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The Angels & the Adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist

The Angels & the Adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist

Fr. Ben Reese, S.T.D. Cand.

 I.  The God who dwells in unapproachable light and the adoration of the angels

St. Paul to 1 Tim. 6:12-16.  “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made the profession of faith in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession.  I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of all Lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen”.

“Take Hold of the Profession of faith which you made before many witnesses,” that is the Creed in which we profess that God is the maker of all that is seen and unseen, the visible and the invisible. The fourth Lateran council taught in 1215 that God “by his almighty power created together in the beginning of time both creatures, the spiritual and the corporeal, namely the angelic and the earthly, and afterwards the human, as it were an intermediate creation, composed of body and spirit.”[1]  Man or the human person is made in God image, and is the crown of the visible creation since he has an intellect and free will. The invisible creation consists of the immense, majestic, and wholly spiritual world of the angels. They are also made in God’s image, and each one has a unique nature or specific form which makes them totally unique from each other, yet share with the human race an eternal destiny to give God glory and praise for all eternity. In fact, the good angels have already passed the test, and are now beholding God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the light of endless glory.

And this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of Kings and Lord of all Lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen

To God who dwells in unapproachable light!  Whom no man has seen or can see? What is this unapproachable light?  St. Thomas Aquinas calls this light unapproachable by which we see God – the Lumen Gloriae or the light of Glory. He explains it in his Summa Theologica.

The faculty of seeing God does not belong to the created intellect naturally, but is given to it by the light of glory. . .  Hence the intellect which has more of the light of glory will see God the more perfectly; and he will have a fuller participation of the light of glory who has the more charity . . . He who possesses the more charity, will see God the more perfectly, and he will be the more beatified” (I, Q. 12, art. 6)

Hence the good angels who have passed the test and are full of the love of God actually see their creator face to face in the light of glory as so the souls of the blessed in heaven, according to their degree of merit.

II. The Heavenly Liturgy of the Angels and the Saints

So in our Christian lives we are confronted with a bit of a paradox: like the angels we are called to give God glory and worship, but unlike the angels who have received the light of glory, we can’t see the Most Holy Trinity who dwells in unapproachable light– in a state infinitely beyond the comprehension of our minds. So the question is — how do we worship the one whom no man has seen or can see?    Indeed, we are told that no one can see God and live (Ex. 33:20), which means that while on earth we must somehow learn to worship God without seeing him as he is.

Yet in spite of the fact that we don’t see God, we do worship him, and that is because we know him by faith, and faith comes by hearing!  In this earthly life, our worship of God is a participation in the heavenly worship—the worship of the angels and the saints, but one that occurs through sacrament and symbol.   Sacraments cause grace by signifying, and in the case of the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, the celebration of the Eucharist not only confers grace, but it re-presents the sacrifice of Calvary as we heard in our first talk, making Christ substantially present—Body, Blood, soul, and divinity. The very same Christ who is now at the right hand of the Father in heaven—dwelling in unapproachable light or the Lumen Gloriae, is here and now, accessible by faith.   This is the truth that sustains our worship in the darkness of faith: we encounter the Risen Christ in the heavenly liturgy through the sacramental signs—the species of bread and wine that indicate the substantial presence of the glorified Lord who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was Crucified, died and was buried, Furthermore, our faith in things invisible is nourished through symbols like the altar, the ordained priest, the Crucifix, the sanctuary, and through icons and religious art that make us aware the presence of the angels and the saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary, in our earthly worship of  the unseen God. This is especially clear in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrystosom, which occurs behind a golden icon screen of the angels and saints.  These icons serve not only as pretty images to remind us of the presence of the angels and saints, but the icons of the angels and saints, surrounded by gold, are in fact symbols that really help us to participate in the worship of heaven,. Indeed, they can be called windows into heaven.  The same symbolic effect can occur in a slightly different way with great sacred artists in the west like Bl. Fra Angelico. (see Holy Card).

Therefore, we can really turn to these heavenly friends for help in worshiping the unseen God who dwells in light inaccessible.  The good angels already see God in the light of glory and they are in the eternal now — offering God perfect worship. We can and should ask for their guidance and especially the help of our Guardian angel in teaching us how to worship God on earth more perfectly, so as to one day come to see God face to face in the light of Glory.  In the Gospel of St. Matthew 18:10, our Lord taught that the Guardian Angels of the little ones “always behold the face of my Father in heaven!”  Indeed, we all know the prayer that says that the Guardian Angels have been given to each of us to be always at our side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. We call on them in times of danger, and ask for their protection from the evil one (example).

