The Feast of the Guardian Angels (2nd October) fell on a Sunday this year and thus hasn’t received the prominence it would otherwise have done. In this Q&A post about our heavenly guardians, Father Ryan Erlenbush draws on the teachings of St Thomas Aquinas:
This Sunday is the Feast of the Guardian Angels. I am sure that most of us have many questions about our angel and how he works in the world – but where shall we ever find answers? At this point in our journey, rather than becoming discouraged or running off to many other sources, it would be best to place ourselves at the feet of the Angelic Doctor and hear what he has to tell us.
The following question and answer study of the guardian angels is based on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica I, qq.50-64 (angels in themselves) and qq. 106-114 (angels in relation to creatures). ST I, q.113, is particularly enlightening, since it is a question devoted wholly to the guardianship of angels over human beings.
[the following is taken mostly from an article which I posted last year over at The New Theological Movement]
Do I have a guardian angel? Yes, every human being has a guardian angel.
When did I receive my angel guardian? At the moment of conception. Your angel was given to you even before the graces of baptism! This is because angels are given to human beings on account of our reason, not on account of baptismal grace.
Was my angel someone else’s guardian before mine? Probably not. Every human being receives one angel. It is, however, theoretically possible (though not at all likely) that an angel could be re-assigned if their first human was condemned to hell.
Will my angel guardian be with me in the next life? If you go to heaven, your angel will be with you in glory as an eternal companion and friend. If you go to hell, your angel will leave you and you will receive instead a demon who will torment you forever.
Did my guardian angel know me before I was born? Yes. Not only by a natural angelic knowledge, but also by a special knowledge given by God – your angel has known you from the moment of his entrance into heaven after his creation.
Is my guardian angel an archangel? Almost certainly not. It seems that guardian angels are all chosen from the lowest choir of angels, which is called “Angels”. The Archangels are above this choir and seem not to be employed as angel guardians. It is possible that a guardian angel would receive help and guidance from archangels, or even seraphim. [As a side note: It is possible that Jesus’ guardian angel was the archangel Michael and that Mary’s was Gabriel. Some think that Joseph’s was Raphael, but this is a matter of debate.]
Is my guardian angel a boy or a girl? The angels, of course, are neither male nor female. Each angel is the perfection of its own species – there are as many species as there are angels. Still, it is generally more fitting to think of guardian angels as men, since they watch over us and protect us (which are roles we identify as masculine). On the other hand, our angel guardian has the tender love of a mother for us.
Is my guardian with me always? Yes, your angel always watches over you because God always guides you with his providence. An angel is locally present when he acts as a complete and immediate cause on a body; thus, at times your angel might even be locally present to you. In any case, your angel is always spiritually present to your soul, unless you are condemned to hell after death.
Does my guardian angel know everything I do and everything I think? Yes, your angel knows everything about you and can “read your soul”, as it were. Still, the most intimate recesses of your heart are known by God alone – this is why Mary’s angel (probably Gabriel) was amazed when her glory was revealed at the Assumption.
Do my sins make my angel sad? Not really. Your angel enjoys the perfect vision of God and so cannot be sad; for all who see God are perfectly happy. Just as God wills to permit you to sin, so too your angel permits your fall – this does not make him sad, for he takes joy in God’s plan. Still, it is likely that your angel experiences a general displeasure at your sins.
Does my guardian angel fight with demons in my behalf? Of course! Consider the book of Tobit; Raphael saved Tobias from the demons tormenting Sarah.
Can my guardian angel work with other guardian angels to accomplish something great? Yes, indeed. Padre Pio regularly sent his guardian angel to work with others’ angels. The angels rejoice to work together for our greater good.
Does my guardian angel contend with other guardian angels? Yes, in a certain sense. The various guardian angels work on the most immediate level of guiding the human race. Thus, though all the angel guardians are wholly devoted to God’s plan; it is possible that there would be temporary or partial contrary movements in the way this plan is actually carried out. St. Thomas offers this as an interpretation of the division between Gabriel and the angel of Persia in the book of Daniel. As the Angelic Doctor says, “Angels are said to resist one another; not that their wills are in opposition, since they are all of one mind as to the fulfillment of the Divine decree; but that the things about which they seek knowledge are in opposition.” (ST I, q.113, a.8)
Can my angel guardian change the physical world around me? Yes. St. Gemma Galgani would regularly ask her guardian angel to mail letters for her – many letters were sent back and forth to her spiritual director while he was in Rome.
Can I name my guardian angel? Perhaps, but we must keep in mind that it belongs to a superior to name an inferior. Thus, it seems unfitting that a human being should name an angel. As a parish priest, I would always discourage people from attempting to name their angel guardians.
Does my angel have a name? Most certainly, God has named all his angels – perhaps the higher angels have named the lower ones.
How do I find out my guardian angel’s name? I should think that in heaven, we would all know our guardian angels’ names. In this life, it would be quite unusual to learn your angel’s name – generally, according to the Vatican instructions on the matter, it is better to not try to discover your angel’s name. [I refer readers to a short article on this topic by Taylor Marshall, here]
Might I have more than one guardian angel? It is very likely that those entrusted with a special authority in the state or Church are given an additional guardian angel. Indeed, for certain very important figures (such as kings/presidents and bishops) this second angel guardian might even be an archangel – I should think that the Pope would have an archangel granted him as a special helper. However, this second angel would be given specifically for assistance in fulfilling the vocational calling, while the first or primary angel would remain as the principal guardian and particular sign of God’s special love and providence for the individual.
Is it possible to get too devoted to your angel? So long as you keep in mind that your angel is an expression of God’s love and providence (and not a creature to be considered in isolation), there is no danger in having a very strong devotion to your guardian angel.
Did Christ have a guardian angel? Yes, like every other human, our Savior had a guardian angel. It is likely that his angel guardian was St. Michael, or another of the archangels.
Will the anti-Christ have an angel guardian? If he is a human being, he will have an angel guardian. Even though he will be a great enemy of God, the Lord will still love him – the expression of this love is the gift of a guardian angel.
How many angels are there who could be potential guardians? There are incomparably more angels than human beings. Thus, even though angel guardians are only chosen from the lowest choir of angles, it is likely that that choir has far more angels in it than the number of humans who have been, are, or will be. The only limit to the number of angel guardians is the number of humans, not the number of angels.
All you holy angel guardians, Pray for us!