Angels in Italy

Angels in Italy

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All About God's Agents, Ambassadors and Executives

By Ed Masters

Photos by Beverly De Soto Stevens

Pope St. Gregory the Great’s vision of St Michael the Archangel sheathing his sword over the Castel Sant'Angelo in the 6th century, signifying the end of a plague that was devastating Rome.

It seems there’s angels everywhere in Italy – on bridges, in churches, on the facades of ancient buildings. In recent years, a revival of interest in angels, largely fueled by popular culture and New Age imaginings, has swept Italy along with the West. Of course, this modern fad would be very puzzling to our Christian forebears in Italy and throughout the ancient Christian world.

This is because the Christian understanding of angels is very old, and there’s a great deal more to be known than what today’s retailers may know.

The word angel comes from the Greek word “angelos” which means “messenger.” Both the Old and New Testaments as well as Church history feature angels in exactly this role — relaying messages from Heaven. We also find them assisting those in danger and executing God's judgment. Angels are pure spirits and possess intelligence and free will; they have appeared as humans at various times such as when St. Raphael helped Tobias.

According to theologians St. Jerome and St. John Damascene, as well as the Greek Fathers and the Doctors of the Church angels were created by God prior to when the world and the universe were created.  Others speculated that angels were created simultaneously with the physical world and universe, though before Adam and Eve.

The Fourth Lateran Council in A.D. 1215 stated that “God, by His Almighty power created together in the beginning of time both creatures spiritual and corporeal, namely the angelic and the earthly, and afterwards the human, as it were and intermediate creature, composed of body and spirit.” 

NON SERVIAM: Angels were created in the empyrean heaven, not in the Heaven of the Triune God, as they had to earn the right to see the Beatific Vision. God, therefore, tested the angels. Most of them proved their fidelity to God but thanks to the sin of pride, some did not. Writers have posited that as many as one third of the angelic realm fell, throwing in their lot with Lucifer (‘Light Bearer’) when he uttered his cry, “Non serviam!” (“I will not serve!”) Such angels are known as devils or demons. They do their utmost to prevent mankind from attaining Heaven.

The number of angels created is fixed; they are said to number in the millions as St. Gregory of Nyssa believed, if not billions. They can and have appeared as children and adults and while they are sexless beings are most often depicted in artwork and referred to as male or with masculine characteristics. Tuesday is the day of the week devoted to the Angels.

The Heavenly Choir

There are nine choirs of angels: Thrones, Dominations, Principalities, Virtues, Powers, Seraphim, Cherubim, Archangels, and Angels, that last of which our Guardian Angels come from. Formerly there were thought to be two more choirs of angels, Hosts and Aeons. Each choir of angels has their own duties.

The first hierarchy of angels are the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones. The Seraphim are the highest of the choirs of angels and interestingly enough are described in the Book of Isaias as having not two, but six wings. They sing the praises of the Trinity without ceasing as described by Isaias: “Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of His glory.” (This is included in the Sanctus portion of the Mass).

One of the Seraphim took a coal from the altar and touched it to the lips of Isaias and told him his sins had been taken away. This dovetails with the very meaning of the word Seraphim, which is “having a fiery love” or “burning” or “carriers of warmth.” St. Denis, the Patron of Paris, said they are the princes of pure love and the love they exude permeates like fire.

The Cherubim

The Cherubim are the angels associated with light and knowledge; the  word Cherubim is described as the “power to know”. The first time a Cherubim is mentioned is in the Book of Genesis as guarding Paradise with a flaming sword after Adam and Eve were expelled. Two images of Cherubim were placed on the Ark of the Covenant and are also mentioned often by the prophet Ezekiel in the book that bears his name. Cherubim are often portrayed in artwork as babies or small children.

Thrones

Just as earthly thrones are always above ground level, angelic Thrones are raised to being close to God's glory and infinite majesty. It's said that God pronounces His judgments and councils from the midst of these choirs of angels.

Thrones also have another function and trait, that of submission and peace. It's said that God takes up His rest within their midst and imparts His Spirit to them which they consequently pass onto the other angels and mankind.

Dominations, Virtues and Powers

The second hierarchy of angels are the Dominations, Virtues and Powers, which are concerned with the affairs of mankind here on Earth. St. Paul mentions them in the Epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians.

