By Lindsay Schlegel
As September ends and October begins, the Church celebrates not one, but two feasts that put angels front and center. The Feast of the Archangels (also known as the feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael) is celebrated on September 29, and the Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels follows soon after, on October 2.
Angels are “spiritual creatures who glorify God without ceasing and who serve his saving plans for other creatures” and who “surround Christ their Lord. … [serving] him especially in the accomplishment of his saving mission to men” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 350, 351). The Catechism explains further, with the aid of St. Augustine, that “With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they ‘always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven’ they are the ‘mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word.’”
Though of course we as humans are corporeal beings—we have bodies—we are also called to love and serve the Lord. And so, we can look to the angels, who have special roles to play in the life of the Church and in our individual lives as disciples, to help us on our shared mission.
We are reminded of their glorifying God every time the Mass is offered. In the Preface, just before the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” we hear, “And so with choirs of angels, with all the heavenly host, we proclaim your glory and join their unending song of praise.” (This prayer is slightly modified for different feasts and seasons throughout the year, but the emphasis is the same.)
As humans, we are created and called to glorify our Lord, and to do so with the hosts of the powers of heaven is a great gift! When kids get distracted during Mass, this can be a prime opportunity to draw their attention back to the mystery happening before their eyes. “Here it is,” you might tell your child, “the moment when we sing with the angels! Join me!”
The Church “venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being” (CCC 352). St. Thomas Aquinas taught that, “The angels work together for the benefit of us all.” The three archangels—or high-ranking angels—have their own roles in salvation history and in guarding the Church. Among them in Scripture, we see St. Michael fighting the dragon in the Book of Revelation. We see St. Gabriel appearing to Mary at the Annunciation. St. Raphael is a key player in the Book of Tobit.
Perhaps like in my parish, yours has the tradition of ending each Mass with the prayer to St. Michael. If not, this is a wonderful prayer to learn as a family, either to start your day or to offer when a child is feeling worried or frightened.
Guardian angels, too, have a special place among God’s creation. Every soul has a guardian angel assigned to it, “to light, to guard, to rule, to guide,” as the prayer goes. (This is another great prayer to offer each morning.) You can pray to your own guardian angel or to your child’s guardian angel, and take comfort in an extra level of spiritual protection.
Angels are not saints. They are not the spirits of loved ones who have gone before us and now look down upon us from up above. Though we often see them depicted in artistic renderings as people with wings, angels are completely spiritual beings; they don’t have bodies. It’s important that we don’t talk about them in these ways with our children, so our kids understand and appreciate the powerful and encouraging truth of what the angels are and how they journey with us each day.
Lindsay Schlegel is the author of Don't Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God. She and her high-school-sweetheart-turned-husband live in New Jersey with their five children.