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The role of angels: one author's push to shed light on the afterlife

By ELISE HARRIS

Vatican City, Sep 29, 2014 / 01:58 pm (CNA) - In an effort to show what Scripture tells us about “the beyond,” often obscured by a society that leans toward darkness, Fr. Mark Haydu has published a new book exploring the depiction of angels in art.

“There is a fascination in the world with the spiritual and the occult and the mysterious after death. We see it with vampires, we see it in popular books and television shows, etc.,” Fr. Haydu told CNA Sept. 29, the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

“I wanted to enter into that foray which is often very dark and somewhat evil and mysterious, to enter with the light of Christ and what Scripture has to say about the beyond.”

Scripture tells us a lot, he explained, noting that “so many of us have spiritual experiences with angels, with our guardian angels, with saints and with intercession, and so that whole area is enlightened by our faith so much and perhaps popular culture loses that.”
“So, I wanted to bring to bear what Scripture says, what art says about that spiritual world between heaven and earth where God reigns with his angels.”

Fr. Haydu is currently the international director of the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums, and has already authored one book entitled “Meditations on Vatican Art,” which offers a series of reflections on various pieces of artwork found inside the Vatican Museums.

His new book, “Meditations on Vatican Art: Angels,” speaks of the frequent depiction of angels in art, and offers reflections on the meaning we can draw from their presence in Scripture and the history of salvation.

Consisting of the priest’s own description of what art says in the language of the angels, as well as 31 meditations on pieces of art found in the Vatican Museums, the book is slated to be released in English this November.

The reason that angels are so often depicted in art is that “they are there as intermediaries,” Fr. Haydu said. “They are sent by God throughout the Scriptures, whether it’s to the Virgin Mary or to Zachariah, or in the Old Testament to Abraham, to Moses.”

“Angels are always being sent by God…so they are easy to depict. So many Bible stories have them and they’re a physical way we can imagine the divine becoming present in human reality.”

Because they are so “beautiful with their wings and their power” and their “ability to fly in and help God’s mission and then go away,” they are “fascinating and attractive and very interesting for artists,” Fr. Haydu continued.

Describing angels as “defenders, messengers of God,” the priest explained that another quality which makes them so attractive is that “they are between heaven and earth.”

“They are sent by God. So, they are at his throne but they are sent on mission to us. And that’s what makes them exciting to us is that we feel them close to us.”

The presence of angels in salvation history can be seen throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, the priest noted, and includes the fall of Lucifer – the Devil – who was an angel himself.

So we know they exist “because God has revealed them,” he said, adding that “throughout salvation history, they’ve shown up on the scene. Without them, so much that has happened, beginning with the greatest of mysteries, the Incarnation, wouldn’t be.”

Fr. Haydu then observed how Sept. 29 marks the feast honoring the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, saying that he would say a special Mass later dedicated to the Guardian Angels.

In “every Mass we celebrate we ask the Angels to bring our sacrifice on this altar to heaven. The angels are even present in the liturgy,” he said. “Listen today to the Mass and you’ll hear the reference to the angels.”


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