The Festival of the Angels
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The Festival of the Angels
X C.W. Leadbeater

The article below is a shortened version of the writings of the late Bishop Leadbeater, taken from his book "The Inner Side of Christian Festivals".

The festival of the holy Angels is usually called Michaelmas Day, after St. Michael, the great Chief of the Angels; but really we celebrate on that occasion not only that glorious Prince, but the whole angelic Host; we thank and praise God for them and for all the wonderful help which they give to us. There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the holy Angels. The idea of them is so beautiful, so poetical, that people often think of it as if it were only poetry. They talk about these great and glorious beings somewhat in the same way as they speak about fairy legends. It is all very beautiful, but it is not quite real to them.

Nothing could be farther from the truth than any idea as that. The radiant glory of the holy angels is far more real, and not less, than the things of this physical plane. I suppose that sounds strange, overstrained, even half-ridiculous; but it is not so at all. These things of the physical plane which we touch and feel are real enough to us now, while we live among them; but we have only to raise our consciousness just a little into a higher world, and at once all this gross reality is real no longer, but is airier than the fabric of a dream, and we understand then that the things which are seen here on the physical plane are rightly described as temporal, but the things which are unseen down here are far more nearly eternal. Those are the realities, and not these. The spirit is the real thing, not this body. The body is perfectly real while it lasts, but that is only for a few years; the spirit is a divine spark, and lives forever. So the holy Angels are in no way less real than you and I.

Anyone who has studied the discoveries of modern science knows that there is a definite line of evolution coming up through the different kingdoms of nature. The mineral kingdom is generally accounted the lowest; some students know that there are others preceding even that in evolution. The mineral kingdom gradually leads up to the beginnings of the vegetable kingdom, and in the same way the vegetable kingdom also leads up to the beginnings of the animal kingdom. Man is classified as being at the head of the animal kingdom; but in our studies of the inner life we count him, for certain good reasons, as a separate kingdom. The qualifications in various ways which he possesses differentiate him from even the highest of the animal kingdom, though from the animal there is a steady progress up to the human. There is no break in this system of evolution, and so from the very lowest life we can lead up to our own life.

Are we then the end of everything? Is there no life as much higher than ours as ours is higher than the animal, as the animal is higher than the mineral? Investigation shows us that there is a life higher than ours – that there is a kingdom above the human kingdom, higher in evolution than our own, called the Angelic kingdom. The philosophers of India give to its members the name of Devas. Deva is a Sanskrit word from which is derived our word divine. It is connected with all which is high and God-like. The Devas are the Shining Ones – a very natural name for men who can see them to give to them, because all this higher world is to our world as light is to darkness.

Men may think: "We can see the animals; why can we not see the Angels? The animals belong to a lower kingdom than we, but they can see us; if they can see something belonging to a higher kingdom, why cannot we?" First of all, we can. There are a great many men who have seen members of the Angelic kingdom, although the lowest matter to which they descend is higher than this of our physical world. There are many stages and varieties of matter even down here; we have the solid, the liquid, the gaseous. There is matter which eludes our senses, not because it is in any sense unreal or even immaterial, but because our senses are imperfect, and reach only a small part of what we know to exist. For example, we can generally see solid and liquid matter, but we can rarely see gas, or anything in gaseous condition. There are some gases, like chlorine, which we can see by their colour, but usually we are aware of gas in another way, by scent or by our feeling when breathing it. That which is higher than gas is still more beyond our physical senses, but we should be making a vital mistake – vital, that is, to the comprehension of things – if we suppose it to be unreal. These Angels have bodies, and those bodies are built of matter as ours are; only they happen to be built of higher matter, answering only the higher vibrations. But we also have within ourselves a body of finer matter, a higher vehicle which can be cultivated, and its senses developed, just as the physical senses of a man can be developed to a much greater degree of fineness than most of us possess.

