Whitelighters are guardian spirits who protect certain magic-users, such as (traditionally) benevolent witches. Generally, new whitelighters are created when a human dies and they are selected to fill the role. Upon their death they, are given the choice to either become whitelighters or move on to the afterlife, whatever it may be. Upon becoming a whitelighter, they are specifically assigned to guide, nurture, and protect certain magic-users. The charges a whitelighter is given depends largely on what divine power created the whitelighter.
Note that whitelighters in game continuity are not associated with "heaven" or "angels" in any way. Instead, they are created by various divine powers. There term "elders" simply refers to older, more powerful whitelighters who serve as mentors to newer whitelighters. (Also, they don't wear hideous choir robes.)
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Whitelighters are often able to cast at least Basic-level magic spells.
Whitelighters are able to see and interact with spirits.
Whitelighters are able to heal others at an Enhanced level.
Whitelighers are able to teleport to distant locations and planes, a process they call "orbing," at a Supernatural level.
Whitelighters are more physically resilient than humans, granting them toughness and regeneration at Enhanced level.