The traditional Breviary has three lectionary from St Bernard of Clairvaux appointed for the second set of lections at Mattins for today’s Feast of the Guardian Angels. I thought I would reproduce them here from the online Divinium Officium translation as a reflection for today and as a fine example of St Bernard’s preaching style, with its Christian humanism so redolent of the twelfth century:
On Ps. xc
He hath given His Angels charge over thee. A wonderful graciousness, and a wonderful outpouring of love. For who hath given charge? And what charge? Unto whom? And over whom? Let us carefully consider, my brethren, let us carefully hold in mind this great charge. For who hath given this charge? To Whom belong the Angels? Whose commandments do they obey, and Whose will do they do? He hath given His Angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways, and that not carelessly, for they shall bear thee up in their hands. The Highest Majesty, therefore, hath given charge unto Angels, even His Angels. Unto these beings so excellently exalted, so blessed, so near to Himself, even as His own household, unto these hath He given charge over thee. Who art thou? What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou visitest him? [Ps. viii. 5.] Even as though man were not rottenness, and the son of man, a worm. [Job. xxv. 6.] But what charge hath He given them over thee? To keep thee in all thy ways.
That respect, what thankfulness, what trust, ought this word to work in thee! Respect for their presence, thankfulness for their kindness, trust in their safe keeping. Walk carefully, as one with whom are Angels, as hath been laid in charge upon them, in all thy ways. In every lodging, in every nook, have reverence for thine Angel. Dare not to do in his presence what thou wouldst not dare to do in mine. Or dost thou doubt whether he be indeed present, because thou seest him not? What if thou heardest him? What if thou touchedst him? What if thou smelledst him? Behold, not by sight alone is the presence of things made manifest.
Let us also, brethren, dearly love His Angels, as them with whom we are one day to be co-heirs, and who in the meanwhile are leaders and guardians set over us by the Father. With such guardians, whereof shall we be afraid? They that keep us in all our ways, can neither be conquered nor corrupted, far less can they corrupt. They are trusty, they are wary, they are mighty. Whereof shall we be afraid? Only let us follow them, only let us cleave unto them, and we shall abide under the shadow of the God of heaven. As often then as the gloom of temptation threateneth thee, or the sharpness of tribulation hangeth over thee, call upon Him That keepeth thee, thy Shepherd, thy Refuge in times of trouble, call upon Him, and say: "Lord, save us, we perish."
From a century or so later than St Bernard are the paintings on the vault of the Chapel of the Guardian Angels at the east end of the retochoir of Winchester Cathedral. Painted about 1240 by Master William, the King’s painter, they are not merely beautiful and decorative but also a reminder of the richness of the decoration that once adorned medieval English churches. They are also a link to the court art fostered by King Henry III, an assiduous patron of the visual arts. The paintings were restored in 1959-60.
May the Holy Guardian Angels ever watch over us