What are angels and how do they intervene in human life? The lives of the saints help us to enter into the mystery of the heavenly spirits.
In both the Old and New Testaments we find interventions and apparitions of angels, which manifest the will of God and mediate between the human and the divine reality. The nature of the angels and their role in the History of Salvation has been the subject of study by several Fathers of the Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that angels “are spiritual creatures who unceasingly glorify God and serve his saving plans for other creatures […] Angels surround Christ, their Lord. They serve him above all in the fulfilment of his mission of salvation for all men. The Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and who protect every human being” (CCC 350-352).
The hierarchy of angels
The hierarchy of the celestial hosts has waned in the De coelesti hierarchia of the Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. This scheme divides the angels into three hierarchies, each of which contains three orders or choirs. These are the three hierarchies in descending order of power:
- First Hierarchy: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones
- Second Hierarchy: Domination, Virtue, Power
- Third hierarchy: Principalities, Archangels, Angels
Many Holy Fathers, such as St Gregory the Great, St John Damascene and St Thomas Aquinas, followed the theory of Pseudo-Dionysius.
Saints and angels
The cult of angels has great strength and spread. Saint Francis de Sales said: “Good angels desire our good and do not disdain to assist us. Our good angels give us the strength and courage to practice virtue. Extend your hand to your good angel to lead you to heaven”.
It is interesting to see how the relationship between saints and angels is often a special and mysterious relationship. Many saints, thanks to their Faith, have seen angels manifest themselves and intervene in their lives, in different and particular ways.
St. Francis of Assisi
Saint Francis of Assisi received the stigmata from an angel: a Seraph with six flaming wings. It is also said that in the church of the Porziuncola the angels were a habitual presence for Saint Francis and that, during his illness, the angels comforted him with their singing.
The Canticle of the Creatures of St. Francis
St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most loved and venerated saints by the Catholic Church.
Saint Theresa of Avila
The reformer saint of Carmel is known, among other things, for the episode of her ecstasy. Recounting it, she describes how an angel pierced her heart with a golden dart with a burning tip, leaving her mysteriously immersed in an infinite love for God.
Saint Teresa of Avila: Spanish nun and mystic
Saint Teresa of Avila was a Spanish nun and mystic. One of the few women declared a Doctor of the Church, she reformed the Carmelite order
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga was particularly attached to devotion to angels. Among his intentions were some practices in their honour, such as the recitation of the Angele Dei in the morning, in the evening and during the day. He also composed a short treatise on what the Holy Scriptures say about celestial spirits.
Saint Philip Neri
The saint of joy had a special relationship with his guardian angel. Once he was raised high to prevent a carriage from overwhelming him in an alley in Rome. In another episode, the angel appeared to him in the form of a needy who asked for alms: the saint was ready to give him all the little he had, but the angel replied that he only wanted to see what he was capable of, then disappeared.
Saint Dominic Savio
Even the young saint, a friend of Don Bosco, had a close relationship, with full confidence, with his own guardian angel. When he dived to save his little sister who had fallen into a pond, even though he could not swim, he managed to do so because his angel supported him. When he walked alone in the streets, he said he was not afraid because with him, even if invisible to the eyes, there was his guardian angel.
Saint Angela of Foligno
Saint Angela of Foligno had a vision of angels and speaks of the joy that comes from them as something extraordinary. He wrote: “I felt such joy at the presence of the Angels and their speeches filled me with so much happiness that I would never have believed that the holiest Angels were so kind and able to give such delights to souls”.