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Angels Participate in the History of Salvation

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on God the Father
General Audience, Wednesday, 6 August 1986 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish  

"1. In recent catecheses we have seen how the Church has professed throughout the centuries the truth about the existence of the angels as purely spiritual beings. Illuminated by the light that comes from Sacred Scripture, the Church has professed this with the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, and has confirmed it in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), whose formulation was repeated by the First Vatican Council in the context of the doctrine on creation: "God at the beginning of time created from nothing both creatures together, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and thus he created human nature as having both, since it is made up of spirit and of body" (Const. Dei Filius, DS 3002). In other words, God created both realities from the very beginning: ”the spiritual reality and the corporeal, the earthly world and the angelic world. He created all this at one and the same time with a view to the creation of man, constituted of spirit and matter and set, according to the biblical narrative, in the framework of a world already established according to his laws and already measured by time.

2. The faith of the Church recognizes not only the existence of the angels, but certain distinctive characteristics of their nature. Their purely spiritual being implies first of all their non-materiality and their immortality. The angels have no "body" (even if, in particular circumstances, they reveal themselves under visible forms because of their mission for the good of people). Therefore they are not subject to the laws of corruptibility which are common to the material world. Referring to the condition of the angels, Jesus himself said that in the future life, those who are risen "cannot die any more, because they are equal to the angels" (Lk 20:36).

3. As creatures of a spiritual nature, the angels are endowed with intellect and free will, like human beings, but in a degree superior to them, even if this is always finite because of the limit which is inherent in every creature. The angels are therefore personal beings and, as such, are also "in the image and likeness" of God. Sacred Scripture also refers to the angels by using terms that are not only personal (like the proper names of Raphael, Gabriel, Michael) but also "collective" (like the titles seraphim, cherubim, thrones, powers, dominions, principalities), just as it distinguishes between angels and archangels. While bearing in mind the analogous and representative character of the language of the sacred text, we can deduce that these beings and persons are as it were grouped together in society. They are divided into orders and grades, corresponding to the measure of their perfection and to the tasks entrusted to them. The ancient authors and the liturgy itself speak also of the angelic choirs (nine, according to Dionysius the Areopagite). Especially in the patristic and medieval periods, theology has not rejected these representations. It has sought to explain them in doctrinal and mystical terms, but without attributing an absolute value to them. St. Thomas preferred to deepen his researches into the ontological condition, the epistemological activity and will and also the loftiness of these purely spiritual creatures. He did this both because of their dignity in the scale of beings and also because he could investigate more deeply in them the capacities and the activities that are proper to the spirit in the pure state. From this he deduced much light to illuminate the basic problems that have always agitated and stimulated human thought—knowledge, love, liberty, docility to God, and how to reach his kingdom.

4. The theme which we have touched on may seem "far away" or "less vital" to the modern mentality. But the Church believes that she renders a great service when she proposes sincerely the totality of the truth about God the Creator and also about the angels. Man nurtures the conviction that it is he (and not the angels) who is at the center of the divine revelation in Christ, man and God. It is precisely the religious encounter with the world of the purely spiritual beings that becomes valuable as a revelation of his own being not only as body but also as spirit, and of his belonging to a design of salvation that is truly great and efficacious within a community of personal beings who serve the providential design of God for man and with man.

5. Let us note that Sacred Scripture and Tradition give the proper name of angels to those pure spirits who chose God, his glory and his kingdom in the fundamental test of their liberty. They are united to God by the consummate love which flows from the beatific vision, face to face, of the most Holy Trinity. Jesus himself told us this: "The angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 18:10). "To see the face of the Father always" in this way is the highest manifestation of the adoration of God. One can say that this constitutes the "heavenly liturgy," carried out in the name of the entire universe. The earthly liturgy of the Church is incessantly joined with it, especially in its culminating moments. Let it suffice here to record the act with which the Church, every day and every hour, in the whole world, before beginning the Eucharistic Prayer in the center of the Mass, appeals "to the angels and the archangels" to sing the glory of the thrice-holy God. She unites herself thus to those first adorers of God, in the worship and the loving knowledge of the unspeakable mystery of his holiness.

6. According to revelation, the angels who participate in the life of the Trinity in the light of glory are also called to play their part in the history of human salvation, in the moments established by divine Providence. "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation?" asked the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (1:14). The Church believes and teaches this on the basis of Sacred Scripture. From it, we learn that the task of the good angels is to protect people and be solicitous for their salvation. We find these expressions in various passages of Sacred Scripture, such as Psalm 91 which has already been quoted several times: "He will give his angels charge of you, to keep you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone" (Ps 91:11-12). Speaking of children and warning against giving them scandal, Jesus himself referred to "their angels" (Mt 18:10). Besides this, he attributed to the angels the function of witnesses in the last divine judgment about the fate of those who have acknowledged or denied Christ: "Whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man likewise will acknowledge him before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God" (Lk 12:8-9; cf. Rev 3:5). These words are significant because, if the angels take part in the judgment of God, then they are interested in human life. This interest and participation seem to be accentuated in the eschatological discourse, in which Jesus has the angels appear in the Parousia, that is, in the definitive coming of Christ at the end of history (cf. Mt 24:31; 25:31-41).

