Not just harping around- Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels

Three Angels and Young Tobias- Fra Filippo Lippi. 1485.

Not just harping around- Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels

The word angel comes from the Greek, “aggelos,” and means “messenger”. Although the Catholic Church acknowledges that there are seven Archangels according to Sacred Scripture and sacred tradition the Council of Rome in 745, under the reign of Pope Saint Zachary, officially acknowledges the names of only three of the seven Archangels: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. This is because these three Archangels are the only angels named in Scripture.

The names of the other four Archangels appear in Jewish and Christian sources outside of the canon of Sacred Scripture (an example is the Book of Enoch chapter 20) and their names are: Uriel, Raguel, Zerachiel, and Remiel.

Since the fourth century, nine choirs or types of angels were identified in the Bible and popularized in the Middle Ages by various theologians and writers, like St. Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Hildegard of Bingen and John Scotus Erigena. Together, they form the “hosts of heaven,” i.e., God’s army of angels. Almighty God is called “Lord of Hosts” (in Hebrew, “Yahweh Sabaoth”) over three hundred times in the Old Testament and twice in the New Testament (Rom 9:29 and Jas 5:4).

There are three hierarchies and orders existing among the angels. These names are often heard in the prayer (depending upon the liturgical solemnity) just before the Sanctus or Holy Holy is sung.  The highest hierarchy includes the orders of Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones. The middle hierarchy includes Dominations, Virtues and Powers. The lowest hierarchy includes Principalities, Archangels and Angels. This classification is accepted by the doctors of the Church. In Paul’s Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, he mentions– Thrones, Dominions (or Dominations), Powers, Virtues, and Principalities.

Prince among the Archangels is Michael. The name Michael means “one who is like God”. He is mentioned four times in the Bible, in Daniel 10 and 12, in the letter of Jude, and in Revelation. During the 590s, there was a great plague in the city of Rome that took many lives. Pope St. Gregory the Great led a procession of prayer through the city streets pleading with God to end the plague. When they reached the tomb of Emperor Hadrian, Pope Gregory saw a vision in which Michael stood atop of the tomb sheathing his sword, which was taken as a sign that what the Pope and those who joined him in prayer had done was pleasing to God.

The plague came to an end shortly afterwards. To this day a statue of St Michael stands atop  Castel Sant’Angelo (or the castle of the Angels) with an imposing bridge in front of it called  Ponte Sant’Angelo – “Bridge of Angels”  which has Ten strikingly beautiful angel sculptures ,designed by famous sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, each holding the instruments of Christ’s passion.

We often recite a prayer to St Michael and you may wonder where the prayer came from. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII had finished celebrating Mass in his private Vatican Chapel; he suddenly stopped at the foot of the altar for about 10 minutes, as if in a trance, his face ashen white. Then, going immediately from the Chapel to his office, he composed a prayer to St. Michael, with instructions it be said after all Masses everywhere.

When the aged Pontiff  was asked what had happened, he explained that, as he was about to leave the foot of the altar, he suddenly heard voices – two voices, one kind and gentle, the other guttural and harsh. They seemed to come from near the tabernacle. As he listened, he heard the following conversation: The guttural voice, the voice of Satan in his pride, boasted to Our Lord: “I can destroy your Church.”

The other two Archangels are Gabriel and Raphael. Saint Gabriel, whose name means “God’s strength,” is mentioned four times in the Bible. Most significant are Gabriel’s two mentions in the New Testament; to announce the birth of John the Baptist to his father Zacharias, and the at Incarnation of the Word in the womb of Mary.

Saint Raphael, whose name 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 generally accepted by tradition to be that of healing and acts of mercy.

As you finish reading this post I invite you to say this prayer.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

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