The senses of our higher body can also be trained to see things belonging to these higher worlds. People sometimes catch the glimpse of them when they are in exalted condition, or in deep vision. We read, for example, that the great saints had visions of Angels. We must not suppose that these men were mere hysterical dreamers; the fact is that their higher consciousness was for the moment opened, so that they saw what under normal conditions would have remained invisible to them.

Though the Angelic kingdom is next above the human, it is not necessarily the next stage in our evolution. Just as not all the creatures which are classified as belonging to the animal kingdom will eventually become human, so not by any means all human beings will ever join the great kingdom of the holy Angels. All who are now human will one day reach the end, the summit of human development, and will become super-human; but there are many other lines of evolution into which man may pass other than this of the angelic host.

This great Angelic kingdom has its own races, its varied degrees of development, its different lines of evolution, just as is the case with every other kingdom in nature. There are Angels who do not stand higher in evolution than some of the best of men; and there are others whose Splendour seems to us to include all that we can image of Divinity. We may note that the wording of our Liturgy recalls to us at every eucharistic service a nine-fold classification which has been widely accepted in the early Christian Church – that which divides them into Angels, Archangels, Cherubim, Seraphim, Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues and Powers. The Jewish arrangement, which has also largely been adopted in the Christian Church, divides them into seven great types, corresponding to the Rays. Even the names of those Great Ones who stand at the head of each of these seven types are given to us in ancient writings, where they appear as Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Chamuel, Jophiel, and Zadkiel.

In the nine-fold classification, two other types are added which are cosmic – that is to say, they extend beyond the limits of our chain or worlds, perhaps even beyond our solar system. To each of these types different characteristics are assigned, and in each of these great Orders of Angels there are many levels. We divide our human kingdom into various races – the Aryan, the Mongolian, the Semitic and so on; but we all recognise that in each of these races are highly developed people and people of comparatively low development. There are kings and princes and nobility and also there are peasants; but they are all of the same race. Just in the same way in the Orders of the Angels there are the great leaders, and there are others who are not so highly developed; for the lower levels of the various Orders have astral bodies, and are still subject to influence of desire. It is true that evil of intention is no longer possible for any of the angelic host, but there are many who in intellect and general advancement are but little beyond ourselves.

I suppose that most people, when they think of Angels, regard them as a host of glorious Spirits, human in form, though usually bearing huge wings on their shoulders, who spend their time either in perpetual adoration before the Throne of God, or in travelling on errands for Him, mostly connected with the progress of the human race, or the rescue of individuals from positions of misery or danger. We shall have but a very truncated and partial idea of this glorious kingdom if we think of its members as always occupied either in fruitlessly praising the Deity or in running errands connected with the human race. The Angels are a manifestation of the Divine Life at a certain high stage of its evolution, and they are primarily concerned, just as we are, with the business of that evolution. They are living their own lives, and those lives are a far more splendid epiphany of Deity than are most of ours. No doubt they often praise God, as we ourselves do in our churches; but just as we try mainly to show forth our love to God by living in the world as He would have us live, so do they at their superior level show best their love and devotion to Him by carrying out to their utmost that work which He has given them to do.

It would be foolish of us to think of that work as in any way especially concerned with us, though, no doubt, such a thought is flattering to our pride, and fits in readily with the self-centredness of humanity as a whole. We shall perhaps arrive at a more rational understanding if we think of our own attitude towards the kingdoms below us – the animal and the vegetable. We do not spend the whole of our lives in thinking how we can do good to these lower kingdoms or help on their evolution; the average man is far more concerned in thinking how he can make these lower creatures serve him, and how much in one way or other he can make out of them. Our relations with animals are, in fact, of the most horrible description; and they may well be excused if they regard us not as angels but as devils. Of course it would be quite unthinkable that the angelic kingdom should endeavour in any such way to exploit us, but we may well suppose that it is, on the whole, content to go the way of its own evolution without interfering unnecessarily with ours.

