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Let's go to a touchy issue that has cropped up in the mailbag.

This is the issue of naming angels. A couple of months ago we had a touching account from a woman who met what she believes was her guardian during a pilgrimage and named the angel "Cherish." It really seemed more a nickname. We could not presume to be the one who names an angel -- it is God Who would do that.

But it seems the idea of lending any name to an angel raises concerns with some.

It is one of those issues that gets tossed around. There are those who speak in tongues. There are those who condemn the practice. There are those who lay on hands. There are others who avoid it. There are those who receive Communion in the hand. There are those who believe it should be received only on the tongue (many of these, as we have reported!).

Wrote Jennifer Wallace of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania: "I, too, named my guardian angel years ago after I prayed for my angel's name. However, most recently I saw [a Catholic television program] with priests from the Congregation of St. Michael. The fathers specifically addressed naming our angels, saying we absolutely should not do this. For the spiritual world is also full of fallen angels, too, and we don't know who would answer us.  Thus, they also claimed that simply addressing our angel as 'guardian' is sufficient."

Obviously, priests differ -- since it was a priest who originally told the author of the article to give her angel a name!

It was also an issue recently when the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent out a notice lauding a group devoted to angels for following a directive from Rome stating in part that in promoting devotion to the Holy Angels, the members of the Opus Angelorum "were to follow the doctrine of the Church and the teaching of the Church Fathers and Doctors. In particular, the members were not to make use of the 'names' of angels derived from the alleged private revelations attributed to [an alleged seer] and they were not to teach, spread or make use of the theories originating from these alleged revelations."

But that was an issue of a certain visionary. Does it pertain to simple folks using a name for an angel who protects them? "The practice of naming guardian angels is discouraged by the Church," insists a third priest, Father Steve Thomlison, of Lincoln, Nebraska. "'Popular devotion to the holy angels, which is legitimate and good, can, however, also give rise to possible deviations . . . [such as the] practice of assigning names to the holy angels [which] should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture' (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy 217). On occasion, through prayerful and discerning work with a spiritual director, guardian angels may reveal their own name to individuals, but [we cannot] assign names to these magnificent creatures of Heaven."

We see nothing wrong with a pet name. Perhaps this is a way of drawing closer. But we'll leave it for your discernment!

"According to be Bible, angels revealed their names rather reluctantly," asserts the recent issue of a magazine called The Angels. "When Jacob struggled with the angel on the Jabbok stream and asked about his name, the angel did not answer. It is not essential for you to know your guardian's name. Raphael, Michael, and Gabriel are exceptions because they had extraordinary missions to carry out. Of course, there are hagiographical works about saints who probably knew angelic names but the stories should be taken with a pinch of salt. For instance, Saint Humilitas claimed that she had two angels to protect her: her angel guardian called Sapiel and another named Emanuel." The warning: naming angels is also a "crucial element," says the magazine, in certain realms of occultism.

Can a guardian angel be a former fallen angel who is back in God's grace?

This seems preposterous on its face. Likely, it is. "A guardian angel cannot be a fallen angel," says the same magazine. "St. Thomas Aquinas said that a penance and return to God appeared impossible for angels as they were not able to reject what they had chosen and loved before."

We do know for sure that we should not worship a guardian. "They are just 'ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation' (Hebrews 1:14). "In the third century Saint Augustine wrote: 'It is unreasonable to pray to angels. Our prayers should be directed to God, Who is sufficient for everybody, via Jesus Christ, His Son.'"

"The most important issue," notes the magazine, "is that angels should not obscure God."

Hard to argue with that. At the same time, our angels are underutilized. We don't ask them enough. We don't request assistance. This isn't praying to them. It is requesting help.

Nothing wrong there. We'd all be better off if everyone was more in tune with his or her guardian -- not by means of locution, but simply by asking favors and noticing the result.

"I was away from the Church for many years and almost from the beginning of my re-conversion twenty years ago, I have experienced some wonderful blessings," wrote another, who preferred to remain unnamed. "I can see a very bright light -- almost like a neon light or a halo from the side of my head -- very often. Also, one night I had a wonderful experience of seeing a marvelous light light up my bedroom and suddenly there were three very large angels dressed in armor standing at the foot of my bed just looking at me. It lasted only a minute or less  and I knew it was from God because of the peace and love that radiated from this experience."

[see also: 'Experiencing my guardian angel']

[resources: In the Arms of Angels and Christmas books]

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