“Thou standest amid cherubim and seraphim and other exalted spirits of high rank.”
Nurturing a sense of the supernatural
Spiritual reality in times past, was nurtured by the Catholic environment. While most noticeably in churches, the sense of the supernatural also existed in the minds and hearts of the faithful. It is hard to keep this in mind now when the secular world intrudes into the sacred, as it so often does. Churches, especially the newer buildings, no longer have the atmosphere of the supernatural. It is therefore, even more important that by our own demeanour as devout Catholics, we give witness to the actuality of God’s presence among us. This is the reality against which all other reality is measured.
At Mass we say the words “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of your glory” but does our demeanour show that we fully believe it? Many saints and mystics have testified to the presence of angels in our churches, above all during the celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass. It accounts for the deep reverence they displayed in the church, adding a further dimension to their faith in the Real Presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Sadly, believing in the presence of angels in the church has become somewhat obscured in more recent times even among those who honour the presence of the Lord.
Faith in angels is deeply rooted in scripture and is not simply a pious practice. From our reading of the Letter to the Hebrews, we understand that many angels assist at Mass, where Christ most efficaciously exercises the office of mediator. “You are come to the company of many thousands of angels, and to Jesus, the mediator of the New Testament.” St. John Chrysostom, that great saint of the Eucharist, tells us that the angels join in the prayers of the Mass. “Forgot not, in what company thou art at the time of this solemn sacrifice. Thou standest amid cherubim and seraphim and other exalted spirits of high rank.”
The presence of angels and archangels during the Mass
Numerous scriptural passages are fulfilled in words used throughout the Mass. Firstly our own prayer is enhanced by these pure spirits whose help we ask following the invocation of the Blessed Virgin Mary during the Penitential Rite. We have acknowledged our sins before almighty God and implored his mercy. Next we sing the song of the angels on earth – the Gloria. This is how the shepherds were given glad tidings of the birth of the Saviour in Bethlehem. It is fitting that adoration of the Blessed Trinity prepares us too for the coming of Jesus in the Word and later in the Eucharist. The angels help us listen to the glad tidings just as the archangel Gabriel prepared Mary to receive the Word at the incarnation.
As the Eucharistic Prayer begins, we prepare ourselves for the most solemn part of Mass as we “lift up our hearts.” We immediately join in praising and magnifying the thrice holy name of the Lord God of hosts. At this point we enter into the true Holy of Holys, chanting the “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” with the cherubim and seraphim who eternally ponder the paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the prayer addressed to the Father, the priest recognises the presence of angels and archangels, thrones and dominions and all the hosts and powers of heaven, acclaiming God’s glory without end, the glory that fills all heaven and earth. United with the priest in persona Christi,we offer up the one great sacrifice of our redemption. This is the means by which all things in heaven and earth are reconciled in Christ.
The knowledge that we are worshipping with the angels helps us remember the truth that when we enact our earthly liturgy it is not alone in the present moment that we join with the court of heaven. Our liturgy is a parallel, and not an imitation of the great celebration of the marriage feast of the Lamb, the union of Christ with his bride the Church. This is how the fathers of the Second Vatican Council describe it:
“In the earthly liturgy we take part in a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle. With all the hosts of heaven we sing a hymn of glory to the Lord.”
In the apocalyptic vision of St. John, he recounts how he saw an angel with a golden censer standing before the altar of sacrifice. The angel is given incense so that he can offer the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar which is set before the throne of God. In the celebration of the earthly liturgy, the angels help us present our offerings before the altar in heaven. This is brought out clearly in the words of Eucharistic Prayer I when the priest offers to the Father the pure and holy victim, and humbly asks that the gifts be borne by the hands of the holy angel to the heavenly altar. When we are present at Mass we are not only united with Our Blessed Lady and the saints and angels in our world, but as scripture tells us, we are part of the eternal liturgy which is continuously being celebrated in heaven.
“…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 than the blood of Abel.” (Heb 12:22-24)
The forgotten message of the angel at Fatima
The visionaries of Fatima were taught by the angel in the Cabeco how to adore the Lord present in the Eucharist. They beheld the sacred host, suspended in the air, dripping with the precious Blood. As the angel prostrated himself he showed the children how to worship. They then received Holy Communion from him as he said, “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men. Repair their crimes and console your God.” The angel then instructed the children to repeat the prayer of reparation in honour of the Most Holy Trinity, and to implore the Lord to convert poor sinners.
We believe that Jesus Christ himself is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Even outside of Mass, the angels of God are perpetually descending and ascending and they are constantly keeping vigil before his substantial presence in every tabernacle and in every monstrance.
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), so that after death, we will be brought body and soul through the gate of heaven where “the Lamb” will be the lamp of the temple and where we shall worship him and see him as he really is. “For the Lord God shall be their light and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22). Although beyond our understanding, we know with faith that this is the supernatural reality happening at every Mass.
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