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  19th Sunday after Pentecost

October 4, 2015

Angels of the Rosary

October of course is Rosary Month. However, the month of October is also dedicated to the Holy Angels, and during this past week we celebrated the feasts of St. Michael Archangel on Tuesday, and then the Holy Guardian Angels on Friday. Now this week we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Rosary, the other great focus of our prayer during October. It seems as though Holy Mother Church wishes us to have both Rosary and Angels firmly fixed in our mind this month, and if we stop for a moment and think about it, we’ll see she has a very clear reason to do so.

We have prayed the Rosary, I hope, enough times that the events and mysteries we think about are firmly embedded in our consciousness, familiar scenes that inspire diverse emotions and resolutions in our poor, frail, and often unwilling minds and bodies. The five joyful mysteries in which we meditate upon certain major events connected with Our Lord’s Incarnation, his Birth, and his Childhood. In the five sorrowful mysteries we contemplate his Passion and Death. And then the final triumph of the Resurrection, Ascension, Descent of the Holy Ghost, and Our Lady’s Assumption and Coronation. Today I would like to take a step back from these great events. Let us look at the forest, not the trees. For there is a single major theme that extends throughout these 15 mysteries that Our Blessed Lady herself gave to St. Dominic. They are, in short, the story of our Redemption. They tell us not only what happened in history to redeem us from sin and eternal hellfire, but also lay out the roadmap for us to find our way to heaven and save our souls.

But as the Church seems so intent that we keep both Rosary and Angels in our mind together this month, let’s take a step back today and look at this story of our Redemption, the Rosary, from the perspective of the Angels.

The Redemption story began, of course, long before St. Gabriel was ever sent to the Maiden of Nazareth with his announcement. We need to go back in time all the way to the rebellion of Lucifer and the great battle that ensued in heaven. We all know the story—how Lucifer, the “Light-Bearer” and most beautiful of all the angels rebelled against God, and how the Archangel St. Michael, whose name means “Who Is Like Unto God?” defeated these rebellious angels and cast them out of heaven for ever. But do we know why Lucifer rebelled?

No one was there to chronicle the events of course, and we rely on the Holy Ghost to reveal what we know through the Holy Scriptures. But theologians have examined this great battle in heaven, and there is a general consensus on the cause of the rebellion. God, of course, is a pure spirit. The angels were created by God in his own image as pure spirits also, having no inferior substance of a material nature. They are not limited by a material body. But God revealed to the angels in heaven that he was going to create another creature called “Man”, also in his own image, but with a body, and thus inferior to the Angels. But the sting was in the tail of this announcement to the angels. It was that Man would be placed at the head of this new creation as its ruler. Not only that but there would be born a “Woman” who would be his supreme creation, undefiled and immaculate, who would be the Virgin Mother of God, who would crush the head of Lucifer, and who would reign forever in heaven as Queen of Heaven, Queen of the Angels.

In today’s Epistle, it is clearly stated that this woman, our Blessed Lady, already existed as part of God’s plan. “I was set up from everlasting,” says the Book of Wisdom, “from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth.” Our Lady clearly was to play an essential role in God’s plan for our redemption.

Her role was to be the test for the angels. They were creatures of God with immortal souls, capable of free will, but so superior to men that they needed to make only one decision as to whether they would submit their free will to the will of God. When they heard that they would be subject to a mere woman, it was more than some of the angels were prepared to stand for. Many of the angels passed the test, rejoicing in God’s decision to create the Blessed Virgin Mary. Take the Introit of today’s Mass for example, where we are exhorted to rejoice with them: “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a festival day in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on whose solemnity the Angels rejoice and give praise to the Son of God.” But then there were the other angels. Led by Lucifer they protested angrily and violently against the usurpation of their own rank and dignity. St. Michael defended Our Lady’s honour, and God sent him to cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits.

While this cause of the rebellion of the fallen angels may be conjecture, it certainly goes a long way in answering why Satan has such hatred for Our Blessed Lady. No less does it explain why the other angels love and revere her so devoutly. Long before she was born, she had a central place in the story of mankind, the very thought of her eventual existence provoking the great rebellion of Satan.

Again, long before her the birth, Our Blessed Lady plays a role even as early as in the Garden of Eden. For no sooner had God created our first parents than Satan made his first move. His over-riding plan all along has been to thwart God’s plan for our redemption. With his diabolical intellect at work, he devised a plan that would remove many of the great gifts God had given to Adam and Eve, rendering them ineligible for their eternal reward in heaven. We know the story. Eve bit the apple, then Adam, and suddenly we were no longer free from suffering and death, our fallen nature now constantly bombarded by temptations to commit sin. This original sin meant that the doors of heaven were slammed shut, and Satan must surely have rejoiced that day at his great victory.

But was it such a victory? Could Satan smugly sit back and enjoy his triumph when he heard the following words from his Creator? “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” This “woman” of course was the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose statue we so often see with her feet firmly crushing the head of the serpent. It was a prophecy directly from God himself that his Mother would be the instrument for destroying the work of the Devil. And so Satan returned to his lair, and continued to tempt and beguile man, waiting for the moment when he could find another way of thwarting God’s plan to reopen the gates of heaven for mankind.

Many thousands of years passed, the whole of the Old Testament period in fact. And then God sent an angel to an elderly couple called Joachim and Anne who were praying for a child. According to the story, St. Anne sat praying beneath a laurel bush, and an angel appeared and said to her, "Anne, the Lord hath heard thy prayer, and thou shalt conceive and bring forth, and thy seed shall be spoken of in all the world". And Anne replied, "As the Lord my God liveth, if I beget either male or female I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life". Thus took place that great event which was to be known as the Immaculate Conception, when alone among all the descendants of Adam and Eve, a child was conceived without the stain of original sin, and in due time was born Mary, who was to be the mother of God.

