. That being said, you can still be comforted knowing that your loved one’s soul is still close to you, consoling you and praying for you.
Prior to our creation, the angels were put to a test by God. One third of the angels did not pass the test, rejected God, and fell into Hell. We do not know for certain what that test was, but one strong theory is that they were told about Jesus. Because angels are higher beings than humans, Satan and his followers, in their pride, refused to bow down or to serve a human. Now these angels, through their hatred for us and their condition, seek to lead humans into sin and temptation in order to drag us into Hell with them. The other two-thirds of the angels, who chose to love and serve God, fight to save us from that sin and temptation and therefore play a role in our salvation.
The Catechism outlines the role angels have played in salvation history as evidenced by Scripture: “They closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham’s hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples. Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself.” (CCCC #332)
In addition to there being a hierarchy in the order of creation, there is a hierarchy within the creation of angels. The Catholic Church teaches that there are nine choirs of angels and each choir possesses specific powers and responsibilities proper to their role in the world. I will briefly describe them here. If you are interested in reading more about the angels, I highly recommend Time to Meet the Angels by Mark Miravalle. It is a short 100 pages and easy to read and understand.
The first sphere of angels deals directly with God alone as the Supreme Being who is all deserving of such love and adoration.
Seraphim – This choir is the closest to God and sits directly at His throne. They have the best, most perfect knowledge of God compared to any other being and as a result, they are ablaze with love of Him. They sing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:7) When we say these words in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we say them in unison with the Seraphim.
Cherubim – This choir is associated with wisdom because of their knowledge of God. Their form of worship is to contemplate God’s providence and His plan for the world and all of creation. Like the Seraphim, this contemplation of God’s goodness leads to love and praise.
Thrones – This choir is responsible for the contemplation of God’s power and justice. They sit right on the cusp of the material and spiritual world and act as gate keepers. All of the lower choirs of angels need to go through the choir of Thrones to access God.
The angels in the second sphere are responsible for helping to fulfill God’s plan in the physical universe.
Dominions – These angels are in a position of leadership. They have authority over the lower choirs of angels and communicate God’s commands down to them. They can be thought of as God’s generals for the army of angels below them.
Virtues – This choir has power over nature, seasons, elements, etc. However, they only exercise this control at the orders of the Dominions over them and at God’s command.
Powers – These angels comprise the active combat warriors. This choir fights all of the evil fallen angels who seek to thwart God’s plan and to do harm to the physical world and all of the creatures in it. If you are inclined to imagine angels with swords, this would largely be the choir to which they belong.
The third sphere of angels is directly involved with humans and their affairs. They are the angels that are closest to us.
Archangels – These angels are considered chief or leading angels in the choirs that protect the physical world. They also serve as messengers and deliver messages to us from God. The most notable example would be when the Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear the Son of God. (Luke 1:30-31) St. Raphael makes an appearance in the Book of 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 Lord.” (Tobit 12:15)
Principalities – This choir guides and protects larger collections and institutions of humanity. Nations, cities, governments, and even the Church are cared for by Principalities.
Angels – This is the choir that is closest to us. They guide and protect us as individual humans. Therefore, we each have our own personal guardian angel which was assigned to us at birth and has been charged with helping us get to heaven. This choir is responsible for taking our prayers up to God and for bringing His responses back to us. They also have access to all of the other choirs. It is wise and prudent to have a relationship with your personal angel and learn to hear his voice in the chaos of the world. These angels are very eager to help us on a very personal level which is such a beautiful gift to us!
Since angels are personal beings like us, it is possible to have personal relationships with them. We do that by invoking them in prayer. A great example of this is when we pray the St. Michael prayer after every Mass, asking Him to protect us against the attacks of Satan. We also teach our children to pray the Guardian Angel prayer from an early age to facilitate an awareness of a personal angel. There are also chaplets which invoke the aid of each Choir (Chaplet of the Holy Angels, Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel, Chaplet of St. Raphael the Archangel, and the Chaplet of St. Gabriel the Archangel).
When we feel overwhelmed by the weight of the chaos, evil, and sin in the world, we should take comfort in knowing that God has provided us with great protection and that these angels are fighting all around us against those evil forces. It is up to us to listen to their guidance so we do not go astray. And always remember, the war has already been won and God is victorious over all.