ASK FATHER: What happens to Guardian Angels after we die?

From a reader…


What happens to your guardian angel after you die? Did he necessarily exist before you were conceived? If so, was he possibly somebody else’s guardian before? Indeed are angels the guardians of more than one soul?

Thanks for the question about angels.   Angels are fantastic and fascinating.

Yes, all the angels who exist, existed before material creation.  When we profess that God created all that invisible, “unseen”, that means the angelic realm.

There are two kinds of persons, created and uncreated.  The uncreated Persons are obviously the three Persons of God, the Holy Trinity.  The created persons are in two categories, those who are individuated in matter and those who are not.   Because we human beings are individuated in matter, we all belong to one species, the human race.  Because angels are not individuated in matter, each angel is his own species, as different from each other as alligators are from giraffes.

There is no telling how many angels there are.  Scripture indicates at certain points that there are so many angels that they are hardly to be counted.  God knows, but we couldn’t count them if we tried.  As a matter of fact, some think that there may be an angel for everything that moves, guiding it according to God’s great plan.   In any event, there are far more angels than there are of us.

We know from Scripture that we have angel guardians.  Christ even refers to the angels of little ones who see the face of God.  Angels, not having bodies, are not limited to one place as we all.  They are where they need to be acting. In seeing the face of God at the same time as they guard us, they watch over us according to God’s will.

What happens to our guardian angels after we die?  They remain angels, of course.  They can never be anything other than what they are.  They do not lose their angelness.  Could God assign them to some other person?  Sure.  Does He?  Who knows.   There are so many angels that every human every born could have a new one, from any of the choirs of heaven, high or low.

And even the least of the angels, at the very bottom of the angelic heap, by far transcends this material realm.  Angels are mighty beings, indeed.

Aside: Remember that St. Francis said that were he to meet a priest and an angel on the road, he would reverence the priest first.  An angel can’t do what a priest can, such as forgive sins and confect the Eucharist.

Nevertheless, angels perpetually behold the face of God and worship Him in the heavenly hosts, wreathed and thronging around the celestial altar of the Lamb, singing praises… KADOSH… KADOSH… KADOSH… DOXA DOXA DOXA… SANCTUS SANCTUS SANCTUS… HOLY HOLY HOLY.  Holy angels are never not worshipping God, even when they have a job to do that refers to our lives.  A “job”, a mission from God that makes these incredible pure spirit persons “messengers… heralds…”.  “Angel is from Greek, “messenger”, Hebrew malakh.  Once the mission is done, they are not then “messengers” but their nature doesn’t change.

Speaking of choirs of angels, the mightiest of the Angels whom we think about, Michael, is from what we identify as one of the lower choirs.   At the top are the magnificent seraphim and cherubim described in Scripture.

There is a lot more to be said about angels, but that will suffice.   There is, however, a story told in a letter St. Jerome to a friend, Eustochium, about a nightmare. Jerome was questioned by an angel. The angel asked him who he was.  Jerome said that he was a Christian.  The angel said, “No, you are a Ciceronian!”, because Jerome was a great admirer of Cicero.  Then the angel beat him.

They can do that.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Dan says:

    I am happy this question of angels came up and leads me to one I have wondered about.

    Satan has been often described as being the counterpart or opposite of the great St. Michael. He is not the opposite of God because He cannot have an opposite and St. Michael is charged with fighting him, but we also know that the angels fell from all the levels of Angels. Our battle is not with flesh and blood but with the angels and archangels, the powers the principalities the thrones and dominions. So knowing that it stands to reason that satan is fallen from one of the upper levels of angels.

    Also, I believe I have heard it said, that at the resurrection God will elevate the great saints to the places vacated by the fallen angels. Not making them angels themselves but like the angels.

    So following that logic, the greatest saint, Mary the Mother of God who has already benefitted by the resurrection assumed into Heaven body and soul, has been given her spot in heaven, which would logically be the spot vacated by the highest ranking fallen angel.

    So wouldn’t the opposite of Satan be Mary and not St. Michael? Her great “YES” opposed to his great “NO” It is after all Mary that will crush the head of the devil.

  2. Gab says:

    I love my Guardian Angel. He puts up with so much from me and yet never leaves me. Thank God.
    This prayer is a fav of mine:
    “O Holy Angel, attendant of my wretched soul and of mine afflicted life, forsake me not, a sinner, neither depart from me for mine inconstancy. Give no place to the evil demon to subdue me with the oppression of this mortal body; but take me by my wretched and outstretched hand, and lead me in the way of salvation. Yea, O holy Angel of God, the guardian and protector of my hapless soul and body, forgive me all things whatsoever wherewith I have troubled thee, all the days of my life, and if* I have sinned in anything this day. Shelter me in this present night, and keep me from every affront of the enemy, lest I anger God by any sin; and intercede with the Lord in my behalf, that He might strengthen me in the fear of Him, and make me a worthy servant of His goodness. Amen.”

    *”if” Ha! I change this to “and for the sins I gave committed this day.

