Fr John Flader: Angels in their billions

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Dear Father, My daughter recently asked whether her guardian angel will be with her in heaven, and whether God is constantly creating new angels. Can you help me?

There are lots of questions about angels which people have asked over the years. In this column I will answer those of your daughter and others.

Before answering particular questions we should recall that the angels were created at the beginning of time, before human beings.

They were created good and were endowed with sanctifying grace so that they could merit eternal life with God, but some of them rejected God and were condemned to eternal punishment. These we call devils.

St Peter writes that “God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of deepest darkness” (2 Pet 2:4). It was one of these fallen angels that tempted Adam and Eve to commit the original sin.

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds by Govert Flinck, 1639. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds by Govert Flinck, 1639. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

All of the good angels are in heaven, where they give glory to God, but at the same time some of them have roles here on earth.

For example, the Archangel Gabriel announced to both Zechariah and Our Lady the birth of a child, while other angels give glory to Our Lord in the Blessed Eucharist and still others serve as guardian angels of human beings. At the beginning God created vast numbers of angels.

How many angels are there?

Our Lord himself speaks of “legions of angels” (Mt 26:53) and the prophet Daniel, speaking of the angels serving God, writes: “a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him” (Dan 7:10).

The book of Revelation too speaks of “many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands” (Rev 5:11).

From this we can understand that God created all the angels at the beginning, and that he is not constantly creating new ones. Therefore, the number of angels must be vast.
The Catechism teaches that “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession” (CCC 336), the understanding being that not only Christians, but every human being, has a guardian angel.
There are billions of people alive today, and there are many billions more who have preceded us and will follow us until the end of time. All of their angels were created at the beginning.

What will my guardian angel do after I die?

Will our guardian angel be with us in heaven? As we said, all the angels are already in heaven, even though they may also have a role on earth.

Our Lord referred to this when he said: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10-11).

Our guardian angel has been assigned by God to look after only us, and when we die, he will be with us in heaven, giving glory to God. We can say that this angel is “our angel”, assigned to us by God, and he will remain with us in heaven.

This answers another question which people sometimes ask: When someone dies, does his guardian angel get assigned to someone else on earth? To use modern terminology, somewhat facetiously, does God “recycle” the angels? The answer is clearly no. Our angel will remain with us forever. Obviously, if someone goes to hell, his angel will not be with him there.

As regards purgatory, some theologians, including St Bonaventure, teach that the guardian angel will accompany the person’s soul there, to strengthen it in its purification before going to heaven.

Can I name my guardian angel?

Another question people sometimes ask is whether it is permissible to give our guardian angel a name.

The Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2002) states: “The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture” (n. 217).

One can assign a name to a being over which one has dominion, and so parents give names to their children, and children assign names to their pets or toys. But only God can assign a name to an angel.

Nonetheless, some people, to have a more familiar relationship with their guardian angel, do give him a name, as if saying: “I don’t know your name, but do you mind if I call you so and so”? Understood in this way, there can be no objection, and even some saints have done this.

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