What is the difference between an angel and a saint?
Good question! I think it depends on what you mean by the word “saint.” Usually when people use this word they are referring to those holy men and women who came before us and who are now in heaven praying for us. When you use the word “saint” in that way, then the difference between the angels and the saints is in their nature.
Angels are spirits made to exist without a body. The saints (as we are using the term here), however, are spirits that were once united to a human body and were made for unity with that body. While the angels are complete in and of themselves, the spirits of saintly men and women are in a sense incomplete because they are without the body they once had. When Jesus finally comes again and the justice and mercy of God’s judgments is made known to all the world, then these saints will be united with their bodies once again.
But, the discussion doesn’t end there. If you use the word “saint” in a more general way to refer to any holy person, then all the inhabitants of heaven are saints – including the angels – and we can be saints too! Our word “saint” comes from the Latin word sanctus, which means “holy, sacred.” This general sense of the word is how it is most often used in the Bible.
So, for example, Paul refers to the members of the various churches he is writing to as “saints” because he recognizes the saving grace and faith that is within them. We refer to the angels we know as Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael because they are holy, heavenly spirits who chose to side with God at the beginning of time instead of rebel against Him, like Satan and his demons did. Even the patriarchs of the Old Testament (Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, etc.) are called saints because they lived lives of faithfulness to God. Any inhabitant of heaven is a saint because heaven is a place where nothing unclean shall enter (cf. Rev 21:27).
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, let us not forget the good example of the angels and the saints and let us strive to be more like them in word and deed. Sainthood is not something that is strictly reserved for the afterlife. We can be saints here and now, by living lives of grace and holiness.
Peace of Christ to you,
Nicholas Hardesty, WIMM Board Member
Director of Religious Education, Blessed Mother Catholic Church
Feel free to email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org