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Giving Glory to God with the Holy Angels

Stained glass window at St Austin and St Gregory (Photo: Fr Timothy Finigan)

On Friday, we celebrated Michaelmas, the feast of St Michael the Archangel, and (on Monday) tomorrow, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. So it is a good time to remind ourselves of the teaching of the Church which we believe with faith concerning these spiritual beings.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states clearly

“The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.” (382)

The name ‘angel’ refers to their work for us, as messengers of God.

The angels are personal spiritual beings who constantly look upon the face of the Father even as they enlighten our minds, guard us from evil, and prompt us to do what is right and good. The Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, whose works are told in the scriptures, were given greater missions by God for the sake of the whole world. When a third of the angels rebelled against God with the battle cry non serviam “I will not serve”, St Michael defeated Lucifer and his cohorts in battle, sending them to hell. It is speculated that they rebelled against God for His kindness and mercy, and for the privilege that he gave to us inferior creatures of flesh and blood in allowing us to receive His grace and even to share in His body and blood.

The angels feature frequently in the gospels. St Gabriel brought the message of the Father to Our Lady, asking her graciously to consent to being the mother of God the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The angelic choir gave glory and praise to Christ at His birth in the words we sing at Mass Gloria in excelsis Deo, “Glory to God in the highest.” An angel ministered to Our Lord in His passion, the angels told the women that the Lord had risen, and angels told the apostles that the ascended Lord would return as they had seen Him ascend.

Our Lord Himself taught the apostles that the children have their own guardian angels, as do we all, spirits who watch over us to guard and guide us, and to prompt us to good, especially when we are tempted by the devil to sin.

In the sacred Liturgy, the angels are frequently mentioned, the high point being in the Preface, and then the Sanctus which is the chant of the seraphim in the presence of God in the Temple as described by the prophet Isaiah. (Is 6.3)

When we offer Christ to the Father in union with the whole Church, we are also united with the court of heaven which includes the choirs of angels. Their ministry to us is of immense value and we do well to pray both the prayer to St Michael the Archangel, and regularly to use the prayer to our Guardian Angel. As St Paul reminds us, when we struggle in the spiritual life, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spirits of wickedness. We need not fear them as our heavenly Father has given us His angels to protect, enlighten and guide us. When our Father has been so generous in sending them to us, it is foolish to ignore their ministry.

Christian Celebration of the Harvest

Anglo-saxon Christians were all influenced by natural times and seasons, and the harvest was of great importance to them. Some older folklore did survive, but usually in a Christianised form. It is a modern superstition to invest such festivals with a sanitised modern pagan meaning. The celebration of Harvest is something natural to us as Christians.

Harvest began with “Lammas” the Hlaf Maesse or loaf Mass at the beginning of August when the first corn was harvested and loaves were made from it to be used at the celebration of Mass. It ended on Michaelmas, 29 October, the feast of the Holy Archangel St Michael.

Today we are largely distanced from the natural cycles of the earth by the availability of foods all year round, by electric light and central heating, and by being able to buy all our food from the produce of others.

The Harvest Festival teaches us of the goodness of God’s creation, and our duty to give thanks to the Lord for His generosity. Although we are mostly distanced from the production of the harvest, we do in fact rely on it, and on the working of the universe that God created. Thanks to the intellect which he gave us and to the work of others, we are able now to produce food with great efficiency, providing for far more people than in the past. As Christians, we attach importance to the invetigation of our world by means of the natural sciences. It is a myth, sadly repeated ignorantly at times by those involved in education, to describe the Church as opposed to science: the opposite is true, since the original impetus for scientific research found its place in Christian philosophy, and is beginning to break down precisely with the loss of that Christian culture.

Our celebration of the harvest is a celebration of God’s magnificent creation and the wisdom with which it is shot through, a wisdom that we did not put there, but discover by the hard work of scientific research, which can at its best, lead to great advances in the production of food, and the well-being of people throughout the world.

Therefore we also remember those who produce our food, and those around the world who suffer from poverty and famine, doing what is in our power to help by our charity, knowing that when we show love for others, we are counted by Our Lord as having shown that love for Him.

