The Holy Angels of God, by Father Michael J. Watson, S.J.

Guardian Angel Protecting a Child from the Empire of the Demon

“Bless the Lord, all ye His Angels: you that are mighty in strength, and execute His word, hearkening to the voice of His orders.” – Psalm 102:2

A striking feature of the history of the human Race, as set forth for our instruction and contemplation in the Bible, is the kindly dealing of Angels with men. We read that the holy spirits, appearing in visible forms on certain important occasions, made known how the Creator’s Will was to be carried into effect for man’s benefit in time and eternity. As those sublime intelligences are to be our companions in bliss and glory throughout the endless years of our life in heaven, it is assuredly fitting that here on earth we should try to know and love beings so worthy of esteem for their peerless perfection and of gratitude and affection for the many benefits they confer on man.

Angels are the most noble and beautiful creations of God’s wisdom and power; they are princes of heaven, and the brightest images of Divine excellence. Not imprisoned, as men are, in corruptible bodies, they are all pure spirits, like God Himself, and are endowed with surpassing natural and supernatural gifts. Man, in his nature, is inferior to them in every way; he is made, the Scripture declares, “less than the Angels”; but when, after death, we are delivered from the bonds of corruption, we shall share in their privileges and their glory. In the beginning, the Angels did not see God face to face; that Beatific Vision was to be the reward of their obedience and humility. That their love of God might be tested, they were subjected to a trial. As is generally believed, the Son of God, in His future Incarnation as man, was proposed to them as the object of their adoration. No doubt God the Son, considered merely in His human nature with a body formed of the dust of the earth, was inferior to the Angels who were spirits; but that human nature, by reason of its union with the Divinity, was worthy of their profound veneration and worship. Lucifer, one of the chief Angels, seeing his own excellence, was puffed up with pride and refused to obey; but Michael and the spirits faithful to God, preserved by reverence and truth in true humility, fought against the rebels and cast them into the prison “which was prepared for the devil and his angels.” “I saw,” said Our Lord Jesus Christ, “Satan like lightning falling from heaven.”

God’s Holy Angels, as the reward for their fidelity, were admitted to gaze upon their Creator with un-clouded knowledge. Standing in His presence and inflamed with perfect love, they are clothed with surpassing splendour, and thrill with complete and eternal happiness, which is ever fresh and new. Most worthy are those glorious beings of our reverence. Bring spirits, we cannot see them with our eyes of flesh, but when, by Divine permission, they make themselves visible to men, they always appear under a noble and gracious form, as if their beauty, incapable of being wholly concealed, breaks through the external appearance they assume. Thus, the Bible tells us that the Angel Raphael showed himself to Tobias as “a beautiful young man.” King Nabuchodonosor saw an Angel whose majestic and dazzling loveliness could belong to none, he thought, but the Son of God. When the prophet Daniel stood one day by the great river Tigris, he beheld an Angel who was apparelled in snow-white linen, girt with cincture of finest gold;

“his body was like the chrysolite, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as a burning lamp; and his arms and all downward, even to the feet, like in appearance to glittering brass, and the voice of his word like the voice of a multitude.” (Daniel 10:4, 8)

Consternation seized the prophet, and his strength ebbing away, he fell on the earth and held his face close to the ground. The Angel gently raised him to his feet and gave him strength to hear a message from God regarding the coming of the promised Messiah.

Each human being has an Angel to stand ever by his side and help him to resist temptation and win the Kingdom of Heaven. How much we owe our Guardian Angels! They preserve us from many unknown dangers to soul and body. They defend us against the demons. They breathe holy thoughts into our soul; they prompt us to deeds, even heroic deeds, of virtue in the Divine, and they fling their mighty strength around us when we are dying and so save us from the last attacks of our spiritual foes. Full of zeal and jealous are they for God’s honour, for the interest of those committed to their care, and for the innocence of the young. “Beware,” says Our Saviour, “of giving scandal to those little ones; for their Angels always behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.” Saint Bernard tells us that we owe our Angels profound respect for their presence, and confidence in their love and power to protect us, as well as gratitude for the great benefits which they confer. The heavenly spirits look upon themselves as our elder brothers; nay, to speak in our human way, they are passionate lovers of all whom God has charged them to guard. Saint Paul says,

“Are they not all ministering spirits, sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14)

And in the 90th Psalm, the Holy Ghost declares,

“No evil shall approach unto thee, neither shall the scourge come nigh thy dwelling. For He hath given His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways: in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone.”

