Angels in the Liturgy
If Angels accompany us in worship how do we see them highlighted in the Mass? During the Penitential Act we recite the Confiteor which asks “Mary ever-Virgin all the Angels and Saints” to pray for us. In the Mass we sing two great hymns given to us by the Angels. The Gloria is taken from the first Christmas in Luke 2:14;
Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to people of good will.
Later in the Mass the Sanctus or Holy, Holy, Holy is taken from the vision of the Seraphim of Isaiah 6:1-4;
In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered.
One cried out to the other:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!”
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.
The suggestion in Isaiah 6:3 that the Seraphim “cried out to the other” is similar to custom of singing responsively. The Fifth century historian Socrates Scholasticus, reported that the first-century bishop, Saint Ignatius of Antioch began the custom of responsive singing. He records;
Ignatius [was the] third bishop of Antioch in Syria after the apostle Peter, and he conversed with the apostles themselves. Once he saw a vision of angels hymning in alternate chants the Holy Trinity. Accordingly he introduced the mode of singing he had observed in the vision into the Antiochian church; whence it was transmitted by tradition to all the other churches.[i]
During the ancient Roman Canon the priest prays;
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.
A change in the new translation can be seen in the Preface which precedes the Sanctus. The role of the Angels is highlighted as the priest invokes the “presence of countless hosts of Angels” and as the people recite “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.” During Advent and Lent these newly translated Prefaces greatly amplify this theme;
And so, with Angels and Archangels,
With Thrones and Dominions,
and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven,
we sing the hymn of your glory,
and without end we acclaim: (Preface I of Advent)
In Preface IV of Lent an even more elaborate prayer occurs;
Through him the Angels praise your majesty,
Dominions adore and Powers tremble before you.
Heaven and the Virtues of heaven and the blessed Seraphim
Worship together with exultation.
May our voices, we pray, join with their
In humble praise, as we acclaim:
These prayers remind us as we hear them in Lenten season, that we are accompanying the angels in our worship.
[i] NPNF 2, p. 144. Cf. Aquilina, Angels of God , p. 57.
© Scott McKellar 2012
(this is an edited version of a talk given at the Granfalloon, Kansas City, MO 02/15/2012 in the presence of 70 or so guardian angels )