When humanity has evolved much further along its path it will come into far closer relation with these great angelic hosts, and such contiguity will be greatly to its advantage. Something of the method of that close union may be read by those who wish in the book Man, Whence, How and Whither, in which it is described how in a future, not far distant, great Angels will take a visible and leading part in the Church service of those days, and will gather together the devotion of the members of the congregation and pour it upward in a mighty fountain to the feet of the Solar Deity Himself. They will also act as the recipients and distributors of the tremendous spiritual influence or grace which He in response outpours upon these devotees.

They are doing work of that nature even now, though somewhat less obviously. I have already mentioned that all the devotion and all the love which have been outpoured through many centuries at the feet of the Blessed Virgin Mary are gathered up by her, now that she is a great Angel, and forwarded to the Solar Deity, Who very surely accepts and responds. In The Science of the Sacraments I have explained something of the wondrous part which the Angels play in the greatest of our Church services. Thousands upon thousands of earnest Christians have for the last twenty centuries been deriving the fullest spiritual help and upliftment from the Holy Eucharist without knowing that they owe the possibility of that most glorious service to the assistance so gladly and patiently given by the holy Angels to an uncomprehending world. They come then because they can arrange for us a certain kind of service which without them we could not achieve, and because they know that when a man attends such a service and joins heart in praise and worship, he is in an impressionable attitude, and can be reached and touched; good can be done to him and power poured forth upon him.

When a man enters the church, he comes into the presence of our Lord enthroned upon His altar; and just because of that fact he also comes into the presence of a great host of adoring Angels. How much they can do for him depends upon the extent to which he opens his heart to their influence, and upon his physical, moral and mental condition. Some of us feel such influences easily and keenly, because we have sharpened our senses in that particular direction; others become aware of them only vaguely and uncertainly; but increasing numbers of people are becoming conscious of them. Man is growing by slow degrees to be the kind of creature that Angels can help, and as he advances further into their sphere he will be more cognisant of their gracious response and interest.

The presence of the Angels should not be for us vague, uncertain or hypothetical; we should make up our minds that it is a perfectly definite reality, and although we may not all actually be able to see it, any more than we can see an electric current, yet it is just as real as an electric current, and its effects may be appreciated by those who are capable of sensing them.

Great hosts of Angels attend the celebration of the Eucharist.The greater Angels come in order to take a definite part in the work. The Holy Eucharist is not celebrated for our sake, however much benefit we may derive from it. We come not in order to receive, but chiefly in order to give. We come because this is the method which Christ has ordained for the radiation of spiritual force abroad upon His world, and we come here to help in this distribution of divine energy. Incidentally we get a great deal for ourselves, but that is not our main object.

The Angels come – those greater ones – in order to make all this possible for us. At the end of the Asperges, we ask that God shall send His Angel to help us and be with us. In answer to that call comes the Angel of the Eucharist who builds the edifice out of our devotion and our feeling, and out of the energy that is thrown out by the musical part of the service. Greater than he are the Angels who come when we send out the call for them just before the Sanctus – when the priest or the bishop, having called upon us to lift up our hearts and to give thanks unto God, proceeds further to say that with the holy Angels (enumerating the different kinds) we take our part. That is the traditional call to them and the very melody to which we sing "Lift up your hearts", "We lift them up unto the Lord" is almost two thousand years old, if not quite. It goes back to the very earliest ages in which such music was used in the Church.

They come and take part in the service. Of course we must not think for a moment that it is only we who have such privileges. In all Christian Churches where the link of the apostolic succession has been made, the same arrangement exists; indeed we must not think of it as confined to Christianity at all. All religions exist for the helping of the world, and in almost all of them some provision is made for the reception and distribution of spiritual force. This work of the Angels is made easier when the congregation understands what is being done and assists intelligently by thought. Therefore we should make it our business to know and to comprehend, so that we may help the Angels in the work which they have to do.

