Liturgical Angelology

Angels are always a popular topic. They mystify, engage, and transform our perspectives on theology. When we think about angels the first thoughts that come to mind are heavenly creatures or an earthly guardian angel. This isn’t bad, but it’s limited. The study of angels, or angelology, has a place in theological scholarship and today you’ll find they also are quite liturgical creatures too.

What is most important about angels is how they help to transcend a typical two-dimensional, God and humanity, view of worship. This isn’t to say angels are to be venerated, they aren’t, or that God’s relationship with man is meaningless without angels, it isn’t! Angels, as we will see, bring forth the rich reality of God’s presence here on earth.  While worship can seem an isolating experience, between God and me, the inclusion of angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven (the prophets, priests, kings, apostles and all the saints) take worship away from the autonomist. Worship that is intentionally done in isolation leads to a pietistic worship of self and idolatry. The inclusion of angels show us that something more is going on in worship, underneath the liturgy is an invisible song of heavenly praise.

Consider the Divine Service (for our purposes Setting One of the LSB). Have you considered that already in the Kyrie there is a subtle inclusion of angels and everyone within the gates of Heaven? Yes, when it is chanted, “For this holy house and for ALL who offer here their worship and praise …” the liturgy is welcoming individuals of the corporately confessing congregation to offer worship and praise. However, worship also transcends time and space to reveal the very presence of Jesus acting in the here and now, for our mercy, and in heaven as the triumphal one. Those living on earth have come to receive his gifts of the Preached Word and partake of the Sacrament of the Altar, but they are also joined with the angels and all the hosts of heaven. These hosts, both the angels and the sainted, partake in the real presence of Jesus. Not by the hearing of sermons or eating of his Body and Blood in the Bread and Wine as we receive Jesus, but in the consummation of that which is proclaimed and ate. As we receive Jesus in the Scriptures preached and in the Holy Supper (and even in Baptism) the heavenly hosts receive the same Logos (Jesus Christ) of Heaven as He comes to us on earth. Simply put, who we receive as Word and Sacrament on earth, the hosts of heaven in their midst receive: the presence of Jesus on his victorious throne. Therefore, when you receive Baptism, the Preached Word, or the Eucharist, you receive the presence of Jesus with the angels and all the hosts of heaven! Yes, it is awesome! It’s Heaven on Earth! 

An Afterthought: Observe where angels appear in the liturgy. You will find clear descriptive uses of angelic imagery, but be aware of subtle occurrences too.
 
1. Divine Service (setting One):
  • Gloria in Excelsis – Luke 2:13-15; the first [A] line
  • This is the Feast – Revelation 5:12-13
  • Lenten Verse – Joel 2:1315; Angels blow the trumpets in Zion/Heaven
  • Nicene Creed, Apostles Creed – Article 1
  • The Proper Preface – “Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven…”
  • Sanctus – Isaiah 6:2-3Revelation 4:8
  • Prayer of Thanksgiving – “Lord of heaven and earth…”
  • Lord’s Prayer – “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”
2. Matins: 
  • Te Deum – stz 2 (n.b. stanza connected to the angel who declares to Mary she is pregnant with the Christ-child)
3. Evening Prayer:
  • Phos Hilaron – “with pure voices forever…”
  • Thanksgiving for Light – “your creatures
4. Prayer and Preaching:
  • Luther’s Morning and Evening Prayer – “Let your holy angel be with me…”

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Sources:


The Lutheran Service Book (LSB).

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