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The Angels: Adorers of God

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

We commonly and correctly think of the angels as messengers from God to us. So they are. But before being messengers from God, the angels are adorers of God. Their principal role in heaven is to adore the Holy Trinity. This role of adoration runs through the whole Bible from Genesis to the book of the Apocalypse. For our purpose in this present meditation we shall reflect on the following aspects of angelic adoration.

The angels adore God as an angelic community. Again, while all nine choirs of angels adore the Trinity, the leaders of this adoration are the Seraphim. Their adoration of God is a celebration of all the divine attributes. An essential part of this angelic adoration is so wide in finding some lessons we should learn from the angels and the adorers of the Divine Majesty.

Angelic adoration as a community. The bible tells us a great deal about the angels. One thing the Scriptures emphasize is that the angels adore God as a community. In looking at the language, this angelic community is described in various terms: it is a choir of angels from which our own word ‘choir’ is derived in the language of the world. This community is the host of angels which means organized and coordinated assembly.

This community of adoring angels is a ‘multitude’ which means it is countless number of heavenly spirits. Implied in all of this communitarian adoration of God is the fact that the angels in heaven are a collective, organized community. And the word community among the angels is real because the angels, as we have said, are individual persons, yet, they adore God together. They adore God as a community.

Christ tells us, remember, He is especially pleased where two or three are gathered together, as He says, ‘in my name.’ Long before the Bible was written, long before Christ came into the world, from the dawn of heavenly creation...

The fundamental reason for why the angels adore God as a community is because God Himself is a community. He wants us to adore Him together with others as a community.

Among the nine choirs of angels identified in Sacred Scripture, the Seraphim are always identified, and the Church so teaches, as the leaders of angelic adoration. Literally the word ‘sera’ means to burn, and the plural, ‘seraphim’ identifies the plurality of these adorers of God.

The Seraphim are first of all, part of the highest of the three classes of angels and are highest in this highest of the three as stated in tradition and scripture. Sacred Scripture wants to teach us what is the first role of adoration, whether of angels or human beings.

The Seraphim are burning with love for God. We speak of the flames of love. We speak of the ardor of love. In the literature of all nations, we speak of the fire of love. God consumes with a heat of His own fire of charity.

A perfect English translation for the ‘Seraphim’ would be the ‘inflaming ones’ or the ‘burning ones.’ The love of God with which they glow, keeps them close, very close to the throne of God. There is nothing in heaven or on earth that will unite two persons more than love. The love of God with which the Seraphim glow, then, keeps them so near, with the nearness of spirit to spirit with a God who is love.

How has the adoration by the Seraphim, of God, loving God, indeed? How do they do it? And how do the other angels adore God in their respective dignity? They do so, the Church tells us, by celebrating all the divine attributes. All the Seraphim are burning with love for God, they celebrate all the divine attributes. As we know, the attributes of God as nouns, are the qualities that we know from creation which attribute to God.

That is what the love of God is all about. His love for us and then ours, beginning with the angels, going on to God, pouring out to Him in selfless angelic charity. How? By adoring the divine perfections, which we call the divine attributes. Above all, the angels, led by the Seraphim adore the holiness of God.

As we read Sacred Scripture, the Church has developed the whole science of angelology. The angels, above all, in adoring God, they adore the holiness of the Holy Trinity.

It is not to ask ourselves what does holiness mean? A word that we are constantly using, “Holy, holy, holy.” What does it mean? At root, holiness means otherness, indeed the holiness of God means the otherness of God, the uniqueness of God.

How is God holy? God is holy because He is the totally Other. God alone is necessary being. God alone must exist. God is the being who cannot not exist. God is eternal, unchanging. He is infinite. God alone is the cause of everything else that exists. Even as God is the first cause, the source of all creation, so God is the final cause, from whom and for whom everything else has been brought into being.

Ah, but what a difference between God being Holy and His intelligent creatures, first the angels and then we recognizing the holiness of God and adoring Him because He is the all holy, undivided trinity.

In adoring God, therefore, the angels are adoring God who is holy in His justice. God who holy in His goodness, who is holy in His mercy, who is holy in His power, who is holy in His beauty, who is holy in His wisdom. We should never say if we speak technically that God merely is holy, or that He is powerful, merciful, or beautiful. No, God is holiness. God is goodness. God is power. God is beauty. You never apply adjectives when speaking of God. All of this is locked up in the angelic adoration that over the centuries of Church has repeated: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.”

Needless to say, from the revealed word of God, describing how all the angels adore God. “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord of us, the Hosts of angels.” All this is expressed in our prayer of adoration “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus sabbaoth.” What a difference. Over the years of teaching telling my students, between pronouncing words and understanding what these words mean. “Holy, Holy, Holy”, the angels keep adoring God as the one who is absolutely unique. No one is like Him because everything comes from Him and everything else has been made for Him.

