There is a rich tradition in the Church surrounding guardian angels that goes far beyond the image of a tiny angel perched on one shoulder, opposing the devil perched on the other. Though guardian angels were not given an official feast day until Pope Paul V declared it one in the early 1600s, the Church’s teaching on guardian angels is rooted deeply in both Scripture and Tradition.
Angels have been present since the dawn of creation, and have played an active role throughout the history of salvation. In the Old Testament, angels are often protectors, such as when an angel prevented Abraham from carrying out the sacrifice of his son Isaac (Gen 22:1–19). Throughout Scripture, angels led the people of God, assisted the prophets, and announced important births like those of John the Baptist and of course Jesus himself (CCC, §332).
With regard to Tradition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church contains beautiful descriptions of angels and their roles. There is only one small paragraph on guardian angels specifically, but its content is steeped in references to writings of the saints, the Church Fathers, and Scripture itself:
From its beginning until death human life is surrounded by their [angels’] watchful care and intercession [cf. Mt 18:10; Lk 16:22; Ps 34:7; 91:10–13; Job 33:23–24; Zech 1:12; Tob 12:12]. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” [St. Basil, Adv. Eunomium III, 1: PG 29, 656B]. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC, §336)
While some Church fathers held that only those who are baptized have guardian angels, general consensus holds that every human being is assigned a guardian angel at birth to guide their charge back to God. Thus, guardian angels continue the role played by other angels throughout salvation history even today by helping each of us reach our own salvation, assisting us as we journey toward heaven.
Role of Guardian Angels
St. Augustine wrote that the name ‘angel’ pertains to its office as God’s messenger, not to its nature, which is pure spirit with no physical body (see CCC, §329). St. Thomas Aquinas described guardian angels as trying to influence our will through our senses and imagination, working to get us into heaven (see Summa Theologica, Ia, q. 111).
We see angels as messengers all throughout Scripture but may overlook that we each have a messenger assigned just to us, working specifically on our behalf in the service of God. That is an incredibly powerful and humbling truth of faith to consider.
In effect, guardian angels prick our consciences so that we can follow the will of God more closely, whispering to our hearts in order to guide us in the right direction. Our guardian angels watch over us to offer protection, especially when our souls need protecting. They aid our prayer by interceding for us, and help to prepare our souls for the moment when we stand before God at our death.
Honoring our Guardian Angels on their Feast Day
Here are a few fun ways to celebrate the feast of the guardian angels.
- First and foremost, we can honor our guardian angels through prayer. The Angelus Dei (Angel of God) prayer is often taught to children, but adults can and should pray it as well. Perhaps you may feel called to speak more candidly with your guardian angel, asking for a specific form of intercession.
- Teachers, catechists, or parents may encourage children to write letters to their guardian angels as a way of introducing the importance of praying regularly to them, asking their guidance with making good decisions.
- Children (even adults) could color an angel and paste a photo of themselves on its wings or heart, symbolizing the protection their angel offers. Younger children may enjoy drawing an angel and tracing their hands to make its wings.
- Children of all ages can feast on angel food cake as a special treat.
However you choose to celebrate this feast day, at the very least, take time to thank God for the gift of your guardian angel, and for the many ways God works in your life to draw you closer to himself.
Featured image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., CC-BY-NC-2.0.