Vol. XIV, No. 7
Angels and the Liturgy of the 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…
by Father Ben Reese
In our worship, Christians 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 cannot see the Most Holy Trinity who dwells in unapproachable light. So the question is — how do we worship the one whom no man has seen or can see? The answer, of course, is that we have been given the gift of the Faith and the visible sacraments to assist us in our earthly worship. However, we have also been given the angels and these good angels already see God in the light of Glory. “Their angels always behold the face of my Father in heaven!” says Matthew’s gospel (18:10).
So the angels can enlighten us about the Holy Eucharist, for into this great Mystery as Saint Peter reminds us, angels long to look (I Pt 1:10). This word “Mystery” refers above all to the mystery of the Incarnation, but the Greek term is also used for the sacraments, especially for the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Although the angels can never fully comprehend the Incarnation or the Eucharistic sacrifice, they do teach us how to adore Christ in the Eucharist. As Our Lord said to Nathaniel, “you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (Jn 1: 51).
Angels and the initial Rites of the Eucharist
We begin our ascent with the angels in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the sign of the Cross, and the Confiteor (“I confess…”), imploring mercy through the blood of the Paschal Lamb in the sight of the angels who have witnessed our sins. Next, we sing the song of the angels on earth — the Gloria. As this song prepared the shepherds to adore the newborn Son of God, so the Gloria is a song of adoration of God made present on our altars. Our Guardian Angels can also help us to receive the Good News of the Liturgy of the Word just as the Archangel Gabriel prepared Mary to receive the Word of God.
Angels and the Sacrifice of the Mass
In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the priest re-presents the Passion of Calvary, the angels adore the Precious Blood, poured out in the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass, as the Letter to the Hebrews says:
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 than the blood of Abel. (Heb 12:22-24)
With the Canon of the Mass (Eucharistic Prayer) we enter into the true Holy of Holies, chanting the “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” with the cherubim and seraphim who eternally ponder the God/Man’s death on Calvary, His cry echoing in the highest — “My God, My God why have you abandoned me.” (Mt 27:46).
At first glance, this re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary 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), so that after death, we will be brought body and soul into the New Jerusalem where “the Lamb” will be the lamp of the temple and where we shall worship Him and see His Face: “for the Lord God shall be their light and He shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev 22).
Meanwhile here in the celebration of the earthly liturgy, the angels help us to present our offerings at the Sacrifice of the Mass before the altar in heaven. In the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) the priest prays with the people, “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in Heaven.”
Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa explained how the angel assists the Church to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice in heaven.
The priest does not pray that the sacramental species may be borne up to heaven; nor that Christ’s true body may be borne thither, for it does not cease to be there; but he offers this prayer for Christ’s mystical body, which is signified in this sacrament, that the angel standing by at the Divine mysteries may present to God the prayers of both priest and people, according to Apocalypse 8:4: “And the smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel”. But God’s “altar on high” means either the Church triumphant, unto which we pray to be translated, or else God Himself, in Whom we ask to share; because it is said of this altar (Exodus 20:26): “Thou shalt not go up by steps unto My altar, i.e. thou shalt make no steps towards the Trinity.” (Summa, III, Q. 83, art. 4, Reply to Obj. 9.)
In this way, the angels help those worshiping at Mass to fulfill their own baptismal priesthood: by assisting them in offering their own prayers, works, joys, and sufferings in union with the one sacrifice of Jesus as re-presented by the ordained priest.
Holy Communion is often called the “Bread of Angels”. But why refer to Holy Communion as the bread of angels since angels cannot eat? Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that the angels do feed spiritually on Christ — adoring Him in Heaven. In the Summa, he asks “Whether it belongs to man alone to eat this sacrament spiritually?”
I answer that, Christ Himself is contained in this sacrament, not under His proper species, but under the sacramental species. Consequently there are two ways of eating spiritually. First, as Christ Himself exists under His proper species, and in this way the angels eat Christ spiritually inasmuch as they are united with Him in the enjoyment of perfect charity, and in clear vision (and this is the bread we hope for in heaven), and not by faith, as we are united with Him here.
In another way one may eat Christ spiritually, as He is under the sacramental species, inasmuch as a man believes in Christ, while desiring to receive this sacrament; and this is not merely to eat Christ spiritually, but likewise to eat this sacrament; which does not fall to the lot of the angels. And therefore although the angels feed on Christ spiritually, yet it does not belong to them to eat this sacrament spiritually….
… Consequently, man is said to eat the “bread of angels”, because it belongs to the angels to do so firstly and principally, since they enjoy Him in His proper species; and secondly it belongs to men, who receive Christ under this sacrament. (Summa III, Q 80, art 2.)
Adoration and reparation
The angels teach us how to offer reparation (that is, to make amends for sins of others) for abuses of Holy Communion including public sacrileges. One of the Fatima children’s visions is of an angel holding a host dripping Precious Blood, and while the host was suspended in the air, the angel prostrated himself before it, and the children imitated him. The children received Holy Communion from the angel 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”. Then he instructed the children to repeat this prayer three times in honor of the Most Holy Trinity:
Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I adore you profoundly. I offer you the Most Precious, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges, and indifferences by which He is offended. By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg the conversion of poor sinners!
The Angels of God are perpetually descending and ascending on the Son of Man in His great prayer offered at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and they are constantly keeping vigil before His substantial presence in every tabernacle and in every monstrance. Jesus is the Bread of angels, and His angels teach us how to receive Holy Communion worthily so that we poor sinners may forever feed mystically on the Lamb once slain in the light of glory.
Father Benjamin Reese is an associate pastor at St. John Vianney Parish in Northlake, Illinois. He is a member of a new priestly society approved by Cardinal George, The Apostles of Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim. For more information see the website: http://www.apostlesofjesuschrist.org.
Related page: St. Michael and the Archangels, www.wf-f.org/Michaelmas.html