The song of the angels. This must sound strange. We know the angels have no bodies. Consequently they have no mouth, no lips, no ears. What does Sacred Scripture, which keeps repeating, what does it mean when we are told the angels sing, that they praise God in hymns, that they praise God in unity?

The highest purpose of everything in the world of creation is to provide us with some and just a bare minimum understanding of the mystery of God. To speak of the angels singing all the hymns of the angelic hosts, or the lips of the angelic choirs, or the ears of the hosts. We are describing in our poor human language what is going on in heaven.

Clearly, this is a mysterious language to us. When we sing or play an instrument of music, our sense hears the sound of melody and rhythm and harmony. The crucial words that we should put into our human vocabulary as belonging to our human spirituality. The angels have no bodily ears, no bodily lips. They do not hear with corporeal ears, music. Yet, what a crucial yet this is, yet the angels do sing, they do listen to, and they play music.

How? By praising God together. By praising God in unison of thought. By praising God in harmony, harmony of their collective love of God. There is such a thing as melody of spirit. There is such a thing as harmony of minds and wills. There is such a thing as togetherness among the angels. This is expressing what the Sacred Scripture called the singing of the angelic choirs. Needless to say, we have an awful lot to learn.

That is why our final reflection is on the implications of all that we have been saying for our own moral and collective spiritual lives.

Implications of angelic adoration. What are the implications of the angelic songs? I want to single out three main lessons that the angels, praising God, should teach us.

They are three primacies: the primacy of prayer, the primacy of adoration and the primacy of love.

The primacy of prayer in our lives. The most important duty that we have in life is to pray. Our deepest obligation is to pray. The main reason God created us is that we might pray. God gave us a mind and a will. A mind with which we should know God and think of God. The bedrock, granite foundation of prayer, is thinking of God. How we need to be told this. How many things, how many persons, we are thinking about, especially the one person who happens to have our love. Our primary duty is prayer, first by thinking of God. But God has given us both a mind and a will. We pray when we think of God and when we give our will to God. Surrendering our wills to the will of God. Sacrificing what we want to what God wants. All of this is locked up in the primacy of prayer in our lives.

The primacy of adoration. Over the centuries of the Church’s teaching, we have identified four principal forms of prayer: adoration, thanksgiving, petition, and expiation. Are we to thank God? By all means. Are we to ask God for what we need? We better. Are we to ask God for His mercy on us sinners? There is no repentance unless we ask for God’s forgiveness. The underlining of all prayers is the prayer of adoration. This is the second greatest lesson of the angels.

When we adore God we are practicing the Novus Ordo prayer that the created spirit can direct towards his Creator. What do we do when we adore God? We acknowledge Him as “Holy, Holy, Holy”, the totally Other for whom nothing else would exist. The One who gave us a will for one purpose, to surrender our will to His divine will. But, we are not finished yet.

As we said, the adoration of the angels, beginning with the Seraphim, whose very name is meant not to just symbolize but signify the highest form of adoration--which is to love God. The angel’s adoration of love, now in heaven, is to praise Him for His Goodness. How we hope, that after all we are really hoping for, no matter what else, we hope to achieve, our greatest deepest hope is to join the angels in adoring God by our love.

But, we are not in heaven yet. Our adoration of love here on earth is to put the charity that we receive when we were baptized, this power to love selflessly, in to use. How are we to pray? We are to pray by surrendering our wills completely to the will of God. This is what we are told when we are said to pray always. No matter what we are doing, whether we are conscious of our praying, or whether my mind is necessarily preoccupied, but underneath everything in our lives should be a complete surrender of our will to the will of God.

How the angels in heaven know this, because they have seen and believed. This was the test of the angels before they inherited, earned, their heavenly reward. And why some of the individual angelic hosts were condemned.

What God wants of us is to pray always. By always surrendering our wills to the will of God. Surrendering our wills not because we have to, not because we are resigned to. No. Because we want to. We want to give God back something of what He has given to us. He has given us the deepest treasure we have, our will. All of this is locked up in joining the angels in praying and singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.”

Lord God, of the Heavenly choirs, teach us to imitate the angels in our life of prayer. To make their first in our lives, to adore God, throughout the day by thinking of Him and telling Him “How great thou art, O Lord, how great thou art.” Seeing God as St. Francis of Assisi saw God, in everything and in everyone. To love God with our whole hearts, by joining every action we perform with the angelic hosts who are constantly praying and singing: “Our Lord, our God, we adore you, we love you, you are our God.”

Dallas Carmelites, Conference #4, Sunday 2/25/96, 2:30 PM

Copyright © 1996 Inter Mirifica

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