Angels and the Beatitudes
Our pilgrimage is this year dedicated to the holy angels. On this Pentecost Sunday, we are going to meditate on how the holy angels prepare us to obediently receive the movement of the Holy Spirit who makes us live the beatitudes. According to a very ancient tradition, which goes back to Dionysius the Areopagite, interpreting the list of angelic choirs given by Saint Paul, the good angels, these pure spirits created by God before the corporeal world, are divided into nine choirs. These choirs are grouped, three by three, in three hierarchies. Each hierarchy is assigned a specific function in the government of the world and of men.
The first hierarchy purifies men, the second enlightens them, and the third unites them to God. We can relate each of these three hierarchies to each of the three groups of beatitudes. The purifying angels of the first hierarchy help us to live the first three beatitudes, which concern the flight from sin: blessed are the poor, the meek and the afflicted. The illuminating angels of the second hierarchy guide us in the implementation of the beatitudes of action: blessed are those who are hungry for justice, and the merciful. The angels of union with God in the third hierarchy support us in the practice of contemplation: blessed are pure and peaceful hearts.
I. The angels purify us by announcing to us the joy of the spirit
Man’s first experience of happiness is that he wants it and he can’t achieve it. His heart is never satisfied with the goods of this world. The world is too small to feed its thirst for bliss. The human soul is a fragile flame, flickering between two infinite abysses: the mystery of God and the enigma of its own spirit. God, "He who is" (Ex 3:14), dwells, at the top of the holy mountain, the Burning Bush which burns without being consumed. Man scrutinizes the deep abyss of his soul united to the bodily world, his soul sorry for infinite desires ... and he never finds the bottom of it!
The angels show us the existence of the pure spiritual world. They remind us that we are spirits like them, but embodied spirits, whom sin has hurt ,and of whom the Devil is envious. The good angels, on the other hand, are spotless mirrors of the Joy of God. Their light comes to breakthrough our darkness… upwards! They purify us by detaching us from the illusory kingdom of our insatiable Self, and by announcing to us the fundamental joy: the Saviour wants to inscribe our names in Heaven, he wants to write our eternal name (cf. Rev 2:17) in the glowing hearth of God!
Yes, the angels purify us, by erasing from our forehead the stigma of deadly sins, as Dante saw in the Songs of Purgatory. At each step on the ladder of purification, an angel erases one of the seven "Ps" that the poet wears on his forehead and which signify the defilements of his soul, while singing the beatitude opposite to the vice which is purified!
The angelic light is that of finite spirits, it filters into our injured soul. It intrigues us, tames us to the good, and attracts us to the infinite Joy of eternal Light. "Rejoice, you can leave the deadly and boring trilogy of money, violence and sex. Rejoice, you poor, you meek, you who are afflicted! Under the guidance of Christ, the true Light who comes into this world (cf. Jn 1: 9), you come out of the Kingdom of shadows, you already have within you the invisible Kingdom, yet more real than matter ”.
But be careful! The angels are our friends, our helpers, our "deacons". But they are to lead us to Christ who is their King and our only Saviour. It is always around the mystery of Christ that the purifying angels fly: at the Annunciation made to Mary and that made to Saint Joseph, to the shepherds near the Nativity in Bethlehem, to the saving announcement of the flight to Egypt.
II. The angels light up the steps of our walk towards this joy
Not content with helping us to live the beatitudes of the flight from sin, by revealing to us the joy for which we are made like them, the angels accompany us in our walk towards this joy, by helping us to practice the beatitudes of action. Blessed are those who are hungry for justice, blessed are the merciful! What do angels do? In the Old Covenant, Jacob saw, in a dream, a mysterious ladder: "Behold, a ladder was placed on the earth and its top touched the sky. And […] upon it, angels of God went up and down, and above stood Yahweh ”(Gen 28:12). Jesus revealed to us that he himself is that ladder that leads to the bliss of heaven: "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the sky open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man ”(Jn 1, 51).
Where is this Son of Man for us on this earth? Jesus taught us that He is in our brothers. "Whatever you do to one of these little ones, you will do it to me ..." (Mt 25, 40. What a wonderful perspective: each time we do a good work for someone else, especially a work of justice or mercy, it is to the Son of man, our Saviour that we do it! In the comings and goings of justice and mercy, we are acting in grace, fully supernatural: we go up and descend "upon the Son of man".
The illuminating angels of the second hierarchy make us dance this ballet of Christian life, with steps of love, advancing towards the Joy of God, which is at the top of the ladder. They project the light of Christ's face on our neighbor, so that we may recognize him. If we "know" others, if we see them and if we serve them as images of Christ, we will be "known" to Christ! To help us to exercise the full strength of justice, the angels serve us as they served Jesus after the temptation in the desert. To help us to reach the end of mercy, they console us, as they comforted Jesus in the garden of agony.
III. Angels unite us to God by making us sing this joy.
What is Heaven? It is seeing God and being "one" with him in Christ who opened the doors of praise. It is to be happy that God is happy and that we stand with his Son before him, singing his glory and his mercy. In worship here, we anticipate Heaven. It is by worshiping that we are at the highest point, says Saint Thomas, in the bright image of God.
The angels of union with God, those of the highest hierarchy, remind us of this. They sing for us the beatitudes of contemplation: "Rejoice, pure hearts, and you who spread peace ... Not only will you see God and you will be called his sons in glory, but already you will see God and are truly his son in praise of grace.” It is the angels who invite us to sing and we respond to their invitation (cf. Rev 5: 11-13). "The being of man, transcended by a higher order of nature, that of the angels, awakens to his own praise only through the praise of the spirit world".
The angels associate us with the song of the Sanctus, or Trisagion: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, the Almighty God, who was, who is and who comes!" (Rev 4: 8) and they teach us to sing a New Song before the throne of God (cf. Rev 14: 3). It is especially in the liturgy of the Mass that we are carried by the song of the angels. "We who mystically represent the Cherubim and who, in honour of the invigorating Trinity, sing the three times holy hymn, deposit all the solicitude of this world in order to receive with dignity the King of the universe who comes invisibly escorted by the angelic armies."
The role of the angels is important in the contemplation of the Trinitarian mystery, in the prayer which unites us to Christ through the redemptive mystery, and also in the comforting hope and expectation of the new heaven and the new earth. The angels were present during the resurrection of Christ, they surrounded him during his Ascension, they will be present in the Parousia around the victorious Christ to inaugurate the Kingdom.
In a famous painting, Fra Angelico represented a graceful "round of the elect". What is striking is that the angels and the men alternate fraternally. The round goes towards a mysterious door of light, which symbolizes Paradise. Pure spirits lead us, we who are spirits united to the material world. Certainly, they are of a superior nature to ours, but it is in our nature that the Word was incarnated.
Under the gaze of his Mother, the Immaculate, it is for him that the angels purify us, it is to him that they guide us, it is to him that they unite us. These pure spirits consider it an honour to serve us as the brothers of their King. There is reason to be overcome with gratitude and love for these beings of light... and for God who gave them to us as ministers of our salvation.
FR. LOUIS-MARIE DE BLIGNIERES
PRIOR OF THE SAINT-VINCENT-FERRIER FRATERNITY