There is no doubt that this silent and hidden Immaculate Conception was an event of the most enormous importance in the history of this world. It signifies the re-opening of the story of our redemption. And we should note that as with all the greatest and most significant events of this redemption story, it was made known by the message of an angel. For it was an angel that God chose to announce to both parents of the future Mother of God, that he had heard their prayers, and that their offspring would be no ordinary child, but “spoken of in all the world”.

And so we finally arrive at the First Joyful Mystery, and the beginning of those few concentrated years of grace between the Incarnation of Christ our Lord and the Assumption of Our Lady.

It is another angel, St. Gabriel, who is entrusted with the task of announcing to the Blessed Virgin that she is to be the Mother of God, an event that we commemorate not only in the Rosary, but three times a day with the prayer called the “Angelus”. When St. Joseph found out that his betrothed was with child, he did not want to expose her publicly as he was a just man, but wanted to put her away privately. But again God uses an Angel, sending him to Joseph as he slept, allaying his fears and telling him that the child who was conceived in Mary was of the Holy Ghost. The Breviary tells us that one of the reasons why it was important for Our Lady to be betrothed to St. Joseph was so that Satan would not know that this was the virgin birth prophesied by Isaiah for the coming of the Messiah. Satan was still unaware of the enormity of the events taking place before him.

When the time comes for Our Lady to give birth to the Son of God, the great joy of the occasion warrants the sending of a “multitude of the heavenly host” on that first Christmas night. They appeared to the shepherds as they watched their flocks, and sang the praises of God: “Gloria in excelsis Deo”—Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will. Angels appear to the three wise men, warning them not to go back to Herod after they present their gifts to the Christ child. Another angel appears to St. Joseph warning him to flee to Egypt with his family, and later appears to him again to let him know it was safe to return.

The joyful mysteries are replete with angels, who play a pivotal role as the messengers of God. In the sorrowful mysteries they are also present, but hidden now. They have no messages of joy to deliver at this time, and their role is simply to comfort Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, and to mourn his death on Calvary. Our Lord reminded his Apostles in Gethsemane that he could call upon his Father to send him twelve legions of Angels to protect him, but that this would prevent the Scriptures from being fulfilled. And so the next dreadful few days are the domain of that other angel, Satan. His hour has finally come, and he can taste his triumph. He fully believes he will now win a great victory by destroying this God-Man who had created him with such great beauty, but who had decided to give dominion to a mere mortal woman instead of to him. The leader of the fallen angels makes himself busy. He uses greed to tempt Judas, hypocrisy to tempt the Sanhedrin, fear and political guile to tempt Pontius Pilate, and hatred to stir up the Jewish populace. He is well acquainted with the vices of each character in this spectacle, with thousands of years of practice to beguile these idiot mortals into doing his will. In the Garden of Eden, he had first whispered his evil into the ears of those willing to listen, and now again it was an easy victory. These mortals are no match for his angelic cleverness. And so the Son of God is scourged, spat upon, mocked, crowned with thorns, and nailed to a cross. This was indeed the Devil’s hour.

Of course, what Satan had still not grasped was that although he could easily manipulate the fallen nature of man to do his bidding, he was still no match for the power of God. God simply used Satan with all his wicked devices, letting him do what he does best in order to achieve not his plan but God’s plan. And in the glorious mysteries of the Rosary we see the fulfillment of that plan with the Resurrection. Now again the angels reappear, first at the empty tomb to announce the Resurrection to the holy women, then standing by at the Ascension of Our Lord, to prophesy the Second Coming: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” Finally, they escort Our Lady as she is assumed body and soul into heaven, and joyfully celebrate her coronation as Queen of all Angels, Queen of Heaven and Earth.

I wish I could tell you that there the story ended. However, you and I are still fighting the battle for our own personal salvation. It is essentially part of the same war waged in heaven by St. Michael against Satan to defend the honour of Our Blessed Lady. It is for this reason that we pray to both Our Lady and St. Michael every day in the Leonine Prayers after Mass. We are no match for the Devil by ourselves. We need the help of our blessed Mother, St. Michael and all the angelic forces to help us in our combat.
As usual the Church’s liturgical year seems to coincide with the message. In the last few days we have celebrated not only the feast of St. Michael himself, but also that of all our Guardian Angels, and I hope we all used the occasion to pray for their help and protection. The day after the feast of these Guardian Angels we celebrated another feast not unlike that of an angel. This feastday even had the same Gospel as the feast of the Guardian Angels. It was the feast of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, someone who was so angelic in her character and behaviour, even in her very nature, that she seemed to resemble one of the heavenly host.

And the words of the Gospel that was read on both days? “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” The virtue of humility is the very antithesis to the pride of Satan, and the key to our salvation. Look therefore to the humility of the unseen angels who loved God enough to accept his will that they should serve Man. Take your inspiration from those like St. Theresa who resembled the Angels in her great humility. It is only in the practice of humility like theirs, constantly accepting to do the will of God, that we can hope to achieve our final victory in heaven. Never in pride—Satan tried that and failed. The story of the Redemption in general, and our own redemption in particular, is the story we visualize every day in the Holy Rosary, from its beginning to its end, from the Annunciation to the humble maiden in the First Joyful Mystery to her crowning in heaven, her exaltation by God, in the Last Glorious Mystery. It is the story of a God who hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. It is the story told by an angel.

 Sermons from the Chaplain