Our Spiritual GuidesLaurence Tiblis
Our Spiritual Guides
When understanding angels, our Catholic faith guides us in our devotion to them. We may never know how many times angels have delivered, protected, or instructed us, but many of us regularly turn to them in our hours of need or times of confusion and uncertainty.
Everywhere you look, images of angels surround us. Just walk into any retail shop or bookstore and evidence of their popularity lines the shelves. They’re featured in movies, popular television shows (think “Touched by An Angel”), and greeting cards.
Angels are inextricably linked to Catholicism, and the Scriptures relate more than 300 references to them. They serve as spiritual guides, who protect us, awaken our conscience, and lead us on our path to heaven as God’s messengers.
The most familiar angel is Gabriel, the messenger. In Luke’s first chapter, Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary and reveals God’s seemingly impossible plan to her. Mary summarizes her whole spirituality to Gabriel: “I am the servant of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.”
Michael is a popular figure in Christian tradition and appears in the Book of Daniel, the Book of Revelation, and the Letter of Jude as a protector and defender. In Rome, a statue of him stands atop Castel Sant’Angelo with a sword in his hand, dressed in a coat of arms. Michael symbolizes God’s help in Christian combat, the battle that all of us wage in daily life.
Then, there is Raphael, whose name in Hebrew means “God heals.” In the Book of Tobit, he heals Tobiah, Sarah, Tobit, and Anna.
The list of angels goes on and on. There’s the choir of angels, who announce to the shepherds “tidings of great joy, which will be to all the people,” singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.” Luke also mentions a nameless angel, who comforts Jesus during the agony in the garden (22:43). In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, unnamed angels play a key role, appearing to Joseph on four occasions and instructing him to do God’s work.
Angels are found not just within Christianity, but also in Judaism, Islam, and other religions. They appear as messengers, companions, guides, singers of good news, and chanters of God’s praise in the heavenly court.
According to Fr. Robert Maloney, CM, a Vincentian priest of the Eastern Province, the basic message of angels is the same: “The Lord is with you. The Lord loves you, listens to you, speaks to you. The Lord will even send angels into your life to strengthen you. You are never alone. God exercises a personal providence in your life.” Angels speak not just a generic word of God; they speak a word of God to all.
ANGELS STILL AMONG US
Fr. Maloney frequently provides spiritual direction and administers advice on Catholic teachings. Recently, his niece sought his guidance after her daughter faced a near-death experience. She questioned him about the possibility of an angelic intervention:
“Uncle Bob, we need your prayers. My daughter, Jacquelyn, and five of her friends were in a terrible accident. As they were crossing a bridge, the car behind them crashed into their car, bounced on top of it, smashed in the roof, flipped over, and plummeted into the river. Everyone in the first car crawled out alive with only minor injuries, which seemed miraculous. But as they stared down into the water with horror, the other car sank to the bottom. Then, two heads popped out of the water and began screaming that Carter, the driver, had hit his head and was unconscious. His seatbelt was jammed, and they couldn’t get him out.
“Suddenly, someone appeared out of nowhere. He stepped onto the railing of the bridge and plunged into the river. When he surfaced, he yelled for a knife or scissors. A woman reached into her pocketbook, found scissors, and threw them to him. He grabbed the scissors as soon as they hit the water and disappeared below. Thirty seconds later he reappeared, dragging Carter lifeguard-style toward the shore.
“By that time, the police were already there. An ambulance soon arrived. People pulled Carter out of the water. Someone threw a blanket over him. Someone else began to breathe air into his mouth and pump his lungs. He started to breathe. When things settled down, they turned to talk to the rescuer. He had disappeared just as suddenly as he had appeared.”
Father’s niece concluded her e-mail with “Was that an angel?” Soon after the rescue, Fr. Maloney’s niece wrote back joyfully declaring, “The angel has been sighted again.” Apparently, this anonymous angel appeared in the hospital two days after the accident to see how the young man he rescued was recuperating. Turns out, this angel is the father of two and a former collegiate swimmer. He told the family that as soon as he stopped his car on the bridge, he was sure he could make the shallow dive into the river where the car was submerged. He claims that when he caught the scissors the woman threw to him, he felt a divine intervention.
While this “angel” turned out to be a Good Samaritan, this amazing story makes even the most skeptical think twice about the reality of real, yet miraculous, life-affirming angelic encounters that provide a message of hope to all.
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Among Mary’s many titles, she has been called the Queen of the Angels. In the seventh century, St. John Damascene wrote: “Mary was made the Queen of all creatures, because she was made the Mother of the Creator.” In other words, not one angel could say to Jesus, “You are my Son.”
The origin of the title, Queen of Angels, is derived from a twelfth century Latin hymn, “Ave Regina Coelorum, Ave Domina Angelorum,” which translates to:
Hail, Queen of Heaven, hail Lady of the Angels.
Hail root and gate from which the Light of the World was born.
Rejoice glorious Virgin, fairest of all.
Fare thee well, most beautiful, and pray for us to Christ.
St. Mary of the Angels (Santa Maria degli Angeli) was a title that St. Francis of Assisi loved and is the name of the lower basilica in Assisi. Francis’s original church sits inside the large basilica. Centuries later, the Franciscan missionaries used this title to name the city of Los Angeles, whose full name is “The City of Our Lady Queen of the Angels and of the Portiuncula.”
In April 1918, Fr. Martin Blake, CM, the former director of the Seminarians and vice president of Niagara University, founded the “Novena of Our Lady of Angels” to help spread devotion to Mary and remind people of her powerful intercession. When the university needed funding to pay the mortgage and rebuild the chapel (which was destroyed by a fire), Fr. Blake wrote letters asking for contributions. In return for their assistance, Fr. Blake assured them of a Novena of Masses for their intentions. The first Novena Mass was offered on April 17, 1918. Almost 50 years later in 1967, the name Novena of Our Lady of Angels was officially changed to Our Lady of Angels Association. An outdoor shrine to Our Lady of Angels on the Niagara University campus was dedicated and blessed on August 26, 1999. The association still exists and continues to offer 12 Novenas throughout the year for the association members.
The Feast of the Assumption is closely aligned with another Marian festival in August, Our Lady of the Angels. The feast is celebrated on August 2 and originated with the Little Poor Man of Assisi’s founder, who held a special devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Angels. According to legend, hermits from the valley of Josephat, who built a small chapel in the fourth century, brought relics from the grave of Our Lady and called their hermitage Saint Mary of the Angels in honor of the Assumption and the celestial choirs who accompanied Our Lady to heaven. Another legend preserved from St. Francis’s time is that angelic voices could be heard in the chapel singing hymns of praise to Mary while St. Francis knelt in prayer.