  • Dominations make God's holy will known to us mere mortals and are said to be the ‘secretaries of state’ as it were of Christ the King. These angels are said to have a special zeal for God's authority and making sure that it is properly maintained.
  • The Virtues carry out the orders issued by the Dominations. Pope St. Gregory the Great mentioned that through the Virtues, God performs most of His miracles as well as governing the seasons, the visible heavens and the elements.

Principalities, Archangels and Angels

The third hierarchy of angels are the Principalities, Archangels and Angels and they are specifically concerned with the affairs of mankind.

  • Principalities are executives; they have influence over the Archangels and Angels and they let them know the Orders from on high. They are said to assist in guarding nations and making announcements to mankind.
  • Archangels make God's will known at great moments. Both they and the Angels are notified by the Principalities in this regard. They are said to be given as guardians to those who have special work to do such as the Pope, certain Cardinals and Saints such as St. Frances of Rome, who was privileged enough to have an Archangel as her guardian. Archangels, along with Angels and Principalities, watch over nations, empires, cities, towns and villages and are charged with protecting them.
  • Angels are mentioned throughout the Old and New Testaments and are said to make God's will known in ordinary affairs.

Mighty Beings, More Powerful Than Any Demon

Angels are not the pacific creatures depicted in artwork but mighty beings, more powerful than any demon. Angels appeared throughout the Bible, bestowing aid and comfort to those who asked for it as well as executing God's commands that were not so pleasant to those on the receiving end such as King Herod Agrippa I.

  • An angel comforted Agar the mother of Ishmael after she was sent into the desert.
  • Jacob saw a ladder while he slept with angels ascending and descending up and down that ladder.
  • An angel fed the Prophet Elias with bread and water while he was fleeing from the wrath of Queen Jezebel.
  • Judith was helped by an angel in carrying out her plan to kill the Assyrian general Holofornes.
  • Angels scourged Heliodorus when he set out to profane the Temple in the Book of Maccabees.
  • An angel saved Shadrach, Mesach and Abendago from the fiery furnace in Babylon as well as shutting the mouths of the lions in the den where Daniel was cast so he would not be harmed.
  • An angel also carried the Prophet Habacuc by the hair to the den where Daniel was cast into so he could give Daniel food.
  • In the New Testament they announced the Birth of Christ, ministered to Jesus after He was tempted by Satan for forty days in the desert, released St. Peter from prison, appeared to St. Paul assuring him he would survive shipwreck, and St. John the Apostle saw thousands of them singing the praises of God in the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) as well as speaking with one angel in particular.
  • The Saints who saw and were assisted by angels throughout Church history are numerous and entire books could be written on that subject alone. St. Theodosius, St. Agnes, St. Dorothy, St. Cecelia, St. Eulalia, St. Vincent the Martyr, St. Lawrence, St. Venantius, St. Dominic Guzman, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Margaret of Cortona, St. Lidwina, St. Vincent Ferrer, St. Rose of Lima, St. Agnes of Montepulciano, St. Frances of Rome, St. Stanislaus Kotska, St. Isidore the Farmer, St. Raymond Nonnatus, St. Nicholas of Tolentino, St. Gemma Galgani and Padre Pio all saw and/or were helped by angels.
  • An angel appeared to the three children of Fatima in Portugal in 1916, heralding the appearance of the Virgin Mary herself.
  • Angels are also said to have appeared at certain battles in history, one of the more famous being at Mons, France during World War I.

In our own day there are those who swear they have seen or were helped out of life-threatening situations by angels. With evil abounding and heresies spreading and entrenched, we need to invoke the angels now more than ever. 

 

THERESA OF AVILA WROTE THAT IN ECSTASY she saw a Cherubim who was “of small stature, all of fire and had a spear of gold in his hand which he thrust into my heart and entrails, leaving me on fire with a great love of God.”

THE ANGEL GUARDING BUCKINGHAM PALACE: The Powers are aptly named as it's said that they exude courage in all their duties. They are actively engaged in fighting the machinations of Satan and his demonic horde. It's believed that whenever the Church or State are going through dark times, devotions to the Powers come in handy for this very reason: to defeat the devil and his hellish plots.

THE WALLS OF JERUSALEM: The three angels whose names are known from the Bible belong to the realm of Archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Four others are mentioned in the Apocryphal Book of Enoch; Uriel, Raguel, Sariel and Jeramiel but the Church has never officially accepted this in her Canon and the Lateran Synod reprobated the names of those angels, though some retailers sell statues of St. Uriel. Other names that have been suggested for the remaining seven angels who stand before the Lord are Simiel, Oriphiel, and Zachariel.

