As human beings, we have some frame of reference for understanding Mary and the Saints. We even have some insight into Jesus insofar as he was fully human. The angels, on the other hand, are much further from our experience.
Both the fat baby cherubs and the regal human forms we see in paintings are useful for artistic depictions, but leave a lot of room for theological development.
What exactly is an angel? The name comes from the Greek word angelos (???????), meaning messenger. St. Augustine notes that – as the Greek etymology suggests – the name doesn’t describe what they are, but what they do. An angel is a personal spirit created by God, whose role is to be a messenger. While they don’t have bodies, they can act on material things, and this action is sometimes witnessed through a physical presence. Aquinas quotes St. Gregory the Great’s description of the difference between a regular angel and an archangel: “angels are so called as announcing the least things; and the archangels in the greatest” (ST I q.108 a.5).
While Tobit 12:15 suggests that there are seven archangels, only three are named in Sacred Scripture, and their particular messages are tied to their names. Perhaps the most familiar archangel is St. Michael, who is described as defeating the evil spirits that challenged the power and authority of God: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven” (Revelation 12: 7-8). His name, meaning “Who is like God?”, is the challenge he utters to all who think themselves above God. Raphael, whose name means “God has healed,” is God’s agent in the book of Tobit, helping Tobias through his journey, helping to release Tobias’ wife Sarah from demonic oppression, and healing Tobit of his blindness. Gabriel, or “God is my strength,” is especially active in the New Testament, being specifically named as the messenger who announces the birth of John to Zechariah, and who is tasked with Annunciation of the Incarnation itself when he says to Mary: “behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 2:31).
But what do these great spiritual entities have to do with us, especially so many centuries removed from the great events of Scripture? The fact that God created the angels as messengers for us tells us that He considers us to be especially worth speaking to. God loves us so much that He even sends spirits whose role is to assist us in receiving His message. It behooves us to make good use of this powerful assistance. Let us ask the Archangels for their help: for assistance in defeating the powers of Satan, for healing from ills both spiritual and physical, and for strength to do God’s work.
Br. Antony Cherian, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE