The spirituality of Angels and the Association Opus Sanctorum Angelorum
The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith sent to the presidents of the Bishops' conferences a circular letter on the association Opus Angelorum that was dated 2 October 2010. It was then published in the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano on 24 November, 2010, p. 17. In this letter, the Congregation informs in particular about the approbation of the "Statutes of the Opus Sanctorum Angelorum" by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and about the approbation of the "formula of a consecration to the Holy Angels for the Opus Angelorum" by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. It seems therefore opportune to describe briefly the spirituality of this Work of the Holy Angels, which in its present state "is a public association of the Church in conformity with traditional doctrine and with the directives of the Holy See. It spreads devotion to the Holy Angels among the faithful, exhorts them to pray for priests, and promotes love for Christ in his Passion and union with it" (Letter of the CDF).
What is then the spirituality of this association? And how has it come to the current status referred to by the letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith? The Opus Sanctorum Angelorum came into being in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1949. Mrs Gabriele Bitterlich, spouse and mother of three children, was at the origin of this movement. From 1949, she developed an ever clearer personal awareness that Our Lord Jesus Christ wanted the faithful to venerate and invoke the holy angels more, and to open themselves for their powerful help. Genuine Christian that she was, she was always determined to submit herself in all things to the authority of the Church. In those years, this authority was the Bishop of Innsbruck, Dr Paulus Rusch, with whom she always remained in contact. Since 1961, the Opus Angelorum has spread into various countries throughout the world. Thus, since 1977 the supreme authority of the Church has examined the doctrine and practices particular to the Opus Angelorum.
With the approbation of the movement, the Church has recognized the fundamental validity of the founding intuition of Mrs Bitterlich, but on the other hand, there were found in the sizable collection of her writings various doctrines and, in particular, "theories ... about the world of the Angels, their personal names, their groupings and functions", "foreign to Sacred Scripture and Tradition" which "cannot serve as a basis for the spirituality and activity of associations approved by the Church".1 Because the Opus Angelorum has obeyed the Church, abandoning those teachings and the practices arising from them, it is today quite rightly regarded as an ecclesial movement called to collaborate, by means of its own proper charism, in the evangelizing and saving mission of the Church.
The foundation of its spirituality, accordingly, is the Word of God, which is found in Sacred Scripture and the living Tradition of the Church, and authentically interpreted by the Magisterium. A synthesis of the doctrine of the Magisterium regarding the angelic world can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] (cf. CCC 328-336, 350-352).
There one reads in the first place that "the existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls 'angels' is a truth of faith" (CCC 328). "With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they 'always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven' (Mt 18:10) they are the 'mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word' (Ps 103:20)" (CCC 329); "they are personal and immortal creatures" (CCC 330).
Jesus Christ is not only the center of men, but also the center of the angels: "Christ is the centre of the angelic world. They are 'his angels' ... They belong to him because they were created through and for him... They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan" (CCC 331). "Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan" (CCC 332). Therefore, this service refers to the Incarnate Word himself and to his Body on earth, the Church. "From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. ... They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been. Again, it is the angels who 'evangelize' (Lk 2:10) by proclaiming the Good News of Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection. They will be present at Christ's return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgment" (CCC 333).
"In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels" (CCC 334). "In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance [and] celebrates the memory of certain angels more particularly (St Michael, St Gabriel, St Raphael, and the guardian angels)" (CCC 335).
Thus, "from infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. 'Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life'. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God" (CCC 336). Rightly therefore "the Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being" (CCC 352).
The distinctiveness of the association Opus Sanctorum Angelorum consists in the fact that its members take the devotion to the holy angels to its full development which is manifested and made concrete by a "consecration to the Holy Angels", as is similarly the case in the history of the Church with regard to the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary (consecration to the Heart of Jesus and to the Heart of his Mother).
Through the consecration to the Guardian Angel one enters into the Work of the Holy Angels. The consecration to the Holy Angels is made by those members who want to do more in the pursuit of the spiritual goals of the movement. This consecration is understood as a covenant of the faithful with the holy angels, that is, as a conscious and explicit act of acknowledging and taking seriously their mission and place in the economy of salvation. Just as many spiritualities have their typical expressions, as for example the "Totus tuus" of Pope John Paul, so also the spirituality of the consecration to the Holy Angels in the Opus Angelorum could be characterized by the words, "cum sanctis angelis", that is, "with the holy angels" or "in communion with the holy angels".
In fact, by faith and the theological virtue of charity, it is possible for the faithful to "live together" with the holy angels as true friends,2 and thus also is made possible an intimate spiritual collaboration with them for the goals of God's plan of salvation in relation to all creatures,3 especially since on the part of the angels their cooperation in all our good works is guaranteed.4
This living together and spiritual collaboration of the faithful with the holy angels, in which consists, according to the above-mentioned Statutes, the proper "nature" of the Opus Angelorum, obviously demands not only faith in and a love for the holy angels — and in the first place for one's own Guardian Angel — but also the prudent application of the criteria for the "discernment of spirits". Regarding this is found the following opportune explanation in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church5: "As in the vision of Jacob's ladder —"God's messengers were going up and down on it" (Gen 28:12) — the angels are energetic and tireless messengers who connect heaven to earth. Between God and man there is not silence or a lack of communication but a continual conversation, a ceaseless personal exchange. Men, to whom this communication is addressed, have to sharpen their spiritual ear to hear and understand this angelic language which prompts good words, holy sentiments, acts of mercy, charitable behavior, and edifying relationships".
The Opus Angelorum is founded on the unconditional readiness to serve God with the help of the holy angels and has as its goal the renewal of the spiritual life of the Church with the angels' help in the so-called "fundamental directions (or dimensions)" of adoration, contemplation, expiation and mission (apostolate).
The help of the angels and men's union with them allow the latter to live their faith better and to bear witness to it with greater strength and conviction. Indeed, the holy angels continually contemplate the face of God (cf. Mt 18:10) and live in constant adoration. Therefore, in a particularly efficacious way they can illumine the faithful who consciously open themselves for the angels' action. These faithful are helped by the angels to contemplate in faith the divine mysteries: God himself and his works (theologia and oikonomia6), so as to grow in the knowledge and love of God, to remain in his presence and to actualize a particularly reverent and loving adoration, dedicating themselves to the greater glory of God. Hence adoration, especially Eucharistic adoration, is held in the first place in the Opus Angelorum.
Just as Our Lord Jesus Christ himself was strengthened by the heavenly Father by means of an angel to bear the redemptive passion (cf. Lk 22:43), so also the members of the Opus Angelorum rely upon the help of the holy angels in following Christ with expiating charity for the sanctification and salvation of souls, and especially for priests. Thus, there is in the Opus Angelorum the pious practice of the "Passio Domini", that is a weekly time of prayer (Thursday evening and Friday afternoon) in which the members unite themselves spiritually with the Redeemer in the mystery of his salvific passion. Christ crucified and risen is the center, both for men as well as for the holy angels.
With the approbation of the Opus Ss. Angelorum, the Church has given her blessing to a movement characterized certainly by a singular devotion to the holy angels, but also and essentially — in conformity with the proper characteristics of the angels — by an unconditional orientation towards God and his service, towards Christ the Redeemer, the cross and the Eucharist, to the glory of God and for the sanctification and salvation of souls. The living awareness of the presence and of the mysterious and powerful help of the holy angels, these servants and messengers of God, is truly apt to motivate the faithful to dedicate themselves with confidence to the first and essential mission of the Church: the salvation of souls and the glory of God.
1 Cf. Decree Litteris diei of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, 6 June 1992.
2 Cf. St Thomas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 25. a. 10; q. 23, a. 1, ad i.
3 Cf. Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:15-20; Jn 12:32, 17:21-23; Rev 10:7, 19:6-9.
4 Cf. CCC 350: "'Ad omnia bona nostra cooperantur angeli — The angels cooperate in all our good works' (St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, 114, 3, ad 3)".
5 P. 178: Commentary on a painting by Jan Van Eyck.
6 Cf. CCC 236.