Saint of the Day | October 2 | Feast of Holy Guardian Angels

Prayer to Holy Guardian Angels

Angel of God, my Guardian dear, to whom His love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

The idea of a guardian angel or a heavenly guide may seem superstitious, old-fashioned, or outdated to some. It is difficult, sometimes, to understand why Catholicism would include in its Catechism this rather fanciful idea. The teachings of the Catholic church are not designed simply to be facts we blindly agree with or disagree with, however, but are rather designed to reveal more to us about our God who is love, the world God created, and how God seeks to offer us grace and salvation in every moment of our lives. In its paragraph on guardian angels, the Catechism of the Catholic Church includes a quote from the great fourth-century theologian's, St. Basil of Caesarea's, treatise against Eunomius: “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him or her to life” (CCC 336). Basil's idea has some scriptural foundation, as Christ says: "Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven" (Mt 18:10).

The word “angel” comes from the Greek word angelos, a translation of the Hebrew word for “messenger.” Angels in Hebrew Scriptures function as spirits that bring messages from God—an angel brings word to Abraham to spare Isaac, an angel wrestles with Jacob, and angels help Daniel interpret God's visions. In the New Testament, the angel Gabriel announces the births of Jesus and John the Baptist, angels assist Jesus when he is tempted in the desert and in his agony in the garden. In varying gospel accounts, angel(s) are witnessed at the empty tomb, and Matthew credits an angel from rolling the stone back from the entrance.

Who are these angels? What are they all about?

The branch of Christian theology that attempts to answer these questions, angelology, developed in the fourth century, beginning with Ambrose and Jerome, but really taking off with the theologian Pseudo-Dionysius. Pope Gregory the Great developed his own hierarchy of the angelic choirs, and Thomas Aquinas discusses angels in his Summa Theologica. While their ideas about the nature and organization of angels vary somewhat they agree on several key truths about angels. Angels are created spirits, having intellects and wills, but no bodies. Their presence in Scripture witnesses to a God who is an active agent operating in the world, but in ways that are still somewhat mysterious to human beings.

Angels are celebrated in the church's liturgical year on today's feast because the church desires to celebrate God's mysterious providence in creation. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI from his Angelus address on October 2, 2011, "the Lord is ever close and active in humanity’s history and accompanies us with the unique presence of his Angels. [...] From the beginning until the hour of death, human life is surrounded by their constant protection." Angels are yet another manifestation of the ever-provident care of our endlessly generous God who did not set creation in motion and leave it to its own devices, but who seeks, each day, to draw creation back towards the Divine Love from which it came. This feast, which may be so uncomfortable to our scientific minds that want to reduce the world to explainable phenomena, reminds us that the physical world of our five senses is not the sum total of reality. Indeed, there are more things in heaven and earth, says Hamlet, "than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Creation comes from the God who is mystery, and creation is itself mystery.

Angels are depicted in many places on Notre Dame's campus, most notably in the murals that decorate the Basilica of the Sacred Heart's richly painted ceiling. Several stained glass windows in the Basilica, such as the one above, portray angels as protectors and guardians of humans. Finally, the chapel of Moreau Seminary, shown below, features a stunning stained glass mosaic of angels behind the altar, which floods the church with light in both the morning and evening, reminding us of the constant care of God's angels for us, through all times and seasons of our life. Angel of God, be at my side to light, to guard, to rule and guide!