MICHAEL, RAPHAEL (with Tobias) and GABRIEL: In the Hebrew Scriptures, the three archangels whom Abraham ‘entertained, unawares.’ FRANCESCO BOTTICINI, 15th Century

St Michael, Defend Us in Battle

Michael is mentioned in the Book of Daniel, the Epistle of St. Jude and the Book of Revelation ( Apocalypse). His name is from the Hebrew Mikha'el, “Who is like God?” (‘Quis ut Deus in Latin’).

  • In the Book of Daniel he assists Gabriel against the fallen angel of the kingdom of Persia; in that Book it is foretold that he would play a role in fighting against the Antichrist near the end of the world.
  • In the Epistle of Jude, it's revealed that in the past he argued with Satan over the body of Moses, telling him, “May the Lord rebuke you.”
  • In the Book of Revelation he and the angelic choirs fight the devil and his demons and cast them out of Heaven.

 

MICHAEL IS A DEFENDER AND PROTECTOR OF THE CHURCH, along with St. Joseph. (Curiously enough he shares other attributes with St. Joseph, among which are being a patron of a happy, holy death as well as being the guardian of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

He is mentioned in the Confiteor of the Traditional Latin Mass and Pope Leo XIII composed the well-known prayer to St. Michael, an abbreviated version of which is said at the end of Low Mass as well as a scapular of St.Michael. The Chaplet of St. Michael was approved and indulgenced by Pope Pius IX, who also approved the Archconfraternity of St. Michael; Pope St. Pius X enriched it with indulgences.

 

Appearances of St Michael

  • Michael is said to be responsible for numerous events in the Bible though his name is not mentioned, among which are leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, blocking Balaam when he conspired to curse the Jews, and destroying the Assyrian army of 185,000 men who were encamped outside of Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah.
  • Mont St. Michel was built in St. Michael's honor off the coast of Normandy, France. This angelic soldier appeared there in 708 to St. Aubert, Bishop of Avranches.
  • Michael appeared to the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great saying, “I am Michael, chief of the angelic legions of the Lord of Hosts, the protector of the Christian religion, who while you were in battle against godless tyrants placed weapons in your hands.” Constantine built a church named the Michaelion in gratitude.
  • The Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian the Great built six churches dedicated to him.
  • Charlemagne dedicated his kingdom to St. Michael and St. Francis of Assisi had a great devotion to this Archangel, fasting between the Feast of the Assumption (August 15) and September 29 in his honor.
  • He appeared to St. Joan of Arc along with St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret of Antioch, urging her to lead the French army against the English and have Charles crowned King of France. He appeared to various Saints such as St. Wilfrid, St. Bertrand, St. Hubert, St. Oringia, St. Francis of Paola.
  • When St. Paul of the Cross was in charge of building a house for members of his Passionist Order, he was met with great opposition including from those who plotted to burn the structure down. As they were about to set the structure ablaze a beam of light struck them and they beheld an agel with a sword in hand, none other than St. Michael, who subsequently appeared occasionally to defend this new congregation and its founder.

 

 

PERHAPS THE MOST STRIKING OF MODERN DAY STORIES OF THE INTERCESSION OF ST. MICHAEL is one of how he saved a U.S. Marine – his namesake — in 1950 during the Korean War.

He has two Feast Days, September 29 (known in England and her former colonies as Michaelmas, pronounced MICKel-mus) and May 8, which commemorates his appearance at Monte Gargano in Italy in the 5th century.

An interesting tradition regarding St. Michael developed in England. Goose was served on September 29 and it was said that anyone who had goose for dinner on this day would not be in debt or any type of financial hardship. As the saying goes, “Whoever eats goose on Michaelmas Day, shall never lack money his debts to pay.”

 

GABRIEL’S NAME means “strength of God.”

PAINTING 19th Century by Henry Ossawa Tanner WIKI Commons

GABRIEL FIRST APPEARS IN THE BOOK OF DANIEL, explaining to that prophet the meanings of the visions he’d had. He later appears in the Gospel of Luke to St. Zachary, the father of St. John the Baptist, telling him of the latter's conception and birth.

Famously, St Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary, saying “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” telling her she would conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus. He is also said to have made other appearances in the New Testament, announcing the Birth of Jesus to the shepherds, telling the Magi in a dream to return to their homes by another route, and St. Joseph to take the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod.