7. Among the books of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles especially shows us some facts that bear witness to the solicitude of the angels for human beings and for their salvation. Thus the angel of God liberated the apostles from prison (cf. Acts 5:18-20) and first of all Peter, when he was threatened with death at the hands of Herod (cf. Acts 12:5-10). He guided the activity of Peter with regard to the centurion Cornelius, the first pagan to be converted (Acts 10:3-8; 11:1-12), and analogously the activity of the deacon Philip along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:26-29).

From these few facts which we have cited as examples, we understand how the Church could come to the conviction that God has entrusted to the angels a ministry in favor of human beings. Therefore the Church confesses her faith in the guardian angels, venerating them in the liturgy with an appropriate feast and recommending recourse to their protection by frequent prayer, as in the invocation "Angel of God." This prayer seems to draw on the treasure of the beautiful words of St. Basil: "Every one of the faithful has beside him an angel as tutor and pastor, to lead him to life" [1] .

8. Finally, it is appropriate to note that the Church honors the figures of three angels with a liturgical cult—those which Sacred Scripture calls by name. The first is Michael the Archangel (cf. Dan 10:13-20; Rv 12:7; Jude 9). His name is a synthesis that expresses the essential attitude of the good spirits. Mica-El means "Who is like God?" This name expresses the salvific choice thanks to which the angels "see the face of the Father" who is in heaven. The second is Gabriel, a figure bound especially to the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God (cf. Lk 1:19-26). His name means "my power is God" or "power of God," as if to say that at the culmination of creation, the incarnation is the supreme sign of the omnipotent Father. Finally, the third archangel is called Raphael. Rafa-El means "God heals." He is made known to us by the story of Tobias in the Old Testament (cf. Tob 12:15-20 ff.), which is so significant for what it says about entrusting to the angels the little children of God, who are always in need of custody, care and protection.

If we reflect well, we see that each one of these three figures, Mica-El, Gabri-El and Rafa-El reflects in a particular way the truth contained in the question posed by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation?" (Heb 1:14).

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Je souhaite la bienvenue à tous les pèlerins de langue française, aux groupes paroissiaux, aux familles, aux jeunes. Je salue notamment les handicapés de l’Association des Paralysés de France, et leurs dévoués accompagnateurs qui les aident à participer le mieux possible à la vie du monde.

* * *

J’ai noté la présence d’étudiants grecs du Lycée léonin des Frères maristes d’Athènes: que le Seigneur favorise notre cheminement fraternel vers la pleine unité des chrétiens!

* * *

J’offre mes voux particuliers aux Soeurs Arméniennes de l’Immaculée Conception, qui tiennent à Rome leur Chapitre général: chères Soeurs, depuis près de cent cinquante ans, votre institut se dévoue à l’éducation des enfants et des jeunes, à l’assistance des orphelins, au soin des personnes âgées, en plusieurs pays du Moyen-Orient et de la diaspora. Continuez ce bel apostolat, en puisant dans la foi chrétienne, dans l’exemple et la disponibilité de Marie, le courage d’une charité toujours active et largement ouverte. Que le Seigneur vous bénisse ainsi que les communautés arméniennes, chères à notre cœur!

* * *

Je salue de même le groupe des chrétiens libanais, “pèlerins de la paix”, venus de toutes les régions du Liban. Chers amis, malgré les actes de violence qui se perpétuent de façon inhumaine en votre chère patrie, vous avez entrepris ce pèlerinage à travers plusieurs pays; vous êtes allés prier saint François à Assise, et vous voilà près des tombeaux des Apôtres Pierre et Paul, surs que la paix sera le don de Dieu accordé à ceux qui cherchent sa volonté. Que le Seigneur vous soutienne! Ici nous prions tous pour vous, et pour ceux qui ont besoin de paix à travers le monde.

Et en ce jour anniversaire de la mort de mon vénéré prédécesseur, le Pape Paul VI, nous avons une pensée spéciale pour ce grand pèlerin de la paix et de la civilisation de l’amour. A tous les participants à cette audience, je donne de grand cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai gruppi di espressione inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to welcome all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present at today’s audience. In particular my greeting goes to the Chinese pilgrims from Hong Kong who have come to Rome after a visit to the Holy Land. It is my prayer that each of you will be renewed in faith as you seek to share with others your pilgrimage to the places made sacred by Christ and his disciples.

I am also very pleased to welcome a parish group from Sacred Heart Church in Bahrain who are accompanied by their pastor.

I welcome the pilgrimages from England, Nigeria, Indonesia and the United States.

Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of peace and joy.

Ai gruppi di espressione spagnola

Deseo presentar mi más cordial bienvenida a esta Audiencia a todas las personas, familias y grupos de lengua española.

En particular, saludo a los componentes de la Coral Elisard, del Centro Católico de l’Hospitalet de Llobregat (Barcelona); asimismo, al grupo de universitarios de Sevilla y a los jóvenes del Centro Juvenil Claretiano de Segovia.