Rejoicing in the Gifts and Blessings of Others

Guido Reni - St Filippo Neri in Ecstasy - WGA19295
Guido Reni. St Filippo Neri in Ecstasy (1614) Santa Maria in Vallicella, Rome

The 9th and 10th commandments forbid us from coveting another’s spouse, or the property of another. A common fault which leads to this sin is envy of another’s good or jealousy of our own. These disordered passions can lead us to become sad or angry and can give rise to hatred of individuals and division within a community.

These faults, like all sin and evil, are irrational. They stem from a desire for what will in fact do us harm spiritually and often materially, and from a failure to cherish the gifts that the Father has given to each of us, and the grace that He has won for us by the redeeming death of His Son.

The remedy for such faults is to give thanks for all the blessings that God has given to us and to those that we know. In the Mass, we offer thanksgiving to the Father through Christ Our Lord and recognise that it is right and just to do so.

A good example may be found in the great saints of 16th century Europe who knew each other and rejoiced in the rich variety of different blessings that God gave through them to the Church as priests, religious, missionaries, experts in prayer and leaven in society.

Calumny, Detraction and St John Vianney

St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars
St John Vianney, the Curé of Ars

The eighth commandment “You shall not bear false witness” forbids the telling of lies and other sins by which we offend against truth. Particularly harmful are calumny, when we harm the reputation of others by remarks that are untrue, and detraction, which discloses the faults and failings of another, without a valid reason, to persons who did not know them.

The Curé of Ars observed that “The great bulk of malicious talk is done by people who are simply irresponsible, who have an itch to chatter about others without feeling any need to discover whether what they are saying is true or false. They just have to talk.” In our time, this loose gossip can be magnified by the use of social media and a more permanent record of it is made.

Whenever we have harmed a person’s reputation without just cause, we are bound to make restitution.

Cardinal Sarah recently wrote a book called “The Power of Silence. Against the Dictatorship of Noise.” He gives a valuable witness which applies not only to our prayers but also to our lives in the world when we often need to resist the urge to speak about someone else without justification.

Masses for the Feast of the Assumption

Francesco Botticini - The Assumption of the Virgin
Francesco Botticini – “L’Elezione della Vergine” National Gallery. London.
The feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Tuesday 15 August is a Holyday of obligation on which we are bound to attend Mass. Masses in the parish are as follows:

  • 10am at St Anne’s
  • 12noon at St Austin and St Gregory
  • 7.30pm at St Austin and St Gregory (sung traditional Latin Mass)

The Fifth Commandment and St Theresa of Calcutta

St Theresa of Calcutta
St Theresa of Calcutta

The fifth commandment that God gave to Moses is “Thou shalt not kill.” The Lord commands that we do not kill the innocent, and by extension, that we do not hurt our neighbour by our words or actions. Sadly, we live in a culture which allows for the killing of many innocent people. Since 1967, our Government’s statistics report that over eight million children have been killed before birth.

We are currently facing increasing calls for the legalisation of assisted suicide. In opposing this, we do not condemn efforts to relieve pain, to make people comfortable, to desist from extraordinary or burdensome treatment, but we do not accept that it is ever right to give someone a drug or treatment with the deliverate purpose of ending their life. The difference is easy to understand. If we are giving end of life care to relieve someone’s pain or make them comfortable, the success criterion is “Are they comfortable and free from pain?” If we are acting to end someone’s life, the success criterion is “Have they died yet?”

It is a responsibility for those who are able, to engage in public debate on these questions, but all of us can contribute to the good of society and upholding the sanctity of human life by speaking out within our own families and among our friends.

Unfortunately, many Catholics are confused on these issues. Pressure from the spirit of the age has led many to compromise on their faith, to excuse, encourage, condone or otherwise co-operate in the taking of human life before birth. As we see an ever more extreme undermining of the family and of human life, it is a good time to think again, to turn back to the Lord and His truth, to ask his forgiveness, and to know that such forgiveness is given generously.

By way of understanding the contribution of a reverence for the sanctity of life to the good of society, it is helpful to consider those who have been heroic in this regard. Let us take the example of St Theresa of Calcutta, canonised last year by Pope Francis.

