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Characteristics and Duties

The word “angel” (in Hebrew (singular/plural), malak/malakim; in Greek, aggelos/aggelois) means “messenger” or one who is deputed.”  Angels are pure spiritual and immortal beings created by God “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1), who glorify God without ceasing (Rev. 4:8) and help carry out God’s plan of salvation of the human family (Heb. 1:14).  The angels, like humans, have intelligence, will and emotion (Luke 2:10; 15:10).  Angels can see God (Matt. 18:10), are called sons of God (Job 1:6; 38:7) and are ministers of God’s will (Psalm 103:20; Matt. 4:1; 13:49; 26:53).  While the angels are spirits, they can assume bodily form (John 20:12; Heb. 13:2; Acts 6:15).  Angels also have their own language (1 Cor. 13:1). There is a prodigious number of angels (Luke 2:13; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 5:11; Dan. 7:10; Psalm 67:18). 
Through salvation history, angels have appeared to human beings, such as Zechariah (Zech. 2:3), Samson’s mother (Judges 13:3), Joseph (Matt. 1:20; 2:13-19), Zachariah (Luke 1:11,19-20), the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38), the shepherds (Luke 2:9,15), Jesus during His agony in the garden (Luke 22:43), the apostles after the Resurrection (Matt 28:2) and after the Ascension (Acts 1:10).  Angels have also assisted human beings with affairs on earth, such as Abraham (Gen. 18; 22:11), Hagar (Gen. 16:7; 21:17), Lot (Gen. 19), Jacob (Gen. 28:12), Elijah (1 Kings 19:5), Daniel (Dan. 6:22), Tobit (Tobit 5:6-22), Peter (Acts 10:19; 12:7-11), Cornelius (Acts 10:3; 11:13), and the eunuch (Acts 8:26-39).
As the angels are emissaries or messengers of God, they observe our behavior closely and report back to God what they observe.  While God already knows how we behave, He is moved when His creatures beseech Him.  Thus, the angels can report to God our good and bad behavior, and God in return will dispense both graces (Rev. 1:4; Heb. 1:14) and punishments through the angels (2 Kings 19:35; 1 Macc. 7:41; 2 Macc. 3:24-27; Acts 12:23; Rev. 1-20).  In light of this, Paul tells women to put a veil on their heads for worship “because of the angels” (1 Cor. 11:10).  If a woman does not wear this symbol of submission when she prays (and particularly at the Holy Mass, where the angels intimately assist), then the angels will report to God their non-submission.
The angels are not only judging our behavior on earth, but will also come with Christ to judge the world at the end of time (Matt. 16:27; 24:31; 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Thess. 1:7). Some of the angels rebelled against God, were cast out of heaven and condemned to hell (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).  One of these fallen angels named Apollyon in Greek (Abaddon in Hebrew) is the king of the infernal abyss (Rev. 9:11).
One of the principal duties of angels is to serve as guardians for the baptized. There is little Scriptural evidence supporting the view that un-baptized people have guardian angels, but the early Fathers had differing opinions on the question and the Church has not addressed the issue.  Here are some Scriptural verses that demonstrate the truth of guardian angels:
 Ex.23:20-23 – “See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Be attentive to him and heed his voice. Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sin. My authority resides in him. If you heed his voice and carry out all I tell you, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. My angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites; and I will wipe them out.”

Judith 13:20 – “As the same Lord lives, his angel has been my keeper both going hence and abiding there, and returning from there here; and the Lord has not suffered me his handmaid to be defiled, but has brought me back to you without pollution of sin, rejoicing for his victory, for my escape, and for your deliverance.”

Psalm 34:8 – “The angel of the LORD, who encamps with them, delivers all who fear God.”

Psalm 91:11-13 – “For God commands the angels to guard you in all your ways. With their hands they shall support you, lest you strike your foot against a stone. You shall tread upon the asp and the viper, trample the lion and the dragon.”  God reveals to David that the angels will guard and protect him.  Since this Psalm was written about 1,000 years before Christ, the belief in guardian angels was well-established among the Jews. 

Dan. 10:13 – “but the prince of the kingdom of Persia stood in my way for twenty-one days, until finally Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me. I left him there with the prince of the kings of Persia…”  See also Dan. 4:17; 10:10-21; and Acts 16:6 where angels serve as guardians of entire countries. 

Matt.18:10 - "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” Jesus’ use of “their angels” (hoi angeloi auton) in reference to “one of these little ones” (enos ton micron touton) indicates that each “little one” has an angel to guard and protect the little one.

