As we draw near to Christmas, we hear from the Bible of the role that angels played in the birth of Jesus. This Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year B) we hear the story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38), when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her she had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus. Even before that, in Luke 1:5-25, the angel Gabriel had appeared to Zechariah to tell him that Elizabeth would have John the Baptist as their child.

In Matthew 1:18-25, we hear of the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream to tell them that Mary had conceived by the power of God and that he was to take Mary and Jesus into his home.

In Luke 2:1-14, we hear the story of the birth of Jesus. An “angel of the Lord” appears to the shepherds to tell them, “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” This is followed by the “multitude of the heavenly host with the angel praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Then, in Matthew 2:13-15, an “angel of the Lord” again appeared to Joseph in a dream to tell him to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Mary to protect them from King Herod.

In all of these stories, we hear angels performing one of their primary duties, delivering a message from God. In fact, the word “angel” means messenger. The word “angel” appears in the Bible (New American Bible Revised Edition) 295 times. In those 295 times there are various roles fulfilled by angels. Hebrews 12:22b speaks of the “countless angels.” They do many things.

Before looking at other roles of angels, let us answer a more general question, “Who are the angels?” The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church answers in question 60, “The angels are purely spiritual creatures, incorporeal, invisible, immortal, and personal beings endowed with intelligence and will. They ceaselessly contemplate God face-to-face and they glorify him. They serve him and are his messengers in the accomplishment of his saving mission to all.”

Angels do appear in bodily form to be able to communicate with us but they are “purely spiritual creatures.” They are invisible. They are part of what God has made, “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible” (Nicene Creed).

The angels also have “intelligence and will.” They have free will (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 311). Unfortunately, not all angels use their free will to do good (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 391-395 on the Fall of the Angels).

Among the fallen angels is their leader, Satan (aka the devil, the tempter, the serpent). Genesis 3:1-5 speaks of the snake (serpent) as the cunning one who leaves Adam and Eve into the first sin, eating the forbidden fruit. Satan is this serpent.

Satan continues to try to lure us into sin. There is hope. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 395, “The power of Satan is, nonetheless, not infinite.” Satan can be defeated.

Revelation 12:1-18 tells of the defeat of the dragon, Satan, in Heaven. The archangel led this battle through the power of God. When the battle is won by God’s forces, the fallen angels are cast out. Here we see another role of the angels. They are our protectors against evil. St. Michael’s role here is why we say The Prayer to St. Michael for help in the battle against evil.

We each have a guardian angel. We know this from the Bible. Psalm 91:11 reads, “For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go.” In Matthew 18:10, Jesus himself speaks of the angels watching over us.

There are three angels that we know by name from the Bible. We call them Archangels, two of who I already mentioned, Michael and Gabriel. The third is Raphael who read we can read about in the Book of Tobit in the Old Testament. The term “archangel” is specifically used in the New Testament in Jude 9 and 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

As the angels protect us, they also come to Jesus’ aid when Satan tempts him in the desert (see Matthew 4:1-11, cf. Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13).

Angels, related to their roles as messengers and guardians, also serve as guides. As the Israelites are led out from slavery in Egypt, we hear that the angel of God was leading the Israelites (Exodus 14:19). The Lord assures us, “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared” (Exodus 23:20).

The last role I will discuss today fulfilled by the angels is that of harvesters. In Matthew 13:36-43, Jesus speaks of the harvest at the end of the ages, “and the harvesters are angels” (Matthew 13:39).

I will end with a link to my series, Our Saints and Intercessors. In the first presentation, I offer an introduction to the saints, including much of the same material covered here on the angels.


Fr. Jeff

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