Saturday, May 22, 2010

Angels in the Church

Guariento di Arpo, ca.1310-1370
Principatus/ Armed angel 1354
Tempera on wood,
90x55 cm,
Museo Medioevale e Moderno, Arezzo

On Saturday, 29 September 2007 (the Memorial of the three Archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael), Pope Benedict XVI episcopally ordained six bishops.

He said:

"We are celebrating this Episcopal Ordination on the Feast of the three Archangels who are mentioned by name in Scripture: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

This reminds us that in the ancient Church - already in the Book of Revelation - Bishops were described as "angels" of their Church, thereby expressing a close connection between the Bishop's ministry and the Angel's mission.

From the Angel's task it is possible to understand the Bishop's service.

But what is an Angel?

Sacred Scripture and the Church's tradition enable us to discern two aspects.

On the one hand, the Angel is a creature who stands before God, oriented to God with his whole being.

All three names of the Archangels end with the word "El", which means "God". God is inscribed in their names, in their nature. Their true nature is existing in his sight and for him.

In this very way the second aspect that characterizes Angels is also explained: they are God's messengers. They bring God to men, they open heaven and thus open earth. Precisely because they are with God, they can also be very close to man.

Indeed, God is closer to each one of us than we ourselves are.

The Angels speak to man of what constitutes his true being, of what in his life is so often concealed and buried. They bring him back to himself, touching him on God's behalf.

In this sense, we human beings must also always return to being angels to one another - angels who turn people away from erroneous ways and direct them always, ever anew, to God.

If the ancient Church called Bishops "Angels" of their Church, she meant precisely this: Bishops themselves must be men of God, they must live oriented to God. "Multum orat pro populo" - "Let them say many prayers for the people", the Breviary of the Church says of holy Bishops.

The Bishop must be a man of prayer, one who intercedes with God for human beings. The more he does so, the more he also understands the people who are entrusted to him and can become an angel for them - a messenger of God who helps them to find their true nature by themselves, and to live the idea that God has of them. "

Perhaps that is why this year the Comitato di San Floriano at Illegio (Friuli VG in Italy) decided that the theme of this year`s exhibition of religious art would be on the theme of Angels - Faces of the Invisible ( 22 April – 3 October 2010)

The Bishop as Angel is not a new comparison. About thirty years after his death, Pope Paul V said of Saint Charles Borromeo:

"In His wonderful dispensation He has set a great light on the Apostolic rock when He singled Charles out of the heart of the Roman Church as the faithful priest and good servant to be a model for the pastors and their flock.

He enlightened the whole Church from the light diffused by his holy works.

He shone forth before priests and people as innocent as Abel, pure as Enoch, tireless as Jacob, meek as Moses, and zealous as Elias. Surrounded by luxury, he exhibited the austerity of Jerome, the humility of Martin, the pastoral zeal of Gregory, the liberty of Ambrose, and the charity of Paulinus.

In a word, he was a man we could see with our eyes and touch with our hands.

He trampled earthly things underfoot and lived the life of the spirit.

Although the world tried to entice him he lived crucified to the world.

He constantly sought after heavenly things, not only because he held the office of an angel but all because even on earth he tried to think and act as an angel."
(Paul V, Papal bull of November 15, 1610, Unigenitus)