It was the end of September, during the feast of the Holy Archangels. St. Angela tells us:
While I was in the church in Foligno and desired to communicate, I prayed to the Holy Angels, and especially to St. Michael and the Angels of the Seraphim, and said: “O ministering Angels, who have the power and the office from God to administer Him to others, by expressing His knowledge and love, I beseech you to present Him unto me, such as the Father of Mercies gave Him unto men, and as He willeth and hath willed to be received and worshipped by us; that is to say, poor, and sorrowing, and despised, and wounded, and bleeding, and crucified, and dead upon the cross.”
Then said the Angels unto me with unutterable pleasantness and sweetness: “O thou who art pleasing unto God, behold, He is ministered unto thee, and thou hast Him present; and over and above it hath been granted thee, that thou mayest present Him and administer Him to others.”
Then in truth I beheld Him present, and I saw Him very clearly with the eyes of my soul, in the Sacrament, even as I had asked for Him, namely, dolorous, and bleeding, and crucified, and afterwards dead upon the cross. Then, too, I felt so exceeding sharp a pain, that it seemed unto me that my heart would burst by reason of the presence of so dolorous a vision; and on the other hand, I took delight and joy in the presence of the Angels, and never would have thought, unless I had seen it, that the Angels were so pleasing, and that they could give such joy unto the soul.
The Book of the Visions and Instructions of Blessed Angela of Foligno, trans. Rev. A. P. J. Cruikshank, 2nd ed. (London: Art and Book, 1888), chap. 38, pp. 137–138.
The Bread of Angels
It is Jacob’s ladder — this unheard exchange between Heaven and earth — that appears before us:
Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance, and to accept them. . . . In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.
Angels help us to understand this great mystery and to live it.
“I Am Going to Love”
Before going to Mass each morning, St. Germaine of Pibrac stuck her staff in the ground in the middle of her flock. An angel came to watch over the flock in her place. Despite the wolves that were howling around them, she never lost a single animal.
Likewise, when St. Isidore went to Mass in the early morning while his work companions went to the fields, two angels who looked like sturdy youths plowed and cultivated in Isidore’s place until he returned.
Benoîte Rencurel, a shepherdess from Laus, saw angels flying in the air above the tabernacle and around the altar during Mass. “They were laughing as if they were perfectly happy to see the faithful gathered together in prayer.” St. John Chrysostom said: “The whole sanctuary and the space around the altar are filled with heavenly powers to honor the One who is present on the altar.” He explained that, when Mass started, legions of angels surrounded the altar “in an attitude that is comparable to warriors in the presence of their king.”
St. Brigid thought that the cherubim made “the air vibrate with unspeakable sounds and songs” during the Consecration.
Agnes of Langeac, a Dominican nun, never said: “I am going to Mass” but “I am going to love!” One day, her spiritual father prohibited her from going to Communion because of her excessive desire for it. At the end of Mass, he realized that one of the remaining hosts was missing. Then Agnes admitted to him that her angel had come to take a host from the ciborium to give her.
Therese Neumann could not absorb any food. For thirty-five years, she lived only on daily Communion. Therese constantly saw her angel, who stood to her right and revealed to her secrets about her visitors. She knew if it had been a long time since people who came to see her had received Communion. She could also tell whether a host that someone presented her was consecrated.
Sometimes angels offer Communion. The angel who appeared to the three children in Fatima gave them Communion. Lucia received the Body of Christ, while Francisco and Jacinta consumed the Blood of Christ. The angel said to them: “Receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and console your God!”
Likewise, Benoîte Rencurel received Communion from her angel one day when there was no priest. He said to her: “I will give you Communion. Light the candles, approach the altar, take the cloth, and kneel.” Then he ordered her to go into her room “to pray and thank God.”
So Great and So Humble
Are we aware of what we are doing when we receive Jesus in Communion? Sometimes the casual or distracted attitude of some of the faithful can encourage us to think: “Only those who want to receive Jesus, who is really present in this bread, should come forward!” But are we ourselves really present to the presence of the one who gives Himself to us? Let us be fully attentive to what happens in this beautiful moment of the celebration of the Mass. I have sometimes heard people respond with a “thank you” when receiving the host, but the liturgical dialogue is so beautiful:
“The Body of Christ,” your Lord and God, your Beloved who gave His life to save you.
“Amen,” I believe it. I support this with all my soul. I want it more than anything!
This reminds me of these words from the holy Curé of Ars: “If a single Mass were celebrated in the world, multitudes would rush to it by the millions.”
This Eucharistic mystery is so humble that we run the risk of trivializing it as Sundays go by. Yet let us not judge according to appearances, for only God sees our hearts. Who knows if the young person we glare at because he is chewing gum is not carrying a heavy burden that he has just laid down as he received Communion?
Fortunately, the Bread of Life is also the Bread for the poor. Let us not wait to be saints to receive Communion, for Communion sanctifies us! It nourishes in us spiritual forces through which we become more devoted and attentive to others. The Curé of Ars believed that each person who comes to receive Communion is escorted by his guardian angel. Our guardian angels, more than anyone else, can help us to be more enthusiastic and vigilant.
Lord, You are the Bread of Life.
You give Your very self to me.
I receive what I am — the Body of Christ —
so that I may become what I receive: the Body of Christ.
Based on a sermon by St. Augustine, Youcat: Youth Prayer Book (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2013).
St. Philip Neri was in ecstasy at each Eucharist, sometimes even from the time he put on his priestly vestments. “His eyes, which were fixed on Heaven, no longer saw what surrounded him.” When he received Communion, his heart throbbed and tears flowed down his face.
When Padre Pio celebrated Mass, it sometimes took him fifteen minutes to say the words of Consecration because they led him to become so contemplative. Likewise, when he elevated the host in front of the faithful, he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus for several minutes. Fr. Derobert thought that people did not “attend” Padre Pio’s Mass; they “participated in” it. Another priest testified: “The Eucharist was the center of attraction toward which all the moments of Padre Pio’s day converged. Each hour of the day was an uninterrupted preparation and a continuous thanksgiving to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.”
Some priests asked him: “Are we the only ones who stand around the altar during Mass?” Padre Pio said that God’s angels were around the altar.
“Father, who is found around the altar?”
“The whole celestial court.”
The Bread of angels
Becomes the Bread of men.
The Heavenly Bread puts
An end to symbols.
O admirable thing!
The poor man, the servant, the little one
Nourishes himself with His Lord.
One God, we ask You,
Deign by Your visit
To respond to our tribute.
Lead us through our paths
To the goal that we are aiming for.
To the light where You dwell.
— Saint Thomas Aquinas
This article is adapted from a chapter in Encounters with Angels by Odile Haumonte which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post on Angels: Cover and featured image used with permission.