  3. Front Pew View says:

    Dr. Mark Miravalle has an excellent book on angels, as well as a recorded lecture called Angels Explained available through the Augustine Institute/Lighthouse Catholic Media. There is also an apostolate called Opus Sanctorum Angelorum that promotes devotion to the Holy Angels. I have found all of these resources to be very helpful.

  4. Luminis says:

    You can do a year long consecration to your guardian angel with Opus Angelorum. I am presently doing this.
    You begin with a three day silent retreat and for one year you study scripture and catechism and adopt spiritual practices with a special focus on Our Lord’s Passion and developing a strong relationship with your own angel guardian. During these days the help and intercession of these holy Angel’s can not be understated.
    We also pray fervently for priests and you can spiritually adopt a priest and pray fervently for him.

  5. Fr. John Laux said in one of his “Course in Religion” books that when we die, if we go to Heaven our angel goes with us and if Hell is the destination then the angel can’t follow us there. He goes back to doing whatever God wills whether it means being reassigned or just praising God for all eternity, like the depiction in the Ghent Altarpiece.

    “The Angels are spirits,” says Saint Augustine, “but it is not because they are spirits that they are Angels. They become Angels when they are sent, for the name Angel refers to their office not to their nature. You ask the name of this nature, it is spirit; you ask its office, it is that of an Angel, [i.e., a messenger]. In as far as he exists, an Angel is a spirit; in as far as he acts, he is an Angel.” [ Serm. in Ps. 103, I, 15] The word “angel,” comes from a Greek word meaning “messenger.” In the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the most frequently used name to designate the Angels is mal’akh, which means, messenger or legate.

  6. THREEHEARTS says:

    pity our guardian angels. when we are in a state of grievous mortal sin and we are as ugly as the
    St of Avila describes in her book on the glass castle has by the fiat of God stay and pray for us,

  7. deaconjohn1987 says:

    I’ve been praying the Chaplet of St. Michael daily, honoring the Nine Choirs for almost 50 years. The Angels have assisted me many times, even finding me a parking spot in NYC! I give thanks to Almighty God for this Gift!

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  9. MaHrad says:

    That is a beautiful painting! I have seen other guardian angel pictures, especially the fairly common one of the angel guarding the children crossing the bridge, but this one is new to me. The one in this post really drives home what is at stake. It’s not just about protection from earthly dangers and death, but protection against the spiritual death of sin. I will have to look for a print of this one to hang in my home. Beautiful!

  10. Kathleen10 says:

    Thank you Fr. Z and all. Wonderful and lovely to think about.

  11. JARay says:

    I must say that one thing which does irk me is to see Angels represented as little dolls. It is true, I believe, that whenever an Angel takes on a human-like appearance it is always as a man! Of course there is that old quip of “How many angels can you get on the tip of a pin”? Angels, being pure spirits, do not have human dimensions. I like to offer a prayer daily to my Guardian Angel asking ‘him’ to keep me faithful and true to Holy Mother Church.

  12. FrAnt says:

    My guardian angel is going to ask for combat graces and a retirement package.

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  14. teomatteo says:

    Each sanctified catholic church has its own angel gaurding over us while we attend mass as per the sidebar in my missal. I bet these angels are all business.

  15. HvonBlumenthal says:

    In his Treatise on Angels, St Thomas Aquinas discusses the speed and location of angels. I am no physicist but it seems to me that he anticipates Einstein’s theory of relativity.

  16. Kent Wendler says:

    First of all, let me state that I have recollections of a number of suspected times of having received “favors” (big ones!) from the guardians of my family.

    Shifting a bit, I also have the sense that the purely spiritual beings are totally (geometrically) dimensionless. Not only do they not exist even as a geometrical point (“How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” is a meaningless question.), but they also do not exist in time, which is part of the material creation. They can, of course, act in material creation at specific times. This means that I am completely unable to “wrap my head around” what existence is like for these creatures.

    I also suspect that the experience of the Beatific Vision is different for them and for us.

  17. Suburbanbanshee says:

    St. John Bosco’s guardian angel apparently took on the appearance of a big German shepherd-ish wolfish-looking dog. (He called it “El Gris,” the Gray, but it’s better known as “Il Grigio.”) It looked a lot like one of the local strays, but it had the property of appearing from nowhere in time of need, of not aging, and of never eating anything that was offered. A lookalike for Il Grigio appeared when the saint’s body was being transported through town, years after his death, and the “dog” guarded the body in church and refused to be chased out. Then it mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen again.

    Angels are cool.

  18. Ave Crux says:

    @GAB: What a BEAUTIFUL prayer! Thank you so much for sharing it. It addresses exactly the need I have long felt to beg forgiveness not only of God and the Blessed Virgin, but of my dear Guardian Angel who has been forced to be witness to all the crimes and infidelties of my life.

    How often I have thought with regret about having grieved my Guardian Angel this way, and now I have this beautiful prayer to ask forgiveness and his help never to sin or fail God again.

    I never knew such a prayer existed!
    Thank you!

  19. xavierabraham says:

    Dear Father,

    Based on Jude 1:9, I believe guardian angels also guard the bodies of holy ones to prevent any disgrace.

    “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, …” (Jude 1:9)

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