Rejoice on the Feast of the Guardian Angels
"Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice . . . for My name is in him." (Exodus 23:20)
It is not unreasonable to think that each of us, through God's loving providence, has our own personal guardian angel. This, in fact, is affirmed and taught through Sacred Scripture, the early Church Fathers, writings of the saints, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and preserved through popular piety and devotions, including a 17th century feast that is celebrated every October throughout the universal Church. October 2nd is the date upon which this feast is universally set in the liturgical calendar, and when, according to tradition, our Guardian Angels are not only honored but invoked as our helpers.
St. Augustine teaches that the angel's office or function is "angel" or "messenger" while their nature is "spirit". A "guardian" angel is a celestial spirit, assigned by God to watch over each individual during life. To this definiton can be added another important distinction in which angels are grouped according to their collective tasks and placed in "choirs". Nine choirs or "collective orders" of angels are named in Sacred Scripture and put forth by early Church Fathers. This has been generally accepted theologically since the time of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604 A.D.)
While St. Thomas Aquinas notes that a full understanding about the hierarchy of angels "remains hidden from us," it is helpful to know that groups of angels can be "distinguished according to their tasks." Starting with the highest three of the nine choirs of angels, and placed in the realm of the "Throne of the Almighty," are Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones. Next, are angels "distributed over the whole of creation" which are Dominations, Powers (Forces) and Principalities. Last are the angels closest to man, serving in the "redemptive work on earth". These are the choirs of Virtues, Archangels and finally, countless Angels, the choir to whom, is thought, most Guardian Angels belong. Guardian angels, then, are generally in the ninth or lowest "choir". Guardian angels do not form a choir of their own, but the concept has been put forth, that their office is an "honorary office" because the "loving God allows all angels one single time to carry out this sacred, honorary office." In other words, "even the highest Seraph can be a Guardian Angel at one time" (Our Guardian Angel, Opus Sanctorum Angelorum, p. 8).
The role of the guardian angel, serving as a participant in redemptive work on earth, is "to guide and to guard; guide as a messenger of God's will to our minds; to guard as an instrument of God's goodness in protecting us from evil; mainly from the evil of sin and malice of the devil; also, protection from physical evil insofar as this is useful or necessary to guard the soul from spiritual harm"(J. Hardon, SJ, Modern Catholic Dictionary).
Accounts of Guardian Angels
Sacred Scripture reveals that our Guardian Angels are "deputed by God to keep watch over men" (Fr. Joseph Ventura, C.P., The American Ecclesiastical Review). Scriptural references include, but are not limited to the following: "For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways" (Psalm 90: 11-12); "Their angels always see the face of the Father" (Matthew 18: 20); "But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza" (Acts 8: 26); "Are they (angels) not ministering spirits sent by God, to keep watch over men who are destined for heaven?" (Heb. 1:14).
Numerous Church Fathers and saints have commented on the many Scriptural references to the guardian angels: St. Augustine (4th century), St. Basil (4th century), St. Chrysostom (4th century), St. Jerome (4th century) Theodoret (5th century), St. Bernard (12th century), St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P. (13th century). While the existence of angels has been dogmatically declared as an article of faith since the Fourth Lateran Counciel in 1215, the existence of "guardian Angels" per se has not been declared an article of faith. The Church nonetheless states that the role of the guardian angel for each individual soul is "intimated in the Scriptural texts cited in the unanimous consent of the Fathers, and the common persuasion of the faithful." St. Basil says, "That there is an angel for each one of the faithful no one will contradict." St. Jerome, as well, puts forth, "Great is the dignity of the human soul, since each of them has from the very outset of his life an Angel to safeguard him." St. Peter's miraculous escape from prison with the help of "his angel" is used as Scriptural confirmation of this doctrine. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "From its beginnings, human life is surrounded by [the angels'] watchful care and intercession. Besides each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him into life" (CCC 336).
There are numerous accounts of the saints regarding their angel guardians and how they devotedly trusted them. St. Frances of Rome, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Faustina, St. Padre Pio, and St. John Paul are to name a few. St. Frances of Rome (1384-1440) a mystic, was known to have a close friendship with her guardian angel and to have seen her angel. St. Padre Pio (1887-1968), another famous mystic, was well-known for communication with souls entrusted to his care through his and his "spiritual children's" guardian angels. There are many articles and books which give account of Padre Pio's miraculous experiences with his guardian angel.
Only God Names the Angels
The Church recognizes and honors by name only Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael (in the choir of "archangels") since these three names are the only ones revealed in Sacred Scripture. This being the case, it is important to understand that naming our own particular Guardian Angel is discouraged by the Church. Satan himself is presented as an "angel of light in order to deceive the elect" (2 Cor 11:14). The Church, being prudent, cautions the faithful against the veneration of any spirit by name except the three mentioned in Sacred Scripture (Congregation of Divine Worship # 217). Naming another implies authority over the other. Only God has authority over the Holy Angels and names them. (Marge Fenelon, "Why You Should Love Your Guardian Angel and Not Name Him").
Given the above, the emphasis, rather, should be on having an awareness of one's Guardian Angel's role in one's life. The well-known, endearing daily prayer to our Guardian Angel is a beautiful way to address one's guardian angel and it respects the admonition to not name one's guardian:
"Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God's love commits me here,
Ever this day be at my side
To light, to guard, to rule, to guide. Amen."
From the Liturgy of the Holy Guardian Angels, let us together pray: "O God who in your unfathomable providence are pleased to send your holy Angels to guard us, hear our supplication as we cry to you, that we may always be defended in their protection and rejoice eternally in their company."