A todos los peregrinos y visitantes procedentes de los diversos Países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese

Ao exprimir cordiais boas-vindas a todos os presentes de língua portuguesa, saúdo em particular: um grupo de Estudantes Universitários de São Paulo-Brasil; e a numerosa representação da paróquia de Nossa Senhora de Fátima, de Viana do Castelo-Portugal. Desejando-vos felicidades, desejo também:

Que a vinda a Roma alente vossa fé e vida crista, com a protecção de Nossa Senhora, caminho seguro para Deus, pôr Cristo nosso Redentor e Salvador e Amigo dos Jovens. Dou-vos com afecto a Benção Apostólica, extensiva às vossas famílias e pessoas amigas de vossas terras.

Ai connazionali polacchi 

Witam serdecznie pielgrzymów z parafii św. Mikołaja z Krakowa; z parafii katedralnej z Tarnova; z parafii Bł. Królowej Jadwigi z Długiego koło Sanoka; pielgrzymów dekanatu Bytom, diecezja opolska; pielgrzymkę międzyzakonną sióstr diecezji opolskiej z ich dobrodziejami; pielgrzymkę uczennic i nauczycieli Liceum ogólnokszłcącego sióstr Sacré-Coeur z Polskiej Wsi koło Poznania; również młodzież akademicką z parafii św. Stanisława Kostki z Gdańska; prócz tego uczestników grup turystycznych, w szczególności grupę nauczycieli Logos Tour z Dnvinowa i Tczewina; PKS z Lublina; Orbis ze Śląska, Sport-Tourist z Lublina; grupę Polaków przebywających w Capalbio; Orbis - grupa z parafii św. Piotra i Pawla w Tarnowskich Górach; załogę jachtu “Janina”; oraz wokalno-instrumentalny zespół “Oratorium” z Radomia . . . Wszystkim życzę błogosławieństwa Bożego i proszę, żebyście je przekazali naszym Rodakom i waszym najbliższym w Ojczyźnie. 

Ai gruppi italiani 

Nel salutare i vari gruppi di pellegrini di lingua italiana, desidero ricordare l’anniversario della morte del mio predecessore Paolo VI, invitando tutti ad una preghiera di suffragio nella memoria di questo amato Pastore della Chiesa.

Cordialmente porgo un saluto alle suore dell’Istituto Figlie di Maria Santissima dell’Orto, convenute a Roma da varie località d’Italia e d’America in occasione del loro 25° e 50° di professione religiosa. A tutte il mio augurio cordiale, insieme con l’invito a vivere sempre più intensamente una profonda unione d’amore con Cristo, vostro sposo. 

* * * 

Saluto, poi, le associate all’Istituto Secolare Figlie della Regina degli Apostoli, che svolgono il loro annuale corso di aggiornamento impegnandosi, quest’anno, ad approfondire lo studio dei documenti del Concilio Vaticano II. 

* * * 

Il mio pensiero va, poi, ai giovani ciclisti della parrocchia di Campofiorenzo di Casatenovo, in Diocesi di Milano, i quali vogliono recare da Roma una fiaccola votiva per la consacrazione della loro chiesa parrocchiale, dedicata alla Madonna di Czestochowa.

A tutti il mio cordiale saluto e la mia Benedizione. 

Ai giovani 

Desidero ora rivolgere un pensiero particolarmente affettuoso a tutti i ragazzi e giovani, che prendono parte a questa Udienza. Nella luce della Trasfigurazione del Signore sul monte Tabor, cui oggi ci richiama la Liturgia, vi esorto a non cessare mai di contemplare il volto del Cristo trasfigurato e di accogliere la voce che si fece sentire dal cielo: “Questi è il mio Figlio diletto . . . ascoltatelo”. Cercate il suo volto, lasciatevi prendere dalla sua bellezza e dal suo fascino, e camminate alla sua luce, quella che illumina ogni anima e rischiara ogni scelta e ogni fatica. In questo tempo di vacanze estive, in cui le scuole sono chiuse, mettetevi alla Scuola di Gesù ed egli illuminerà le vostre menti e istruirà i vostri cuori.

Vi accompagni sempre la mia Benedizione. 

Agli ammalati 

Anche a voi ammalati, presenti a questo incontro familiare, e a quanti soffrono negli ospedali, esprimo il mio pensiero cordiale. Vi dico altresì la mia riconoscenza per l’offerta, quanto mai preziosa, che voi fate del vostro dolore ad edificazione della Chiesa.

Mentre vi incoraggio a saper superare sempre con fortezza cristiana tutte le prove a cui vi assoggetta la malattia, vi assicuro la mia costante preghiera al Signore perché vi liberi dal male. A vostro sollievo spirituale vi benedico con affetto. 

Agli sposi novelli 

Saluto infine gli sposi novelli, esprimendo loro fervide felicitazioni per il traguardo conseguito, e sinceri auguri per una vita coniugale serena e ricca di frutti.

L’affetto che unisce i vostri cuori sia sempre sorgente di vera gioia cristiana e trovi il suo alimento quotidiano nei grandi ideali del Vangelo e nei Sacramenti della Chiesa.

Vi conforti la mia Benedizione.

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