Through this angelic guardianship, “thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk; the lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under foot.” Thus do they watch over each individual soul, even if that soul is in a state of sin, and they act as protectors to hamlets, cities and kingdoms. In the Book of Exodus (13:21) we see how, in the desert, an Angel of God went before the people to show the way by day in a pillar of cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire, that he might be the guide of their journey at both times. We may, indeed, say that this earth of ours is full of innumerable spirits to defend all who are specially dear to God. When an army, with horses and chariots, beset the city of Samaria to slay the prophet Eliseus, and the prophet’s servant cried out in terror, Eliseus prayed: “Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the eyes of the servant and he saw, and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Eliseus. And the prophet said:

“Fear not, for, as thou seest, there are more with us than with them.” (4 Kings 6)

Also, when Sennacherib, the King of the Assyrians, marched with a mighty army against Jerusalem, an Angel of the Lord protected the city, and entering in the night into the Assyrian camp, slew one hundred and eighty-five thousand men; and Sennacherib departed and returned to his own land. This even is graphically described by the poet –

For the angel of death spread his wings on the blast
And breathed on the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers wax’d deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved and for ever grew still.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broken in the temples of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, un-smote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord

The prophet Zachary represents the Angels as declaring, “We have walked through the earth, and behold all the earth is inhabited and at rest.” (1:2) Thus, by day and by night, there are countless angelic guardians that fill this world of ours and keep watch both when we wake and when we sleep. In the works of Cardinal Newman a beautiful passage dwells upon this fact of the Angels’ unresting watchfulness in their ministry among men and of their unceasing operations in the sphere of nature and of grace. The passage referred to is here quoted in full.

When we survey Almighty God surrounded by His Holy Angels, His thousand thousands of ministering spirits, and then thousand times ten thousand standing before Him, the idea of His awful majesty rises before us more powerfully and impressively; we being to see how little we are, how altogether mean and worthless in ourselves, and how high He is and fearful.

The very lowest of his Angels is indefinitely above us in this our present state; how high then must be the Lord of Angels! The very Seraphim hide their faces before His glory while they praise Him; how shame-faced, then, should sinners be when they come into His presence! Thus, whenever we look abroad, we are reminded of those most gracious and holy beings, the servants of the Holiest, who deign to minister to the heirs of salvation. Every breath of air and ray of light and heat, every beautiful prospect is, as it were, the skirts of their garments, the waving of the robes of those whose faces see God in heaven, and I put it to anyone whether it is not as philosophical, and as full of intellectual enjoyment, to refer the movements of the natural world to them as to attempt to explain them by certain theories of science, useful as these theories certainly are for particular purposes, and capable (in subordination to that higher view) of a religious application.

Suppose an inquirer into Nature, when examining a flower, or a herb, or a pebble, or a ray of light, which he treats as something beneath him in the scale of existence, suddenly discovered that he was in the presence of some powerful being, who was hidden behind the visible things he was inspecting, who though concealing his wise hand, was giving them their beauty, grace, and perfection, as being God’s instrument for the purpose, nay, whose robe and ornament those wondrous objects were which he was so eager to analyze, what would be his thoughts? Should we but accidentally show a rudeness of manner towards our fellow-man, tread on the hem of his garment, or brush roughly against him, are we not vexed, not as if we had hurt him, but from the fear we have of having been disrespectful? David had watched the awful pestilence three days, not with curious eyes, but doubtless with indescribable terror and remorse; but when at length he lifted up his eyes, and saw the Angel of the Lord (who caused the pestilence) stand between the earth and the heavens, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem, then David and the elders who were clothed in sack-cloth fell upon their faces. The mysterious, irresistible pestilence became still more fearful when its cause was known. And what is true of the painful is true, on the other hand, of the pleasant and attractive operations of Nature. When, then, we walk abroad and meditate in the field at eventide, how much has every herb and flower in it to surprise and overwhelm us? For, even did we know as much about them as the wisest of men, yet there are those around us, though unseen, to whom our greatest knowledge is as ignorance; and when we converse on the subjects of Nature, scientifically repeating the names of plants and earths, and describing their properties, we should do so religiously, as in the hearing of the great servants of God, with the sort of diffidence which we always feel when speaking before the learned and wise of our own mortal race, as poor beginners in intellectual knowledge as well as in moral attainments.