Acts 12:14-15 – “She was so overjoyed when she recognized Peter's voice that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. They told her, "You are out of your mind," but she insisted that it was so. But they kept saying, “It is his angel.”  This demonstrates that adults also have guardian angels.  The phrase “they kept saying” also shows that the belief in guardian angels was common in the early Church. 

Acts 16:9 – “During the night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, "Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  See also Acts 5:19; 8:26; 10:3,22; 11:13).

Heb. 1:14 – “Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?”  This verse clearly indicates that God created the angels to help us achieve salvation.

Rev. 1:20 – “This is the secret meaning of the seven stars you saw in my right hand, and of the seven gold lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Rev. 3:1 - "To the angel of the church in Sardis, write this: 'The one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says this: “I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” See the presence of the “seven angels” also in Rev. 1:4,20; 3:1; 8:2,6; Isaiah 63:9 and Tobit 12:15.

Gen. 16:6; 24:7; Judith 13:20; Hos. 12:4; 1 Kings 19:5 – other references to guardian angels.



The Nine Choirs of Angels

Scripture reveals that God created nine choirs of angels (or three hierarchies of three choirs each, which reflect the Blessed Trinity):
1.      Angels
These are the lowest choir of the angels and have the most interaction with human beings.  There are over 200 references in Scripture of the “angels”: 
Old Testament: Gen. 19:1,12,15; 48:16; Ex. 3:2; 14:9; 23:20; 23:23; 32:34; 33:2; Num. 20:16; 22:22-27; 31-32; 34-35; Deut. 32:43; Judges 2:1,4; 6:11-12; 20-22; 13:3,6,9,13,15-16,18,20-21; 1 Sam. 29:10; 2 Sam. 14:17,20; 19:27; 24:16-17; 1 Kings 13:18; 19:5,7; 2 Kings 1:3,15; 19:35; 1 Chron. 12:22; 21:12,15-16; 21:18, 27, 30; 32:21; Tobit 5:4,17,22-6:1,4-5,7; 11:14; 12:15,22; Esth. 11:13; 1 Macc. 7:41; 2 Macc. 11:6; 15:22-23; Job 4:18; 33:23; Psalm 34:7; 35:5-6; 91:11; 103:20; 148:2; Wis. 16:20; Isaiah 37:36; 63:9; Baruch 6:6; Dan. 3:28,49,58; 6:22; 13:55b,59b; 14:34,36,39; Hos. 12:4; Zech. 1:9,11-14,19; 2:3; 3:1-3,5-6; 4:4-5,10; 5:5,10; 6:4-5; 12:8. 
New Testament: Matt. 1:20,24; 2:13,19; 4:6,11; 13:39,41,49; 16:27; 18:10; 22:30; 24:31,36; 25:31,41; 26:53; 28:2,5; Mark 1:13; 8:38; 12:25; 13:27; 13:32; Luke 1:11,13,18-19; Luke 1:26,30,34-35,38; 2:9-10; 2:13,15,21; 4:10; 9:26; 12:8-9; 15:10; 16:22; 20:36; 22:43; 24:23; John 1:51; 12:29; 20:12; Acts 5:19; 6:15; 7:30,35,38,53; 8:26; 10:3,7,22; 11:13; 12:7-11,15,23; 23:8-9; 27:23; Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 4:9; 6:3; 11:10; 2 Cor. 11:14; 12:7; Gal. 1:8; 3:19; 4:14; Col. 2:18; 2 Thess. 2:17; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 Tim. 5:21; Heb. 1:4-7,13; 2:2,5,7,9,16; 12:22; 13:2; 1 Peter 1:12; 3:22; 2 Peter 2:4,11; Jude 1:6; Rev. 1:1,20-2:1,8,12,18; 3:1,5,7,14; 5:2,11; 7:1-2,11; 8:2-6,8,10,12-9:1,11,13-15; 10:1,5,7-9; 11:15; 12:7,9; 14:6,8-10; 14:15,17-19; 15:1,6-16:5,8,10,12,17; 17:1,7; 18:1,21; 19:9,17; 20:1; 21:9,12,17; 22:1,6,8,16.
2.      Archangels
The archangels compromise another choir of the angels and possess special powers and duties, including announcing the end of the world and judgment:
1 Thess. 4:16 – “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first…”
Scripture reveals the names of three archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.
Dan. 10:13 – “but the prince of the kingdom of Persia stood in my way for twenty-one days, until finally Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me. I left him there with the prince of the kings of Persia”
Dan. 10:21 – “but I shall tell you what is written in the truthful book. No one supports me against all these except Michael, your prince” 
Dan. 12:1 – “At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people;  It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time. At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book.”
Jude: 1:9 – “Yet the archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him but said, “May the Lord rebuke you!”
Rev. 12:7 – “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.”
Dan. 8:16 – “and on the Ulai I heard a human voice that cried out, "Gabriel, explain the vision to this man."

