Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Ever this day, Be at my Side

I think I was in 5th grade when Sister tried to teach us about the particular Judgment using the analogy of a criminal trial, in which God will be the judge, each of us the defendant, the Devil the prosecutor, and one's Guardian Angel the witness. What really struck me about that analogy at the time was that there was no Defense Attorney!

I get the point, of course, why there will be no Defense Attorney on judgment day. Still it seems natural to want one, and the closest to obvious candidate would be one's Guardian Angel. After all, we were all taught as children to pray to our Guardian Angel: Ever this day, Be at my side, to light and guard, To rule and guide.

Of course, such angelic protection is obviously designed for "this day," i.e., for the present, for this transitory life. And in this challengingly transitory life, the idea of angelic guardians is certainly reassuring.

Today's feast of the Guardian Angels is a relative latecomer to the calendar. It apparently appeared first in Spain in the 16th century from where it spread to the wider Church. In 1608 Pope Paul V allowed it as an optional feast on the first ferial day following the feast of Saint Michael, until finally in 1670 it was inscribed in the universal calendar for this date.

The Church's belief in the assistance of our Guardian Angels is, of course, considerably older. In the Gospel, Jesus famously instructs his disciples not to despise these little ones, whose angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father (Matthew 18:10), and in his Commentary on Matthew, Saint Jerome suggested that each soul has such an angel to guard it, a view reaffirmed by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa.

Today's liturgy refers to the Guardian Angels in the context of God's unfathomable providence, which is perhaps the best way to think of - and be grateful for - it.

(Photo: the Angel at the top of the Baldacchino at the Paulist "Mother Church" of Saint Paul the Apostle, NY)

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