St Theresa of Calcutta is known primarily for her care for the poor, and for her lifelong insistence that it is the love with which we care for others that matters. She said:

“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
“Jesus said love one another. He didn’t say love the whole world.”
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

St Theresa was subject to virulent criticism both during her life and after her death because her love for the poor extended to those who are unborn. When she received the Nobel Peace Prize, she shocked polite sensibilities by speaking up for the right to life of the unborn. That was not supposed to be in the script. In fact, two of her most trenchant critics were invited to give evidence at her canonisation process so that all the objections could be heard.

Let us pray to St Theresa of Calcutta for all mothers in difficulty, for those suffering in their conscience for having made bad decisions in the past, and for those who helped them in these decisions. Let us turn to our merciful and loving Saviour for the strength to be apostles of life.

Saint Anne, Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Medieval England pioneered devotion to St Anne, which grew from the roots of love for Our Lady which was such a notable part of life in Saxon England. The influence of the East may also have been a factor through St Theodore of Tarsus, the seventh century Archbishop of Canterbury who enriched England with Eastern theology and experience.

St Anne shows that models for saintly Christian women have been varied in the Church for many centuries. We do indeed have the glory of the virgin martyrs, young saints and heroines, and we rightly celebrate them, but we also have among the “great cloud of witnesses” those who were married, like St Anne. Bearing a child in later life and recognised as a grandmother figure for all of us, St Anne also reminds us of the Church’s respect for the wisdom and experience of old age.

We pray to her especially for the family today, for the recognition among young and old Catholics, of the value of Christian marriage and the sanctity of human life. Her care of Our Blessed Lady also encourages us in our Marian devotion.

Love and Reverence for the Living God

João Zeferino da Costa - Moisés recebendo as tábuas da lei - 1868
João Zeferino da Costa. Moses receiving the tablets of the law. (1868)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the ten commandments as a structural summary of our life in Christ. The first commandment is “I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.” and the second is “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

Our first duty is to recognise and know the one true God. Our spiritual life is not based on a myth, but on the living God who created the universe, and who loves us. As Christians, we especially value science because it teaches us something of the magnificence of God’s creation.

The second commandment teaches us to show reverence for God. He did indeed humble Himself to come close to us, being born in human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, but He remains almighty, eternal, and infinite in every perfection.

We show our love and reverence in the worship that we give, and our devout attitude in prayer. In our daily lives, reverence is also marked by a holy fear which is a powerful motive against offending our loving Father.

Welcoming Christ Among Us

Jacopo Tintoretto - The Visitation (detail) - WGA22432
Jacopo Tintoretto. The Visitation. (c.1549) Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna

The prophet Elisha rewarded the Shunamite woman’s hospitality by praying for the birth of the son she hoped for. Our Lord refers to those who welcome a prophet and promises reward to those who welcome the saints and disciples.

He also taught us that when we show charity to others, we are doing that for Him. A model for this can be found in the mystery of the Visitation of Our Lady to St Elizabeth. The hospitality that St Elizabeth showed was not only an act of charity to Our Lady but in very truth the welcoming of Christ into her home.

Even though he was only an embryo of a few days, Our Lord was recognised by St Elizabeth and by the child in her own womb, St John the Baptist. Both were rewarded by the grace of the Holy Spirit who worked in their lives and sanctified their souls. There were among the first to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.

We must learn to recognise Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and use the grace that we receive to minister to Him in others by our active works of charity.

Jesus Christ, Our Life More Abundant

Our Lord said “I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (Jn 10.10) When being tempted by the devil, he quoted the verse “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4.4) Jesus Christ is Himself the Word made flesh and we are made to live on Him. As St Paul said to the Athenians at the Areopagus “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17.28)

The manner in which we would live in and through Christ was given to us by Christ Himself in the Blessed Eucharist. He taught the people: “As the living Father sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eats me, the same also shall live by me.” (Jn 6.58) This was the plan of God from the beginning, that He would give us Himself to be the food and life of our souls.

When we receive Holy Communion with the right dispositions, we are being nourished in the way that God chose to provide for us. This is what gives us “life more abundant” according to the desire and love of Christ for us.