These glorious Spirits are of so many different kinds that it is scarcely feasible to attempt any description of them. Many of them are of human form, though usually of far more than human stature. Their colours, their radiance, their iridescence are wonderful beyond all words; they look upon us with glorious starry eyes, filled with eternal peace. In them the aura is so much larger, so far more magnificent than with us, that from a distance often they appear mere spheres of flashing light. I have never seen them with wings; indeed, I think that the wings worn by the Angels of art and poetry must always be symbolical of their various powers, as they so evidently are in some of the scriptural descriptions. This supposition is further borne out by the fact that even in the biblical story, when the Angel of the Lord comes to visit His People (such as Abraham, Peter and others) he is usually taken for a man, which would hardly be possible if he wore a pair of gigantic wings.

The aura of the great Angel is far more extensive and flexible than ours; he expresses himself simultaneously in thought-forms of marvellously beautiful shapes, in coruscations of glorious colour and in a wealth of loveliest music. For him a smile of greeting would be a wondrous brightening of colour and a rush of harmonious sound; a speech delivered by one of these valiant Sons of God would be a magnificent oratorio; a conversation between two great Angels would be like a mighty fugue, in which motif answered to motif, echoing in bewildering cataracts of harmony, accompanied by kaleidoscopic changes of glowing hues, and scintillations of rainbow light. There are Angels who live in and express themselves by what to us are perfumes and fragrances – though to use such words seems to degrade, to materialise the exquisite emanations in which they revel so joyously.

There are always Angels hovering round the Reserved Host, but when the more vivid glow begins at the Elevation or Benediction we see a curious and most beautiful addition to the company, for a number of very small Angels circle about it. Most members of the angelic host are at least of ordinary human size, and many of them are much greater than men; but here is a tribe of tiny cherubs quite like some of those painted by Titian or Michelangelo. They are small and wonderfully perfect creatures – not at all unlike certain classes of nature-spirits, except that they are far more radiant and undoubtedly angelic in type; child-like and yet somehow very, very old. They give an impression of eternal shining which it is impossible to put into words; they are like birds of paradise in the splendour of their colour, beings of living light; and they wheel or hover in an attitude of adoration, twining in and out as they move, making a kind of hollow sphere about the Host – a sphere perhaps twenty feet in diameter. I do not think that any of them come so low as to have an astral body; most of them can be distinguished only by the sight of the causal body, which of course means that their densest vehicle is built of matter belonging to the mental world. They are of great value in the service, for they reflect and transmute some of the mighty forces employed, and call out great volumes of others; so a swirl of indescribable activity is always going on within and around their sphere.

There is also another kind of these tiny creatures to whom the title of Angel is less appropriate. They are equally graceful and beautiful in their way, but in reality they belong to the kingdom of the elves or nature spirits. They do not express themselves by means of perfumes, but they live by and on such emanations, and so are always to be found where fragrance is being disseminated. There are many varieties, some feeding upon coarse and loathsome odours, and others only upon those which are delicate and refined. Among them are a few types which are especially attracted by the smell of incense, and are always to be found where it is burnt. When the priest censes the altar and thus creates a magnetic field, he encloses within it a number of these delightful little elves, and they absorb a great deal of the energy which is accumulated there, and become valuable agents in its distribution at the proper time.

We must also hold in affectionate remembrance the great class of thought-angels, of whom so many are specially connected with the services of the Church. The greatest of all of these is the mighty Angel of the Presence, who comes every time the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, and consummates for us that tremendous sacrifice; for when fulfilling the duties of his holy office, the priest pronounces the words of power, that Angel flashes forth, and by his touch of fire performs that wondrous transmutation which is at the same time the greatest of all miracles and the most natural, touching an intimate expression of the Divine Love. He is in very truth a thought-form of the Lord Christ Himself, a projection of that wondrous Consciousness.

There is no greater joy for His holy Angels than to follow the lightning of that thought, and to bathe in that river of life, that ineffable outpouring of spiritual influence. And so it comes that at every Eucharist, at every Benediction Service, the congregation is far more numerous than we can see with physical eyes; and when we celebrate these holy mysteries, the squadrons of the heavenly host gather about us here and now.

 

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