In Holy Scripture, angels are not an absurdity or curiosity which we are at liberty to reinterpret, to deny or to replace by curiosities of our own invention.
- Karl Barth
After Jesus ascended into heaven, the early church in Rome wrote many pages about His teachings on angels, and selected September 29 as a day to honor Michael the Archangel. (Later, the honor was given to all the Archangels.)
The feast proved to be very popular, and in 813, in one of the church’s first official meetings, the feast was expanded to all countries in the Roman Empire. This process was somewhat unusual because feast days were usually started locally, and then as time passed (and perhaps some miracles occurred), a petition for sainthood would be presented to the hierarchy. In this case, the hierarchy had already recognized the Archangels as a vital part of Christian belief.
By the 5th century, devotion to all angels was widespread, and by the 12th century, due mainly to St. Bernard and his love for angels, the belief that each human being has his own guardian angel had become a tradition. (The concept of an angel assigned to guide and nurture each human being is a development of Catholic doctrine and piety based on Scripture but not directly drawn from it. Jesus' words in Matthew 18:10 best support the belief). With so much interest in them, it seemed obvious that guardian angels should have their own feast day so in the 16th century, after some confusion in choosing an official date, Pope Clement X selected October 2 as the Feast of the Guardian Angels, a kind of supplement to the September 29th date, which they kept.
What is the purpose of these two feast days? Like Christmas or Easter, these days should remind us:
• To thank God that He has given each one of us a guardian angel to guide us to good thoughts, works and words and to preserve us from evil.
• To inspire us with gratitude to the protector archangels like Michael, who do us such great good, and to incite us to efforts to render ourselves worthy of their guardianship.
• To be with us at the moment of our deaths, and to guide us to God.
The quote below is part of the funeral liturgy:
“May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you to the holy city,
the new and eternal Jerusalem." (Rite for Christian Burial)
Interestingly, the entire month of October, among other honorees, is devoted to angels. Make it a point to talk to your angel any day this month. Ask that you get to know him better. You’ll never have a finer friend.
Author and lecturer Joan Wester Anderson was born in Evanston, Illinois. She began her writing career in 1973 with family humor articles and was a monthly columnist for two national magazines during the 1980s. Among her 16 books is Where Angels Walk, which was on the New York Times best-seller list for over a year. Her newest book is Angelic Tails: True Stories of Heavenly Canine Companions (Loyola Press).