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Angels: Messengers of prayer Print E-mail
By Joel J. Miller   
Sunday, 28 October 2012

The word angel means “messenger” in Greek, and the witness of scripture and many ancient Christian writers suggests one of the main jobs angels undertake is to act as courier for our prayers.

The archangels Raphael and Gabriel both identify themselves as angels who stand in the presence of the Lord. Raphael helpfully explains the purpose of this position in the twelfth chapter of Tobit, saying that he “present[s] the prayers of the saints,” telling Tobit and Tobias that he “brought a reminder of your prayer before the Holy One.” 

Gabriel’s task is the same, and so we find him in the book of Daniel shuttling messages to and fro. While working on a book explaining how the early Christians understood angels, I came across the writings of Aphrahat the Persian who frequently refers to Gabriel as “the angel who offers prayers.”

That book, Lifted by Angels, tells more than the stories of Raphael and Gabriel, as they relate to prayer. All angels – including our own guardian angels – relay our prayers and plight to God.

Jesus makes a striking statement about this in Matthew 18. Placing a child in the middle of the disciples, he warns, “[D]o not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father.”

In other words, don’t think you can get away with harming the defenseless; their guardian angels will ensure God knows. Angels represent our concerns in heaven, and if this example seems negative, imagine the comfort it communicates to the child.

John’s Apocalypse provides a vivid picture of this angelic service: “And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.”

Note that beside the image of an angel presenting our prayers, the passage shows the angel adding to them, augmenting and amplifying our pleas. The angel in Revelation 8 takes extra incense to offer with our petitions, improving our prayers with prayers of his own.

And there’s more. Beside augmenting and enhancing our prayers, angels make our concerns their own – just as the children’s angels do in Jesus’ statement. Recall further that Raphael “reminds” God of people’s prayers. He wants to ensure that God is aware of their need, and he takes responsibility for the cares of the people to whom he is assigned. Angels are in it with us.

Another ancient Christian writer, Origen, discusses this in his short primer on prayer. Our angel, he says, “prays alongside us and acts together with us, as much as possible, with regard to the matters concerning which we pray.”

Occasionally, our situation may require reinforcements, and God provides, says Origen:  “[S]ometimes, the presence of the angels . . . is brought together for someone who is praying, so that they can join in giving breath to the request which he is making.”

But angels are not always eager to carry our prayers. In some cases, they reject them, as if they were defective. Aphrahat says that when we pray while bearing a grudge or ill will against our neighbor, we offer an impure offering: “Gabriel does not want to take it from earth because, on inspection, he has found a blemish in your offering.”

Before he will offer our prayer in the censer before God’s throne, Gabriel insists we make good with our neighbor and offer a pure prayer, echoing Jesus’ statement on the subject in Matthew 5.

Some may bristle at the thought of prayers going through intermediaries. I think the objection is misplaced. To say that angels offer our prayers does not mean that God fails to hear our prayers directly.

The seventh-century bishop and monk Isaac the Syrian says that the eternal will of God “anticipates prayer.” Our hopes and pleas are in the mind of God before we ever conceive them, just as Jesus says in Matthew 6. He’s not waiting for a message to cross the transom.

Nevertheless, God chooses to use additional means, and he’s given the angels an intermediary, intercessory role in our lives. He is no less involved for their greater involvement. Angels are simply part of the gracious and providential way that God is present in our lives.

 
Joel J. Miller, a new contributor to The Catholic Thing, is the author of Lifted By Angels: The Presence and Power of Our Heavenly Guides and Guardians, which explores the stories of angels in the scripture and early Christian writings. Visit his website: JoelJMiller.com.

 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (8)Add Comment
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written by Jack,CT, October 28, 2012
"Angel of God my guardian dear,to whom
his love commits me here,ever this day
be at my side,to light and guard,to rule
and guide."
Amen
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written by Jack,CT, October 28, 2012
Mr Miller,
I read your article and reflected
on it all night (insomnia) and I could not
help but think so many are so "Confused"
about the role Angels play.Thanks for a
great piece,The old prayer i posted earlier
is one i am loyal to daily.
Please pray for all of us in the path of
"Sandy",we can use prayers.God Bless

Jack
I have a 88 year old Aunt Dolly dying in hospice
I wanted to ask for everyone to send a prayer for
her.......thanks
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written by Joel J. Miller, October 28, 2012
Thanks for sharing that, Jack. Lord, have mercy on your aunt.
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written by debby, October 28, 2012
dear jack,
praying for Aunt Dolly....when her time comes, may the Angels come to greet her and carry her before Him Who is Love, Mercy. i wouldn't wonder that she will have caught a glimpse of His face in her nephew while here on earth.

and dear mr. miller,

thank for this post. i for one am grateful to my dear Guardian who guarded and protected me while i ignored him in my youth, who continues to guide and direct me to hear the Good News, and as you have now informed me, has been washing my prayers in the holy fire of devotion (the purification of my intentions). i was unaware of this role they also engage in.
i do believe that without their fighting the fight we often forget exists, our world would have collapsed under the hand of our arch enemies. that said, i hope and pray we will all invoke the great assistance of our Nation's Guardian Angel in this time of utter darkness.

how very much we have to be grateful to our Loving God Who provides for our every need!
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written by Jack,CT, October 28, 2012
Thanks so much friends for the
kind words and prayers,it means
so much to me.
Jack
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written by Bob, October 29, 2012
Joel, thank you for your insight. In my recent years I have developed a devotion to my guardian angel, frequently asking him to get together with one of my childrens' angels to help in some way (generally spiritually). Imagine a being far surpassing us in power and intelligence devoting themselves to our well-being! My daily personal prayer goes as follows:

"Holy Guardian Angel, guide me, lead me and protect me against the evil one and my own inclination to evil. I thank you for your faithful companionship, your unconditional love and your example of obedience to our Lord. Help me this day. I can't make it without you."
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written by KarenB, October 30, 2012
A beautiful piece that acts as a great corrective to so much misinformation regarding angels. I too pray the old 'Angel of God' prayer several times a day. I am also praying Aunt Dolly.
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written by Graham Combs, October 30, 2012
Angels are often presented more as magicians than messengers in popular culture. Mr. Miller reminds us that the Angel's role in prayer is that it be as much about forgiveness as petition. And consequently less about oneself and more about others.

I join the above in praying for Aunt Molly. And perhaps pray as well that our legion of Angels are interceding in particular for the millions of weary who have struggled and suffered mightily in recent years in this country.

At a parish hall book sale this summer I came across a St. Andrew Daily Missal published in the late forties. A fifty-cent treasure that now bookends my father's old Book of Common Prayer from the same period. From the Morning Prayers' Ejaculatory prayers comes this: "O my good Angel, whom God, by His divine mercy, hath appointed to be my guardian, enlighten and protect me, direct and govern me this day. Amen."

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