He is also said to be the angel who visited Jesus during His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; as his name means the strength of God, it says in the Bible, “And an angel came and gave Him strength.”

IKON BY MIKHAIL RUBLEV

Appearances of St Gabriel

  • Venerable Mary of Agreda said that St. Gabriel was accompanied by thousands of other angels at the Incarnation, and vividly described his angelic beauty.
  • Pere Lamy described this Archangel as “a head taller than the other angels with his hair well cut and wavy” and mentioned that the Blessed Virgin had put him under the protection of this Archangel which served him well due to Pere Lamy's poor eyesight. Once a bicyclist nearly ran into Pere Lamy and the Archangel picked up rider and bicycle and placed both on the grass next to the road. “Weight is nothing to an Archangel” Pere Lamy noted, also adding, “I saw the cyclist open-mouthed, looking at the angel and at me. I had impulse to laugh, seeing the face of the poor boy.”
  • In the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, she said that “numerous angels accompanied Our Lord in His Descent into hell and the lower regions, among whom was Gabriel.”
  • Gabriel was proclaimed the Patron of radio and television by Pope Pius XII.

PAINTING OF THE RESURRECTION BY TITIAN WIKI Commons

THE ARCHANGEL ST. RAPHAEL'S NAME MEANS “GOD HEALS” and he appears in the Old Testament Book of Tobias. In this book he is instrumental in healing the blindness of Tobias' father as well as bringing Tobias and Sarah together in marriage, driving off the demon Asmodeus in the process. He accompanied Tobias in his journey to the country of Media; for these reasons he is one of the Patron Saints of travelers and those suffering from illness.

18TH CENTURY DUTCH MASTER, WIKI Commons

MICHAEL, GABRIEL & RAPHAEL (Right, with Tobias): St. Anthony Mary Claret had a special devotion to the Archangel Raphael. When he visited the city of Marseilles and was waiting for a ship to return to Rome, a young man appeared and offered himself as a guide to the Saint. This guide would always disappear at dinnertime and reappear when the repast was ended. When St. Anthony boarded the ship headed for Rome at the port, the young man accompanied him to the ship and disappeared as soon as the Saint was safely aboard. St. Anthony Mary Claret was convinced this was the Archangel Raphael, as he had invoked him at the beginning of his mission.    

RAPHAEL APPEARS IN THE BOOK OF TOBIT: He is also said to be the angel who stirred the waters of the healing Pool of Bethsaida in the New Testament.

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GUARDIAN ANGELS, whose Feast Day is October 2, are more intimately involved with human beings than any of the angelic choirs. Everyone has a guardian angel; some are said to have more than one. Everyone should have a devotion to their guardian angel to protect them from spiritual and physical dangers.

The Bible mentions guardian angels in the Book of Psalms: “He hath given His Angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thy dash thy foot against a stone.” (Ps. 90:11) Our Lord Himself mentioned them in Matthew 18:10: “See that you despise not one of these little ones: for I say to you, that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”

When we are in a state of grace, guardian angels are drawn to us like bees drawn to nectar in a flower. When we are in a state of sin, they are driven away like smoke drives away bugs. When asked they will run errands for us and join us in praising God.

There is a story whereby some pious persons sent their guardian angels to Padre Pio for assistance on a certain occasion, and that one morning he complained about the constant arrival of Guardian Angels with various petitions during the night, saying: “Those Guardian Angels didn't let me sleep a moment last night!”

The Guardian Angel Prayer

“Angel of God, my guardian dear

To whom God's love commits me here,

Ever this day, be at my side

To light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.”

Guardian Angels help us in various ways:

  • They put good thoughts into our minds, and move our will to what is good.
  • They offer our prayers and good works to the Lord.
  • They protect us from dangers both temporal and spiritual.

 

AT THE HOUR OF DEATH our Guardian Angel shows the greatest zeal in protecting and defending the soul committed to his care, invoking the assistance of other Angels against temptations and the rage of Satan and his demons. Should the departed soul be not quite ready to enter Heaven because it has not fully satisfied Divine Justice for its faults, and must therefore remain for some time in Purgatory, the Guardian Angel will lead it to the place of expiation. The same Angel will often visit it and comfort it in company of other good Angels.

Finally, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen spoke of angels in one of his TV telecasts back in the 1950's

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