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Archangels are generally taken to mean ‘chief or leading angel’ (Jude 9; 1 Thes 4:16), they are the most frequently mentioned throughout the Bible.
The Archangels have a unique role as God’s messenger to the people at critical times in history and salvation (Tb 12:6, 15; Jn 5:4; Rv 12:7-9), for example, as in the Annunciation and the Apocalypse. God chose one of the lowest groups of angels to hold the greatest honors, such as announcing the birth of Christ to Mary, of leading his army into battle against Satan.
There are only three named archangels. All other angelic names are either pious legends or come from extra-biblical books. The Catholic Church only names Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. Their feast day is celebrated throughout the Church on September 29th.
The reason why the Church gives more emphasis to these three archangels originates from the Council of Rome of 745. Pope St Zachary intended to clarify the Church’s teaching on the subject of angels and curb a tendency by some toward angel worship, also condemning the obsession with angelic intervention and angelolatry, but also reaffirming the approval of the practice of the reverence of angels. The synod struck a number of ‘angels’ names from the list of those eligible for veneration in the Church of Rome, some of which are usually given as Adimus, Inias (Iniaes), Raguel, Sabaoc (Sabaoth), Simiel, Tubuas (Tubuael) and Uriel.
Only the reverence of the archangels mentioned in the recognized Catholic Biblical canon, Michael Gabriel and Raphael, remained licit. However, St Uriel and others slowly crept back into popular devotion in many places. This restriction did not affect the Eastern and Oriental Churches, who continued to honour the other four out of the seven Archangels. St Michael has been invoked as patron and protector by the Church from the time of the Apostles. The Eastern Rite and many others place him over all the angels, as Prince of the Seraphim. He is described as the ‘chief of princes’ and as the leader of the forces of heaven in their triumph over Satan and his followers.
The name Michael in Hebrew means ‘Who is like God’ and was the battle cry of the good angels against Lucifer and his followers when they rebelled against God. He is mentioned four or five times in the Bible; in Daniel 10 and 12, in the letter of Jude, Revelation and in Enoch. His will is focused, immovable and entirely driven toward accomplishing goodness; he is the protector of souls, and wields his powerful sword against the poisonous and vindictive aspirations of he who is known as a liar from the beginning.
Christian tradition recognizes four offices of Saint Michael: (1) to fight against Satan; (2) to rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death; (3) to be the champion of God’s people; and (4) to call away from earth and bring people’s souls to judgment.
In the book of Enoch (9:1; 10:15; 20:5; 24:4-10; 40:8; 53:6; 58; 66:14- 15; 70:11-16) and a work discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls entitled ‘War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness’ (also known as ‘The War Scroll’), written around 50 BC and the 1st century AD, may also count as amongst the earliest mentions that we have of his name. Saint Michael is the ‘Prince of the Heavenly Host’, the leader of all the angels.
St Michael, whose forces cast down Lucifer and the evil spirits into Hell, is invoked for protection against Satan and all evil. Pope Leo XIII, in 1899, having had a prophetic vision of the evil that would be inflicted upon the Church and the world in the 20th century, instituted a prayer asking for Saint Michael’s protection to be said at the end of every Mass. During a visit to the Sanctuary of St Michael the Archangel, Pope John Paul II said, “The battle against the Devil … is the principal task of St Michael the archangel.” Scripture relates such a truth: “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. Although the dragon and his angels fought back, they were overpowered and lost their place in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent known as the Devil or Satan, the seducer of the whole world, was driven out; he was hurled down to earth and his minions with him” (Rev 12:7-9).
St Michael the Archangel said to the three children at Fatima, “Fear not. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me.” Then he prostrated himself, and repeated three times: “My God; I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love Thee! I beg Thee forgiveness for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love Thee!” This prayer of St Michael shows the serious nature of this committed warrior who strives after peace with all his being. God in his love for us has given us a magnificent protector.
St Gabriel means ‘God is my strength’ and he is mentioned four times in the Bible. “I am Gabriel, who stand before God” (Lk 1, 19). The angel Gabriel first appeared in the Old Testament in the prophesies of Daniel, he announced the prophecy of 70 weeks (Dn 9:21-27). One other early occurrence we have of Gabriel also comes from Daniel (8:15-17). Enoch also mentions him (9:1-2; 10:13; 20:7; 40:9).
Most significant are St Gabriel’s two mentions in the New Testament: to announce the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zacharias, and at the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of Mary. He was sent from God to Nazareth, “to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, … and the virgin’s name was Mary”.
Moreover, coming to her, he said, “Hail, favoured one! The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:27-28). Christian tradition suggests that it is he who appeared to St Joseph and to the shepherds, and also that it was he who ‘strengthened’ Jesus during his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Pope St Gregory the Great wrote: “He [Gabriel] came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man m. 34, 8-9). St Gabriel is the angel of the power of God, the Incarnation and of consolation in Christian tradition. Gabriel is ever the angel of mercy while Michael is rather the angel of judgment.
Raphael means ‘God is my health’. “I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord” (Tob 12:15). St Raphael’s name also means ‘God has healed’ because of his healing of Tobias’ blindness in the Book of Tobit. Tobit is the only book in which he is mentioned. His office is therefore known for healing and acts of mercy. St Raphael is also identified with the angels in John 5:1-4, who descended upon the pond and bestowed healing powers upon it so that the first to enter it after it moved would be healed of whatever infirmity he was suffering.
God in His wondrous mercy is so good in giving us such three vigilant and magnificent archangels. We should call very often on Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael to help us and intercede for us before the throne of God.
Pray daily to St Gabriel for consolation, to St Raphael for healing and to St Michael for protection against the snares and wickedness of the Devil.
Prepared by Noreen Bavister, UK