All prayers would benefit from a rhymed version! It’s this device that made Prayer to Guardian Angel the first (and sometimes only) prayer I could pray in the dark. And the dark often inspired my childhood prayer.
From my earliest years at Holy Spirit School in Indianapolis, Indiana, I counted on my guardian angel to keep me safe from the demons of dark hallways, basements and closets. My conscience gradually came to fear moral darkness as well. Since the word commit was part and parcel of learning about sin, I did puzzle over the phrase, “To whom God’s love commits me here.”
I remember asking my mom, “How does love get committed?” She was quite puzzled by my question, until I related it to this prayer. Later, I heard a version using entrusts rather than commits, which I prefer.
Since I shared a bedroom with my sister Melanie, six years younger, we whispered about many things deep into the night. Though I was (perhaps) old enough to know better, Melanie and I speculated about the sex, attributes and attire of angels.
The dress code suggested by holy cards and statuary made gauzy white or soft pastels a given. We envisioned a smattering of metallic gold stars in the fabrics worn by our guardians. We wondered aloud how much space to allow in our already narrow beds, trying generously not to roll over on our valiant protectors. We felt safe. Still do.
As I have grown in years and in understanding, my larger bed—indeed, my world—remains inhabited by angels. As I continued my religious education, I learned about nine angelic choirs bridging the great gap between human and divine.
Angels abound in Scripture. There they display God’s generous care, comfort and healing. Theologians from St. Thomas Aquinas to Karl Rahner have explored angelology, the theology of angels.
When Jesus says, “[A]ngels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father...,” it is theologically accurate to recognize them as the guardians of the “little ones” (Matthew 18:10). Tracing my sometimes fanciful belief in angels to Scripture and Tradition reassures me that they are neither fad nor fiction. Guardian angels serve as further proof of divine largesse. Almighty God, my ultimate protector, provides this delightful redundancy of spiritual security.
The text of this popular prayer was first penned in rhymed Latin by the 11th-century monk and poet Reginald of Canterbury. The popular English translation can be traced to the Baltimore Manual of Prayers (1888).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) affirms the existence of angels, though it is shy on particulars. While belief in guardian angels is not at the level of dogma, St. Basil says with confidence, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” (CCC, #336).
Angels appear on many Christmas cards and on top of most manger scenes at this time of year. Clarence, George Bailey’s distinctly unglamorous guardian in Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life, makes TV appearances as well.
Bumbling Clarence certainly defies the modus operandi my sister and I had worked out, but we would still award him his wings! Angel Clarence kept George Bailey from suicide by showing him what a blessed life he’d had, guiding him just as the prayer asks.
Angels serve to demonstrate—and exemplify—the wonderful workings of God in our lives. I’ve heard them called “minions” but that sounds too small. I prefer messenger and protector.
My belief in angels evidences my strong faith in a personal God who is acquainted not only with my Christmas list, but also with my worst sins, my best intentions and my largest dreams. It is God who gives his angels charge over me (see Psalm 91:11). That thought gives me wings.
This concludes our series "Beloved Prayers."