Yet, we may forget that their greatest role is to illumine us about the sacred mystery of the Holy Eucharist as St. Paul reminds us—“into these Mysteries, angels long to peer!”  This phrase – “Mystery” refers above all to the mystery of the Incarnation, God becoming Man, but also to the sacraments which are called mysteries in Greek, and especially to the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist.  The angels then are our guides to the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.  They do not fully comprehend the Incarnation or how God became man, and so they also do not even begin to comprehend the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, but they teach us how to adore Christ in the Eucharist. They can rescue us from the very gaping mouth of Hell, so that little by little we can ascend with them to our heavenly homeland.  They guide us in our moral conversion in what the Church calls the Purgative way.  They bring pagans to the knowledge of God and to baptism, and they also bring us back to the sacrament of penance when we have sinned.  But their burning desire is not only to guard us from sin and the demons, but to enlighten us with a faint ray the light of God which they behold in splendor.  They are like lamps to our feet in our struggle to ascend the mountain of God, in that process of illumination by grace which the Church calls the illuminative way.  Our ascent of the mountain of God occurs primarily, but not exclusively in our participation in the Holy sacrifice of the Mass, which is also a heavenly Liturgy.  As Our Lord said to Nathaniel, “you will see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  For us this we experience this communion with the angels most intensely during the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

III—The Angels and the Liturgy of the Most Holy Eucharist.

In the earthly Liturgy, by way of foretaste, we share in that heavenly Liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city  of Jerusalem toward which we journey as  pilgrims, and in which Christ is sitting at the right hand of God . . . we sing a  hymn to the Lord’s glory with all the warriors of the Heavenly army… SC, 8.

We begin our participation in the Rite of the Holy Eucharist with the sign of the Cross, and the penitential rite because we have been saved by the Cross, and by the pouring out of the Precious blood of the Redeemer.  Indeed, the angels adore this precious blood of our salvation, and they can see that we have been marked with it as the blood of Paschal Lamb marked the doorposts of the Jews in Egypt.  When we confess our sins and ask for mercy, we, in fact, make our confession before the angels who have witnessed our sins and we implore them to pray for us.  Then after we have asked for mercy, we sing the song of the angels on earth—the Gloria.  We are already joining the praise of the angels in heaven as the youngest members of the heavenly choir.  Notice too that a heavenly light shone around the child Jesus in Bethlehem as a sign of his heavenly glory, but notice that his is not yet the light of glory, the Lumen Gloriae, but a kind of earthly hint or manifestation of that heavenly glory.  Nevertheless, the song of the angels prepared the shepherds to come and adore the newborn king, and so the Gloria is preparing us to come and adore the King of Kings who will soon be made present our altars.  As we sing their song, let us truly humbly ask the angels to teach us how to adore him, so greatly assist our actual participation in the Mass as requested by the Second Vatican Council. Similarly, just as the angel Gabriel brought the good news of the Incarnation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, so the angels and especially our guardian angel will help us to understand the Liturgy of the Word and to assent to the demands of the Gospel.

The angels also teach us how to adore Christ in his greatest act of love—that is his Passion. At first glance, the Cross would seem to be a long way from a heavenly liturgy.  Yet it is precisely through the Cross and the sacrifice of the Mass that we have already entered by faith into the “City of the living God. The heavenly Jerusalem,” (Heb. 12), and after death, we will be brought body and soul into the New Jerusalem where we the Lamb once slain, (Rev 22) will be the lamp of the temple and invite us to the heavenly wedding Feast (Luke 22:30). Jesus cannot die again in heaven, but as the priest re-presents the passion on the earthly altar in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, the angels are adoring the love and mercy of God and the precious Blood which is being poured out for us in the holy, bloodless sacrifice of the Mass, “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering and to the assembly of the first born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously that the blood of Abel.”

Yet the mystical darkness of the Cross remains a mystery even to the angels—who will ever ponder and contemplate how God could have died on a little blood stained hill called Calvary.  Even the highest angels, the cherubim and seraphim were forced to advert their gaze and fell into a kind of awesome silence as they saw Jesus, the God/Man die on Calvary and heard his cry echo in the highest – “My God, My God why have you abandoned me.”  Here we pass from the illuminative light of the angels into the darkness of Calvary—what is called the dark night of the soul and the unitive way.  We meet God in the darkness of faith, but this darkness of faith is what prepares our eyes for the light of Glory.  Like bats we are blind to this light, but our faith acts like radar to bring us to the Cross of Christ and so beyond death to the eternal glory of heaven—“where eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has prepared for those who love him.” There we will be transformed from glory unto glory by the Spirit, and so rightly take our place even now in the eternal heavenly Liturgy.” 

IV.  The Angels help us to Adore Jesus the Bread of Angels

At first the idea of the Bread of Angels may strike us as a little odd—Why would angels need bread—after all Angels are immaterial beings and they don’t need to eat.  Of course, the people of Israel were fed miraculously by the bread from heaven, and so in this sense we can refer to the Most Holy Eucharist as the Bread of Angels – since it comes from Heaven.  Yet on second thought, there is a more direct connection between the Most Holy Eucharist and the life of the angels and this is due to the fact that the angels adore the Risen Jesus in heaven, and this very act of adoring is what sustains in their mystical life in the light of glory.  In this sense, we can say that the Angels feed on the Body of Christ Mystically and in this they can teach us how to adore the Eucharist and thus to prepare for Holy Communion.  St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor and the great mystic of the Holy Eucharist, teaches us this in the Summa.

 [1] D. 428

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