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Ave Maria Meditations

One of the strangest features in our popular culture is a fascination with what are called “angels.”  These are not conceived as heralds of God.  They are girlish earth-spirits or sky-spirits for people who enjoy their paganism sprinkled with a dash of kitsch.

Yet all the names for angels given in Scripture are masculine, and refer to some attribute of God: his uniqueness (Michael, “Who is like God?”), his might (Gabriel, “God is strong”), his care for us (Raphael, “God heals”).  The Greek angelos is a straight translation of the Hebrew word for messenger, and in fact Scripture suggests a profound relationship between the Lord and the angel of the Lord, as if the angel were not merely a supernatural postman, but a creature whose very being consists in contemplation of the divine.

There is nothing inherently foolish in supposing that the almighty God has created such beings, whose existence is not founded upon matter, and who are therefore invisible to material eyes.  The laws of physics, after all, steer the behavior of matter but are not themselves material.  Perhaps now above all, when angels are so poorly portrayed, and when the worldly wise, even in the Church, believe they are above honoring these stupendous creatures, these thoughts of God that are beings of intellect and love, should we pray for their intercession and express our gratitude for their care.  Here, then, is the Invocation of the Nine Choirs of Angels:

O Holy Angels, watch over us at all times during this perilous life; O holy Archangels, be our guides on the way to heaven; O heavenly choir of the Principalities, govern us in soul and body; O mighty Powers, preserve us against the wiles of the demons; O celestial Virtues, give us strength and courage in the battle of life; O powerful Dominations, obtain for us dominion over the rebellion of our flesh; O sacred Thrones, grant us peace with God and man; O brilliant Cherubim, illumine our minds with heavenly knowledge; O burning Seraphim, enkindle in our hearts the fire of charity.  Amen.

We see in the prayer that each of the nine orders of the angels – the nine choirs, the nine ways of singing God’s praises – assists us in some particular way in our journey into God.  The Angels are our guardians, the Archangels our guides.  The Principalities are our governors in our earthly and spiritual decisions.  The Powers defend us against demonic assaults; the Virtues lend our souls the strength to enter that fight on our own behalf.  The Dominations help us to secure the dominion over the flesh that was ours in Eden, lest it prove rebellious in the fight – a deserter in time of need, or a traitor.  The Thrones crown the battle with peace, so that we and our fellow men are now ready, untroubled, to gaze upon the face of God.  The Cherubim clear our minds that we may see; and the Seraphim help us to plumb most deeply the very life of God, which is Love.

The nine orders, then, bring us along nine stages to full bliss.  They are indeed ordered, from least to greatest.  That should not trouble us.  If Michael is the greatest of the heavenly host, that greatness is a gift of God not only to him but to all the others.  Only envy would see things wrong-side-out, and envy, as Scripture tells us, is what caused the brightest of the angels to fall.  I am not Saint Paul or Saint Peter; but in that land of love I look forward to admiring the greatness of Paul and Peter, and that greatness which “ordinary” saints – not that there really are any ordinary saints – enjoy by their love will be an essential part of their happiness in heaven.  As Dante puts it, “Various voices make the sweeter song.”  Love is so rapt by the beauty of the beloved that it does not stop to ask petty questions about equality.

The blessed angels are not too haughty to obey God, nor too haughty to dwell in their glorious orders.  So they are not too haughty to descend to our assistance.  Like the angels, we have been created for the vision of God; we and they are meant to be at one.  Yet we are so sluggish of mind, so lowly by comparison – prone to the weakness of the flesh, and dying as soon as we are born.  Why should the angels minister to us?  But they do, more than we can number, and fleeter than our thoughts.

The fallen angels aim to sever us from love of God and neighbor.  If worship of demons can accomplish that, they will show us that such creatures do exist, and will tempt us to fall down in homage to them.  But in our day, it is more cunning strategy to lull us into forgetfulness.  Then, after we have spent our lives in proud disdain for God and his angels, they can pull the curtain at last and grin in triumphant hatred.  So let us not grant them the strategic point.

The messengers of God are around us.  They are immaterial, unbounded by space and time, yet they love us and bring us their tidings, hard of hearing though we may be.  Then let us turn our thoughts sometimes to them, and beg them to help us turn our thoughts to God – from whom those blessed angels, no matter their commission, never turn.

Anthony Esolen

© Magnificat – used with permission.

Sr. JosephMary f.t.i.

Author Sr. JosephMary f.t.i.

Our Lady found this unworthy lukewarm person and obtained for her the grace to enter the Third Order of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. May this person spend all eternity in showing her gratitude.

More posts by Sr. JosephMary f.t.i.

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