Monday, October 14, 2013

Naming Angels

18th Cent. "Angel de la Guarda"
I had an interesting discussion on the way to a retreat with some older ladies from my church.  The discussion was about naming guardian angels.  They talked about how a group one of them knew of suggested naming your guardian angel to make him more personal to you.  I did not feel comfortable with this conversation and it did not feel right to participate.  At the time, I had no good argument against it but I did have a gut feeling about it being wrong.  However, one of my theology professors stated outright that it is wrong.  This came up in another discussion so I thought I'd share a few thoughts on it.

217. Popular devotion to the Holy Angels, which is legitimate and good, can, however, also give rise to possible deviations:
  • when, as sometimes can happen, the faithful are taken by the idea that the world is subject to demiurgical struggles, or an incessant battle between good and evil spirits, or Angels and daemons, in which man is left at the mercy of superior forces and over which he is helpless; such cosmologies bear little relation to the true Gospel vision of the struggle to overcome the Devil, which requires moral commitment, a fundamental option for the Gospel, humility and prayer;

  • when the daily events of life, which have nothing or little to do with our progressive maturing on the journey towards Christ are read schematically or simplistically, indeed childishly, so as to ascribe all setbacks to the Devil and all success to the Guardian Angels. 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.

    From: Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy  (published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Vatican City, Dec. 2001)

Popular 1900 postcard image
A popular devotion to guardian angels has been around for a very, very long time.  The angels already have names, as indicated by Scripture.  Naming yours would be like naming your dog or cat.  But, your guardian angel is not a pet and is not your possession.  He is a companion, a guide, a teacher, and a protector.  He is not here for your amusement; he has a special assignment from God--to watch over you.  God loves you that much.

Some of the things floating around out there, especially on the internet, border on or cross over into the realm of superstition (I've seen a webpage on how to find out your guardian angels name and cards to "read" his thoughts)--which is strictly forbidden by the Church.
2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.  (CCC)
17th c. Van der Weyden angels with Cross
Once you get into "feelings", sometimes practices of the faith become something else--not always healthy.  We have to keep in mind that angels are creatures and servants of God.  They are powerful and they are compassionate, but they are not our servants or our possessions.  Also, they are not their Master and we should not treat our guardian angel as a thing of worship, either.

There is a proper way of venerating angels and of devoting some time in thanking God for them and all that they do for us.

We thank them for protecting the Church:
215. The Church, which at its outset was saved and protected by the ministry of Angels, and which constantly experiences their "mysterious and powerful assistance"(281), venerates these heavenly spirts and has recourse to their prompt intercession.
During the liturgical year, the Church celebrates the role played by the Holy Angels, in the events of salvation(282) and commemorates them on specific days: 29 September (feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael), 2 October (the Guardian Angels).
(281) [CCC], 336.
(282) The same is true, for example in the solemnity of Easter and in the solemnities of the Annunciation (25 march), Christmas (25 December), Ascension, the Immaculate Conception (8 December), St. Joseph (19 March), Sts. Peter and Paul (29 June), Assumption (15 August) and All Saints (1 November).

Pietro da Cortona, 1656
The Church asks them for our protection:

The Church implores God to send his Angels at the end of the day to protect the faithful as they sleep(289), prays that the celestial spirits come to the assistance of the faithful in their last agony(290), and in the rite of obsequies, invokes God to send his Angels to accompany the souls of just into paradise(291) and to watch over their graves.
289) Cf. ibid., Ad Completorium post II Vesperas Dominicae et Sollemnitatum, Oratio "Visita quaesumus".
(290) Cf. RITUALE ROMANUM, Ordo unctionis informorum eorumque patoralis curae, cit., 147.
(291) Cf. RITUALE ROMANUM, Ordo exsequiarum , Editio Typica, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis 1969, 50.

And we've asked them to protect us in many ways:
216. Down through the centuries, the faithful have translated into various devotional exercises the teaching of the faith in relation to the ministry of Angels: the Holy Angels have been adopted as patrons of cities and corporations; great shrines in their honour have developed such as Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, San Michele della Chiusa in Piemonte and San Michele Gargano in Apulia, each appointed with specific feast days; hymns and devotions to the Holy Angels have also been composed.
The angels are a reality.  They are awesome and powerful servants of God.  We should neither neglect them, nor worship them.  We should honor them properly and not become superstitious about them.  We need to keep them in proper perspective and not get childish or out of hand about them.  While some saints and mystics seemed to have known the names of their guardian angels, we generally don't.  They already have names and don't need us to name them.


  1. In the history of Revelation, it is higher beings who name lower beings, and not vice-versa. So man could name animals because they are lower, but not angels. I would prefer not to have to call my Guardian Angel by the generic "Guardian angel" name. But it may very well be that my angel already has a name.

  2. Exactly, Suzanne. The angels are not lower than us; they are not our possessions. Angels do already have names; we just don't know our guardian angel's name.

  3. My father-in-law taught me that I could name my guardian angel. I do not see the real harm in it - especially when done in the light of having a meaningful name for our angel. Similarly while I have a name, to my children I am "Dad" and to my grandchildren I am "Poppa." That being said, Dr. Taylor Marshall has a podcast and article on why you should not name your Guardian Angel. Podcast or Article.



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