Saturday, August 10, 2013
Want to Have an Encounter with an Angel?
Angels have been in the news again this week because of the mystery surrounding the appearance of an unknown priest at the scene of a serious car accident in Missouri. If you haven't read about it yet, here's an example of one of the many news stories about the event:
I'm not going to speculate regarding the nature of this event, although it is intriguing. The point of this article is that we don't have to get into a traumatic situation, like a car crash, to have an encounter with the angels.
Chapter 19 of the Rule of St. Benedict notes that when we join in the daily prayer of the Church, our voices are in harmony with the voices of the angels:
"We believe that God is everywhere, and the Lord sees both good and evil in all places. Without doubt, we believe this is so especially when assisting in the Divine Office. Remember the prophet: 'Serve the Lord in fear' (Ps. 2:10), and 'Sing His praises with understanding' (Ps. 47:7) and also 'In the sight of angels I will sing praise to You' (Ps. 138:1). Let us consider our place in sight of God and of his angels. Let us rise in chanting that our hearts and voices harmonize."
The same is true with the Eucharist. At the conclusion of the preface, the celebrant chants: "With all the choirs of angels, with the church on earth and the hosts of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn..." This leads into the singing of the Sanctus ("Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might..."), which is the song sung by the seraphim in the presence of the Lord (Isaiah 6:1-3).
Skepticism about angels abounds in modern society, no doubt caused in part by the image that many people have of angels, which has been shaped by art and movies. ("Its a Wonderful Life" and "Angels in the Outfield" are two examples of cute, but misleading, depictions of angels). Angels play a crucial role in the Biblical story, though, as they serve as messengers of warning (Genesis 19 - the story of Sodom and Gomorrah) and hope (Luke 1:26-38 - the appearance of the angel to Mary).
In the daily life of a Christian, the presence of angels around us should give us comfort, for as noted by Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov, they are "standing before the throne of God, live a common life with us, and are united by the bonds of love." (from "Jacob's Ladder: On Angels" p. 164).
(The icon at the beginning of this article is found at Bethel Lutheran Church, University City, Missouri - you can read about it here: http://www.bethel-ucity.org/asp/art.asp).
UPDATE 8/13/13: The mystery priest has been identified. http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/13/us/missouri-mystery-priest/index.html