– Parochian Sermons, volume 2, sermon 29

The Angelic Spirits are divided into Nine Choirs mentioned in Holy Scripture:

  1. The Seraphim, whose distinguishing characteristic is burning love for God.
  2. The Cherubim, who possess a wondrous knowledge of God and of His infinite beauty.

  3. The Thrones, the representatives of God’s Majesty.
  4. The Dominations: they teach that the true way to hold rule or dominion and to reign is to serve God, and so possess true liberty, or freedom from passion and sin, and from the slavery of the devil.
  5. The Virtues, who represent God’s Might, and impart strength and fortitude in the Divine service.
  6. The Powers: they restrain the malice, craft and power of the demons, lead men to obey all lawful authority for God’s sake.
  7. The Principalities, the guardians of provinces, kingdoms and peoples.
  8. The Archangels, the captains of the heavenly armies, are sent by the Most High as His messengers to men.
  9. The Angels: from this, the lowest Choir, the Guardians of individual human beings are taken, although it may be that Guardian Angels are appointed, also, from the higher Choirs.

We read in the Apocalypse (1:4, 4:5) of seven spirits who stand always before the Throne of God. The three mighty Angels, whose names are given in the Bible, belong to this glorious company – Saint Michael (“Who is like God?”), the conqueror of Lucifer; Saint Gabriel (“the Strength of God”), the ambassador of the Incarnation; and Saint Raphael, endowed with the power to heal all infirmity and the ravages of sin, whose name signifies “the Medicine of God”. Some say that the Angel who slew the host of Sennacherib, was Saint Uriel (“the Strong Companion”), but his name is not mentioned in the Bible.

Volumes have been written on the Holy Angels, full of most interesting matter; but even the slight and imperfect sketch in this pamphlet may serve to show how worthy of serious attention is devotion to those Heavenly Princes, and how we ought to take to heart the advice of Pope Saint Leo the Great, “Confirmate amicitias cum sanctis angelis” – “Make friendships with the Holy Angels.” Certainly, no earthly fiends can vie with them in goodness, in power, and in love for men. Therefore, all through life we should regard them as our most faithful friends, and invoke their help daily in prosperity and affliction.

An easy way to practice devotion to these Nine Choirs is on Sunday to honour (by asking their prayers) the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Thrones; on Monday the Holy Dominations; on Tuesday the Holy Virtues; on Wednesday the Holy Powers; on Thursday the Holy Principalities; on Friday the Archangels; and on Saturday, the Choir of Angels. It is extraordinary what great benefits to body, mind and soul are obtained by sincere and persevering devotion to those Most Glorious Heavenly Princes.

Saint Peter and His Guardian Angel

About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (It was [the] feast of Unleavened Bread.) He had him taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He intended to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.

On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists. The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.” So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first guard, then the second, and came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them by itself. They emerged and made their way down an alley, and suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter recovered his senses and said, “Now I know for certain that [the] Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.” When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer. When he knocked on the gateway door, a maid named Rhoda came to answer it. She was so overjoyed when she recognized Peter’s voice that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. They told her, “You are out of your mind,” but she insisted that it was so. But they kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued to knock, and when they opened it, they saw him and were astounded. He motioned to them with his hand to be quiet and explained [to them] how the Lord had led him out of the prison, and said, “Report this to James and the brothers.” Then he left and went to another place. At daybreak there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. Herod, after instituting a search but not finding him, ordered the guards tried and executed. Then he left Judea to spend some time in Caesarea.

