I imagine angels to be like responsible teenagers asked to babysit their toddler siblings. I’m sure that my own guardian angel is often exasperated with me, as tends to happen when babysitting mischievous toddlers. Sometimes the kids are adorable, and sometimes you have to lure the guinea pig out from under the couch because the toddler set it loose again. (Not that I, er, have any direct experience with that.) But I know that despite my tendencies to get caught in the same crazy predicaments time and time again, my guardian angel must also delight in me as well. After all, the angels have willingly chosen to babysit us, and they love us more than we know. Just as the antics of toddlers can have a certain charm, our human weakness and naiveté must seem endearing in the eyes of the angels.
This is, of course, an imperfect analogy, for angels are not more mature versions of humans but rather different beings entirely. Angels are far smarter and stronger than we are; their superior intellect operates on a higher plane than what we can possibly grasp. The decision to follow Christ was made with full knowledge and understanding in ways beyond our comprehension, and the things that puzzle us are clear to them.
What about the angels who didn’t make that decision to follow Christ? We have a different name for them, of course; they are demons. But if they, too, had full knowledge and understanding, why did they turn away from God? Msgr. Paul J. Glenn, reflecting upon St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica in own his work A Tour of the Summa, describes how it was Lucifer’s pride that caused him to willingly jump out of Heaven:
Lucifer knew that to be equal with God, he would have to be God, and he knew perfectly that this could not be. What he wanted was to be as God; he wished to be like God in a way not suited to his nature, such as to create things by his own power, or to achieve final beatitude without God’s help, or to have command over others in a way proper to God alone. […] The fallen angels are obstinate in evil, unrepentant, inflexibly determined in their sin. This follows from their nature as pure spirits, for the choice of a pure spirit is necessarily final and unchanging.
— Msgr. Paul J. Glenn, A Tour of the Summa
Satan could not rule over all of Creation as God does, and he refused to accept his role as servant, so instead he tries relentlessly to rule over those lower than himself, to crush humans and pull us down with him. He therefore cannot stand the fact that Mary has been named Queen of Angels. Mary, a lowly human, was elevated above all other created beings, because it was through her that God entered the earth for its redemption. God asked His angels to be subject to Mary and to help all humans in their journey toward Heaven. While Lucifer hates this, all the angels in Heaven lovingly agreed, and they accept the work of helping to raise up those who are downtrodden here below.
St. Michael the Archangel got his name by asking in humility, “Who is like God?” He bowed before the Creator and vowed to do His will, embracing the opportunity to serve humanity, which was in need of guidance. All the angels in Heaven have made a permanent, irrevocable decision to serve those who are weaker than themselves. They honor Mary as their Queen and forever come to the aid of her sons and daughters on earth.
Since angels are superior to man, they can enlighten man. They can strengthen the understanding of human beings and make men aware, in some sensible manner, of the truths to be imparted.
— Msgr. Paul J. Glenn, A Tour of the Summa
At Bethlehem, a chorus of angels assembled above a humble manger. The angels rejoiced in the birth of the Lord, in His entry into the world to serve humanity. Our Lord had become small and vulnerable for our sake, and the angels knew how powerful this action really was. They, too, had committed themselves to the mission of our salvation, modeling their own actions after Christ’s. The angels care fiercely about us, and at the pivotal moment of the Nativity, orchestrated for our salvation, they gathered to sing exquisitely beautiful hymns of joy and thanksgiving toward God.
The verse which reads “So the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16) rings true when we contemplate the angels. They are the ones who are happy to give their space at the table to those who show up late, hoping to find a seat. They devote all their energy toward bringing us to the Heavenly feast. They are our helpers and servants, ready to come to our aid.
The angels are with us whenever we attend Mass. When we sing, “Holy, holy, holy,” repeating the words that they gave us in Revelation 4:8, they surround us and join in our song. Their sublimely harmonious voices, joined with our imperfect ones, lift up our own songs toward God and make them more beautiful. If we are toddlers making crafts for God, they, along with Mary our mother, are the helpers who clean up the edges of our finger painting messes and make them into presentable gifts.
As Christmas approaches, I hope to keep in mind the angels’ song, both as a reminder that they are watching out for me and as a lesson that my own path to Heaven lies in doing the same for others, serving those most in need. May my own selfish tendencies and my need for personal glory be washed away as I prepare this Advent to join with the angels in singing Gloria in excelsis Deo.