Dan. 9:21 – “I was still occupied with this prayer, when Gabriel, the one whom I had seen before in vision, came to me in rapid flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.”

Luke 1:19 -  “And the angel said to him in reply, "I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.”

Luke 1:26 – “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth…”
Tobit 3:17 – “So Raphael was sent to heal them both: to remove the cataracts from Tobit's eyes, so that he might again see God's sunlight; and to marry Raguel's daughter Sarah to Tobit's son Tobiah, and then drive the wicked demon Asmodeus from her.”

Tobit 5:4 – “Tobiah went to look for someone acquainted with the roads who would travel with him to Media. As soon as he went out, he found the angel Raphael standing before him, though he did not know that this was an angel of God.”

Tobit 5:8 – “Raphael replied, "Very well, I will wait for you; but do not be long."

Tobit 5:10 – “When Raphael entered the house, Tobit greeted him first. Raphael said, "Hearty greetings to you!" Tobit replied: "What joy is left for me any more? Here I am, a blind man who cannot see God's sunlight, but must remain in darkness, like the dead who no longer see the light! Though alive, I am among the dead. I can hear a man's voice, but I cannot see him." Raphael said, "Take courage! God has healing in store for you; so take courage!" Tobit then said: "My son Tobiah wants to go to Media. Can you go with him to show him the way? I will of course pay you, brother." Raphael answered: "Yes, I can go with him, for I know all the routes. I have often traveled to Media and crossed all its plains and mountains; so I know every road well.”

Tobit 5:12-13 - “Raphael said: "Why? Do you need a tribe and a family? Or are you looking for a hired man to travel with your son?" Tobit replied, "I wish to know truthfully whose son you are, brother, and what your name is."  Raphael answered, "I am Azariah, son of Hananiah the elder, one of your own kinsmen.”

Tobit 5:16 – “I will even add a bonus to your wages!" Raphael replied: "I will go with him; have no fear. In good health we shall leave you, and in good health we shall return to you, for the way is safe.”

Tobit 6:11- “Raphael said to the boy, "Brother Tobiah!" He answered, "Yes, what is it?" Raphael continued: "Tonight we must stay with Raguel, who is a relative of yours.”

Tobit 6:16 – “Raphael said to him: "Do you not remember your father's orders? He commanded you to marry a woman from your own family. So now listen to me, brother; do not give another thought to this demon, but marry Sarah. I know that tonight you shall have her for your wife!”

Tobit 6:18 – “When Tobiah heard Raphael say that she was his kinswoman, of his own family's lineage, he fell deeply in love with her, and his heart became set on her.”

Tobit 7:9 – “Afterward, Raguel slaughtered a ram from the flock and gave them a cordial reception. When they had bathed and reclined to eat, Tobiah said to Raphael, "Brother Azariah, ask Raguel to let me marry my kinswoman Sarah."

Tobit 8:3 – “The demon, repelled by the odor of the fish, fled into Upper Egypt; Raphael pursued him there and bound him hand and foot. Then Raphael returned immediately.”

Tobit 9:1 – “Then Tobiah called Raphael and said to him…”

Tobit 9:5 – “So Raphael, together with the four servants and two camels, traveled to Rages in Media, where they stayed at Gabael's house. Raphael gave Gabael his bond and told him about Tobit's son Tobiah, and that he had married and was inviting him to the wedding celebration. Gabael promptly checked over the sealed moneybags, and they placed them on the camels.”

Tobit 11:1 – “Then they left and began their return journey. When they were near Kaserin, just before Nineveh, Raphael said…”

Tobit 11:4 - So they both went on ahead and Raphael said to Tobiah, "Have the gall in your hand!" And the dog ran along behind them.”

Tobit 11:7 – “Raphael said to Tobiah before he reached his father: "I am certain that his eyes will be opened.”

Tobit 12:5-6 – “So Tobiah called Raphael and said, "Take as your wages half of all that you have brought back, and go in peace. Raphael called the two men aside privately and said to them: "Thank God! Give him the praise and the glory. Before all the living, acknowledge the many good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Before all men, honor and proclaim God's deeds, and do not be slack in praising him.”

Tobit 12:15 – “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord."  See also Rev. 1:4,20; 3:1; 8:2,6; and Isaiah 63:9 which refer to these seven angels which serve the Lord in heaven.

Tobit 12:17 – “But Raphael said to them: "No need to fear; you are safe. Thank God now and forever.”

Tobit 12:20 – “So now get up from the ground and praise God. Behold, I am about to ascend to him who sent me; write down all these things that have happened to you. When Raphael ascended…”
3.      Principalities
The word “principalities” (or “princes”) comes from the Greek arche (plural is archai) which comes from archomai, meaning “beginning” or “commencement.” The Latin is princeps (singular) and principates (plural). The Hebrew sar has the same meaning.

Rom. 8:38 – “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers…”

Eph. 3:10 – “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.”

Eph. 6:12 – “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”

Col. 1:16 – “For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.”

Col. 2:15 – “despoiling the principalities and the powers, he made a public spectacle of them, leading them away in triumph by it.”

4.      Powers

The word “power” comes from the Greek exousia, which literally means power that is “out of” (ex) the “substantial being” (ousia).  The Latin is potestatem. 

Eph. 1:21- “far above every principality, power, virtue, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

1 Peter 3:22 – “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, powers and virtues subject to him.”

      5.  Virtues

The word “virtue” comes from the Greek dunamis (plural, dunamies) which connotes strength and the ability to do something powerful.  The Latin is virtus (plural, virtutes). 

Eph. 1:21- “far above every principality, power, virtue, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

1 Peter 3:22 – “who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, powers and virtues subject to him.”

6.      Dominations

The word “dominations” (or “dominions”) comes from the Greek kyriotes (plural, kyriotetes) and connotes lordship, authority and sovereignty.  The source word Kyrios is used to refer to God in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint).  See also examples in the New Testament, such as Luke 1:43, where Elizabeth asks Mary, “How is it that the mother of my Kyrios (Lord) should come to me?”  This is why Catholics call Mary the “Mother of God” (because God inspired Elizabeth to say the same thing).

Eph. 1:21 – “far above every principality, power, virtue, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

Col. 1:16 – “For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.”

7.      Thrones

The word “thrones” comes from the Greek thronos (plural, thronoi) and refers to the seat of majesty, which God shares with His angels (see Ex. 3; 13:21; 14:19; 33:14; Judges 6; 13; Acts 7:31-33).

Col. 1:16 – “For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things were created through him and for him.”

8.      Cherubim

The word “cherubim” probably comes from the Hebrew word qareb which means “near,” which is usually used in the context of coming near to God to offer worship or sacrifice.  Hence, the angels are intimately involved in assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Gen. 3:24 – “When he expelled the man, he settled him east of the garden of Eden; and he stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, to guard the way to the tree of life.”

Psalm 80:1 – “Shepherd of Israel, listen, guide of the flock of Joseph! From your throne upon the cherubim reveal yourself.”

Psalm 99:1 – “The LORD is king, the peoples tremble; God is enthroned on the cherubim, the earth quakes.”

Isaiah 37:16 – “O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, enthroned upon the cherubim! You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made the heavens and the earth.”

Ezekiel 10:1-4:  “Then I looked, and behold, on the firmament that was over the heads of the cherubim there appeared above them something like a sapphire, in form resembling a throne. And he said to the man clothed in linen, Go in among the whirling wheels underneath the cherubim; fill your hands with burning coals from between the cherubim, and scatter them over the city. And he went in before my eyes. Now the cherubim were standing on the south side of the house, when the man went in; and a cloud filled the inner court.” See also the remaining verses 4-22.

Dan. 3:55 - “Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne upon the cherubim, praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”

Ex. 25:18; 25:20; 26:1,31; 26:31; 36:8; 36:35; 37:7,9; Num. 7:89; 1 Sam. 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; 1 Kings 6:23,25,27-29, 32,35; 7:29,36; 8:6-7; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chron. 13:6; 28:18; 2 Chron. 3:7,10-11,13-14; 5:7-8; Ezek. 41:18,20,25; Heb. 9:5 – the cherubim are also made into images to facilitate the worship of God.

9.      Seraphim

The word “seraphim” is from the Hebrew sarap which means “to burn.”  Thus, seraphim are known as the “burning ones” which reflect their burning love for God.

Isaiah 6:2 – “Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft.”

Isaiah 6:6 – “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar.”

Ezek. 1:13 – “In among the living creatures something like burning coals of fire could be seen; they seemed like torches, moving to and fro among the living creatures. The fire gleamed, and from it came forth flashes of lightning.”

Num. 21:4-9 – “From Mount Hor they set out on the Red Sea road, to by-pass the land of Edom. But with their patience worn out by the journey, the people complained against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water? We are disgusted with this wretched food!" In punishment the LORD sent among the people saraph serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died. Then the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned in complaining against the LORD and you. Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people, and the LORD said to Moses, "Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover.”

Gen. 3:1-15; Rev. 12:3-4,7-9,12-13,15,17; 20:2 – suggests that Satan is a fallen Seraph (the evil “seraph serpent” which is also alluded to in Num. 21:4-9).



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