One of my favorite hymns—both for its soaring melody and its profound lyrics—is entitled Praise My Soul the King of Heaven. It was written and
composed by some of the great 19th century Protestant musicians, Henry Lyte and John Goss.
In its powerful lyrics about how the faithful will praise Christ forever in Heaven, it included the reminder that the angels will not only accompany us in that praise but will help us to open our hearts and tongues in those full-throated lauds.
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
to his feet your tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,
evermore his praises sing.
Praise the everlasting King!
Fatherlike he tends and spares us;
well our feeble frame he knows.
In his hand he gently bears us,
rescues us from all our foes.
Widely yet his mercy flows!
Angels, help us to adore him;
you behold him face to face.
Sun and moon, bow down before him,
dwellers all in time and space.
Praise with us the God of grace!
As we continue through this month of October, in which we focus on the interaction between men and angels because of the feast days of the great archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, as well as our guardian angels, I think this puts things in proper perspective. We tend to think of angels mostly in terms of their mission to mankind. In that sense, they serve as messengers (that is what the Greek word angel means). And indeed, so some of them are. In fact, the archangels are the most important of messengers, since they conveyed the pivotal messages at crucial points in the history of our salvation: above all, they appeared to St. Joseph the husband of the Virgin Mary to instruct her to take her as His wife, to instruct how to protect the Christ-child when He was in danger, and so on.
Even when they weren’t speaking directly to us, the Scriptures tell of the role of the great and powerful archangel Michael, who was sent to war against Satan (the Devil, a fallen angel how turned away from God and harbored great hatred against Him at the core of His being). The Book of Revelation has a poetic – but certainly real – image of St. Michael and his angels “battling against the dragon” over the fate of men who live on earth – that is, whether they would remain in the grip of the Devil or ultimately enter into Christ’s Kingdom.
Our guardians and angelic intercessors certainly then continue to guide us away from moral and spiritual evil that will keep us in the grip of the Evil One – if we seek their intercession in prayer. This is not just for children but for adults as well. Indeed, especially for us as adults, because we are less innocent. Because this is so important, as we bring our youth altar servers on board again, I will be reviving the practice of praying the St. Michael prayer after Mass with them the times we don’t pray it as a community.
Angels are creatures God made as pure spirit, with powerful minds and wills but no physical body. But they were created by God not only to serve as messengers to mankind, but simply to love and adore Him are messengers to mankind. In that regard, even though they are a different kind of creature than human beings, they were created for the same reason that we were. That is what the faithful hope to do in Heaven – to bow down before the Lord in an eternally blissful moment of praise and adoration, in the very presence of Our Lord.
The 17th-century painting above beautifully reveals that reality. It depicts the Risen Lord, brandishing the symbol of the victory of His Resurrection (the white pennant circumscribing a red cross). While He does so, seven angels bow their heads and bodies in admiration and adoration before Him.
As the hymn indicates, by the power of Christ’s saving Resurrection, man is ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven. Even the angels bow in awe at the magnanimous mercy that the Lord bestows on the human race. As they bow before the Lord now in continuous praise in Heaven, they teach us on earth to be able to do the same at the end of our earthly lives, and guide us toward that goal, as they are messengers of God’s healing and strength.
May the adoring angels that flank the tabernacle at St. Peter’s parish always help us to remember that we are created for the praise of almighty God.
(For the full lyrics to the hymn above and more on its history, please visit https://hymnary.org/hymn/LUYH2013/571)