On every second day of the month of October, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. Within a context where many tend to be allured by the kingdom of darkness’ deceit in that they engage themselves in every type of occult, spiritualism, esotericism, witchcraft, New Age and so forth, that easily open the door for the evil one to come in and take the reigns in one’s life and family, it is so important to emphasize that we are not alone in this world! In his infinite mercy God has given us an angel, our Guardian Angel, who protects and guides us along the way in our challenging yet fruitful earthly journey.
It was Pope Clement X who established this feast of the Holy Angels in 1670. In fact, the same Holy Father decreed that it should be observed on October 2. This feast is an excellent occasion wherein we honour the angels who protect us so much each day, even if we are not at all that aware of their much-needed protection. In actual fact, we owe so much to our Guardian Angels’ vital assistance! No wonder then that Christ told us: See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven (Matt 18:10).
Besides the latter mention by Christ of the Guardian Angels, which turns out to be the best proof of their existence, the Church’s tradition has always been constant in upholding not just their sheer existence but also in helping instill within us the love which we are to nurture towards them. A powerful example of what I am trying to say is surely the sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1019-1153) which we read as the second reading in the Office of Readings for the Feast of the Guardian Angels:
“‘He has given his angels charge over you to guard you in all your ways.’ These words should fill you with respect, inspire devotion and instill confidence; respect for the presence of angels, devotion because of their loving service, and confidence because of their protection. And so the angels are here; they are at your side, they are with you, present on your behalf. They are here to protect you and to serve you. But even if it is God who has given them this charge, we must nonetheless be grateful to them for the great love with which they obey and come to help us in our great need”.
When repling to the question on whether each man is guarded by an angel, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) clearly admits that “each man has an angel guardian appointed to him. This rests upon the fact that the guardianship of angels belongs to the execution of Divine providence concerning men” (Summa Theologiae, Q. 113, Art. 2). He even goes on to say that “a guardian [angel] may be assigned to a man for two reasons: first, inasmuch as a man is an individual, and thus to one man one guardian is due; and sometimes several are appointed to guard one” (Summa Theologiae, Q. 113, Art. 2).
In order to rightly and justly appreciate these “heavenly invisible helpers”, we need to bear in mind five wonderful things regarding our Guardian Angels. To begin with, for every person in this world, Christian and non-Christian alike, God has lovingly designated a Guardian Angel to safeguard him and her. The Bible and the teaching of the Church Fathers as well as that of eminent theologians greatly support their existence. St. Basil the Great (329-379) writes: “We pray to God who is well disposed toward men in order that He might give an angel of peace as a companion to protect us.” Whereas St. Jerome (347-420), in his Commentary of the Gospel of Matthew, expresses his awe at such an honour that human beings are accompanied by angels when he says: “How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it” (Comm. in Matt., xviii, lib. II).
The popular author specializing in the field of Church history, especially patristics, namely the study of the early Church Fathers, Mike Aquilina, writes an interesting experience from a friend he knew in his book Angels of God: “A friend of mine, a noted Harvard-trained philosopher, was an unbeliever as a young man. One day he was swimming in the ocean, and the undertow swept him away. He knew he was drowning, with no hope of rescue, when suddenly a strong arm grabbed him and towed him to shore. His rescuer was a big muscle-bound guy. When my sputtering friend tried to thank him, the guy laughed at him—and then vanished. This marked a milestone on my friend’s road to conversion.”
To each and everyone of us God has appointed a Guardian Angel at the beginning of his and her earthly life. The Cathecism of the Catholic Church says: “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession” (CCC 336). St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033/4-1109) teaches that “every soul is committed to an angel when it is united with a body”, thus implying that the Guardian Angel is appointed at the very beginning of life, precisely at the very moment of conception. Hence, from this anselmian view one could easily deduce that pregnant women have the grace of having two Guardian Angels watching over them and their child.
It can also be said that only God names our Guardian Angels. In fact, in The Directory of Popular Piety, published by the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Sacraments, we find the following: “The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture” (no. 217, 2001). The real motive for this stance is that a name possesses authority over another person. Thus, when this is applied to our Guardian Angels we certainly do not have the minutest control over them. Only God has full authority over our Gaurdian Angels. What you and me can do is simply asking them for their crucial assistance. Thus, we cannot name our Guardian Angels.
When we die we cannot become Guardian Angels either. Contrarily to what we might popularly think, we cannot be transformed into angels as we depart from this world. All Guardian Angels were created by God at the beginning of time in a particular instance of creation. As we find written in the book of Jeremiah: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations (Jer 1:5). As he created the world God already had a Guardian Angel in his mind for you and me!
Lastly, the Guardian Angels are there to come to our aid. Beautiful is the metaphor of “shepherd” which the Catechism wisely uses in order to describe the Guardian Angel’s role of protecting us till we reach eternal life. Yes! Their ultimate purpose is that of supporting us until we get into heaven. That is why it is so smart to pray to them daily by humbly asking for their precious help in what we go through in life. As St. Bernard of Clairveaux rightly exhorts us in his sermon we have already referred to: “So let us be devoted and grateful to such great protectors; let us return their love and honour them as much as we can and should”. Let us pray to them this magnificient prayer which Mother Church provides us:
Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here, ever this day (or night), be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule and guide. Amen.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap