The Roman Missal: On Angels

It’s been about a month since Albert Pujols signed his new contract, and it seems tensions have cooled a little, so I’m a confident I can talk about angels (not the LA kind) without being beaten to death.  Most of us have a pretty romantic vision of angels.  We usually think of altar servers with wings, or fat babies with wings, or even people in 1990’s haircuts with strange lights shining on them (ie. the “Touched by an Angel” TV show).

Modern thought is that angels are a cute, make-believe thing.  But as Catholics, angels are very important to our faith.  They’re not what people turn into when they die, but a whole other creation of God, just as much as we are, or dogs, cats, or wildebeests are.  They are creatures of pure spirit and, like all creation, join us in giving praise to God.

That’s where the Sanctus, or the “Holy, Holy, Holy” comes in (Sanctus is just “holy” in Latin).  The most notable change is that rather than saying “Lord God of power and might,” we say “Lord God of hosts”.  “Hosts” doesn’t mean that God is king of the little white things (although he is…), but it refers to the great multitude of the heavenly armies.  This goes back to the Old Testament in Isaiah 6:1-3, where we hear the prophet’s vision of angels, and guess what?  They’re singing the same words that we do at Mass!  The Gospel of Luke also refers to the “great multitude of heavenly hosts” in Luke 2:13.  Angels are definitely part of our faith!

So what are they?  Well, as I mentioned, they are beings of pure spirit without bodies, and they’re organized in groupings, or choirs of angels.  From the least to the most powerful, they are: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.  Keep these choirs in mind, because you’ll hear about them at Mass.  You can’t tell from hearing it, but when I’m praying the preface (the part right before the Sanctus), these different words are capitalized, referring to the specific choirs of angels: “With Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven…“

What’s the big deal about this, and why is there more emphasis on these angels in the new translation?  Well, it reminds us that when we’re sitting in the pews, struggling to stay awake or to sing along with the music, we’re not doing it alone!  We believe that the angels are there with us, singing and praying with us to give praise and glory to God.  Like them, every fiber of our being is created to give praise, which is why the next thing we do together is kneel.  Certainly something to remember next time you’re at Mass!