Naming angels

Question: I read Msgr. M. Francis Mannion’s answer on angels a while back and was surprised to read “the practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged.” Please explain this. What if I was told the name of my angel in prayer? 

Rose

Answer: Msgr. Mannion is correct and seems to be quoting a document written in 2001 by the Congregation for Divine Worship titled Directory On Popular Piety in the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines. 

It says, “The practice of assigning names to the holy angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael, whose names are contained in Holy Scripture”(No. 127). 

While the Congregation does not offer reasons for discouraging the practice, I would like to offer a couple. 

First, there is the understanding of what a name is. For most of us in the modern Western world, a name is simply a sound we go by. But in the ancient, Biblical world, and even in many places today, a name has a far deeper meaning. A name describes something of the essence of the person.  

This helps explains the ancient practice of the Jews to name the child on the eighth day. The delay gave the parents some time to observe something of the essence of the child and then name him or her.  

But it is presumptive to think that we can know enough of the essence of a particular angel, in order to be able to assign a name. Hence, assigning a name seems inappropriate. 

The second reason is that assigning a name indicates some superiority over the one named. Thus, in the case of children, parents, who are superior over their children, rightly name them. In the case of angels, they are superior to us and serve as our guardians. Thus, God commands us to heed their voice (Ex 23:20-21). 

So naming an angel does seem problematic, and to be discouraged.  

As for the name being revealed to you, let me respectfully offer that this is not likely the case, since it seems unlikely that an angel, or the Holy Spirit, would act contrary to the directive of the Church, herself graced to speak for Christ. 

Prayer

Question: If I can pray to God about anything I want, what is the purpose of praying to saints and Mary and asking them to pray for me? 

Jason, Union Correctional Inst.

Answer: What if you could do both? It is not as though one sort of prayer excludes another. 

Your question might well be applied to any number of scenarios. Why would I ask you to pray for me? Or why do I often say so someone, “I will pray for you!” And why does Scripture call us to pray for one another (Eph 6:18)? Why does Paul ask others to pray for him (Rom 15:31)? If Jesus is on the main line, and we can talk directly to him, why pick up line two? 

And yet, it is our instinct to do exactly that. Both lines are important and Scripture commends both forms of prayer. 

Sometimes God wills to answer us directly; sometimes he answers through another’s prayer.  

At the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1), though Jesus surely knew the need of the couple for wine, mysteriously he chose to let his mother sway his decision.  

So why not pray both ways and let God decide? 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com . Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.