He had long been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, who now came to him in a body. After winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they sued for peace because their country was supplied with food from the king’s territory. On an appointed day, Herod, attired in royal robes, [and] seated on the rostrum, addressed them publicly. The assembled crowd cried out, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” At once the angel of the Lord struck him down because he did not ascribe the honor to God, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. But the word of God continued to spread and grow.

After Barnabas and Saul completed their relief mission, they returned to Jerusalem, taking with them John, who is called Mark.

– Acts, chapter 12

Saint Michael

“There was a great battle in heaven; Michael and his angels fought with the Dragon, and the Dragon fought and his Angels: and they prevalied not, neither was their place found any more in heaven.” – Apocalypse 12:7,8

Saint Michael, who is the guardian and patron of the Church, is considered to be the first of all the Angels in glory, and the most exalted of the Seraphim. He is called an Archangel when he acts as a messenger from God to men. The Lord has given him the office of defending the soul at death, conducting it to judgment, and leading it, if found pure enough, to the Kingdom of the Blessed.

The feast of Saint Michael and all Angels is observed on September 29th every year. A similar Feast, called the Apparition of Saint Michael, falls on the 8th May. The Divine Office and Mass of the two Feasts are substantially the same.

Short Prayers

Most glorious Prince, Michael the Archangel, be mindful of us: pray for us always, both here and everywhere, to the Son of God. Saint Michael, Archangel, defend us in the day of battle that we may not be lost in the dreadful judgment. – Pope Leo XIII, 19 August 1893

Saint Michael, intercede for us that we may die a good death. Amen.

Novena to Saint Michael

The Novena may be made at any time of the year, and with any form of prayers sanctioned by competent ecclesiastical authority. – Pope Pius IX, 26 November 1876

Prayer to Saint Michael

Blessed Michael, Archangel, defend us in the hour of conflict; be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God restrain him, we humble pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust Satan down to hell, and with him the other wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen. – from the prayers ordered by Pope Leo XIII to be said after Mass

Novena to Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael

A Novena to either of the Archangels may be made at any time of the year with any form of prayer sanctioned by competent ecclesiastical authority. – Pope Pius IX, 26 November 1876

Prayer to Saint Raphael

O Glorious Archangel, Saint Raphael, great Prince of the heavenly court, illustrious for thy gifts of wisdom and grace, guide of those who journey by land and sea, consoler of the afflicted, and refuge of sinners, I beg thee to assist me in all my needs and in all the sufferings of this life as once thou didst help the young Tobias on his travels. And because thou art the medicine of God, I humbly pray thee to heal the many infirmities of my soul, and the ills which afflict my body, if it be for my greater good. I specially ask of thee an angelic purity which may fit me to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. Amen. – Pope Leo XIII, 21 June 1890

The Angel Guardian

“He hath given His Angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.” – Psalm 110

“Reverence your Angel Guardian,” says Saint Bernard, “on account of his presence. Never do anything in his sight that you would be ashamed of before an honourable man. Be grateful for the care he has of you. Have confidence in him, love him, and therefore turn to him and entreat his protection in all difficulties, dangers and temptations.”

The Church has appointed the 2nd October as the day to be observed in honour of the Guardian Angels. An indulgenced Novena might be made in preparation for the Feast.

Invocation of the Guardian Angel

O Angel of God, whom God hath appointed to be my guardian, enlighten and protect, direct and govern me. Amen.

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom His love commits me here,
Ever this day be at my side,
To light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

The Novena may be made at any time of the year, and with any form of prayers sanctioned by competent ecclesiastical authority. – Pope Pius IX, 26 November 1876

About this Work

This text is from The Holy Angels of God by Father Michael Watson, SJ, 2nd edition, published 1937 by the Irish Messenger, Dublin. It bears the nihil obstat of Carolus Doyle, SJ, and the imprimi potest of Archbishop Edward Joseph Byrne, 20 March 1937.