Thought for the week - 3 October
The Holy Angels
I thought for a change, rather than look at the Sunday Gospel, we might look at one of the great feast days from the last week. Thursday last was the Feast of St Michael and All Angels.
I’m not a great fan of musical theatre, but I do rather like Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – such fun and a lot of really sing-along-able songs. But there is one song that really irks me every time I hear it. When Joseph’s brothers go home after treating Joseph so badly and leaving him for dead, they make light of their terrible deed, sing to their father “One more angel in heaven, one more star in the sky.” Yes, it is very singable – but it is very, very wrong!
Despite the sentiment, despite the imagery, few people would honestly believe that a dear departed loved one really becomes another star in the sky! It is amazing however how may people, even practising Christians are content to think that their departed loved one “becomes an angel.” It just isn’t so. Nowhere in the Bible, nowhere in the Christian teaching or tradition (nor in that of any other faith) is there any indication whatsoever that humans who have died become angels. The Christian faith makes it clear that angels exist, that sometimes they visit the earth – we particularly think of Gabriel who visited the Virgin Mary and announced to her that she was to be the mother of Jesus.
Nowhere however, is there any indication that humans become angels. The Book of Common Prayer collect for the Feast day says this:
O EVERLASTING God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order: Mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels alway do thee service in heaven, so by thy appointment they may succour and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is clear that Angels and ‘Men’ (meaning of course mankind, meaning all human beings) are different orders created by God.
Angels are intelligent beings created by God. The Bible often mentions angels, and they can be divided into various groups or choirs. Like people, God created them with a free will, so that they could freely choose to accept God’s love. Since they did accept his love, they live forever with God in heaven. It is incredible to imagine, but some angels decided in their freedom not to accept God’s love and turned against him.
These are the ‘fallen angels’ or ‘angels of darkness’, led by Satan, the enemy of God. Angels are, as it were, a step ahead of us, just as the saints are, for they have made their final choice for God already. We too can choose to accept God’s love during our lives; our choice becomes definitive at the moment of our death. The word ‘angel’ comes from the Greek angelos, meaning messenger. They can bring our prayers and petitions to God. And they are more than that.
The angels are sent by God to help us as travelling companions. Jesus said that even the smallest among people have angels assigned to them, who are with God in heaven (Mt 18:10). Everyone has a guardian angel. Our guardian angel has the task of helping us in our faith and finding the way to eternal life with God (Heb 1:14). From conception to death your guardian angel prays for you and cares for you. You can pray daily to your guardian angel: ‘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’
The only angels whose names are mentioned in the Bible are the three Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Each of them plays an important role on our path to God. Michael is mentioned several times throughout the Bible as the defender of God’s people against the enemy of God, and the leader of the heavenly host or ‘army’ (Dan 12:1; Rev 12:7). Gabriel brings God’s message to Mary, telling her that she had been chosen to be the mother of God, and receiving her answer in his name (Lk 1:26-38). Raphael was sent to help Tobit and his son Tobias. He travelled with Tobias and helped him find his wife. Finally, he healed Tobit from his blindness (Tob 3-12).
What is the difference between angels and saints?
The essential difference between angels and human beings is that angels are pure spirits: they do not have a body — and never had one. When we die, our eternal soul is temporarily separated from our body, and can go to heaven. Just as true love cannot simply disappear, our soul cannot die. God’s love for each of us is for eternity, and he promises that at the end of time, our soul shall be united with an ‘updated version’ of our own bodies.
So, our bodies make us different from angels. This difference remains in heaven, simply because we are different kinds of creatures. Human beings never become angels and the saints have not ‘earned their heavenly wings.’ To complicate matters, we often refer to the Archangels as, for example, Saint Michael, or the holy Archangels. This is because anyone in heaven is holy, and therefore worthy of the term saint.
So, do we become angels when we die? Answer? No.
One Catholic writer, Fr Joe Krupp, puts it like this: (https://faithmag.com/will-we-become-angels-when-we-go-heaven)
It’s become popular in our culture to say, “Heaven gained another angel” when someone dies. I imagine this is just an expression we use, and, in that regard, it can come across as harmless. However, I do want to point out that, as humans, we most certainly do not become angels when we die. We humans are unique in creation and have a special dignity. It seems to me that thinking that we have to change from human to something else in order to enter heaven can inadvertently have a lot of negative consequences, philosophically and theologically. I won’t burden us with those issues now, as that would probably take up more room than I have.
The key is this: As humans, you and I are totally different creatures than angels. Probably the most distinctive difference between us and angels is that we are body/soul unities, whereas angels are pure spirit. If we make it to heaven, we will join the angels there, but we will join them as humans.
So, what kind of humans?
If we look at Scripture, we see that what happens after our death is laid out for us.
When we die, our souls leave our bodies to face judgment and, at that point, the body begins to decay. This judgment will result in our going to heaven or hell, with the understanding that, technically, purgatory is not separate from heaven.
At some point known only to God, Christ will return and, when that happens, our bodies will be raised and restored, and then will re-join our souls
One more Angel in heaven? Sorry Lord Lloyd Webber, no more than there will be one more star in the sky!