21 September 2022

Saints of the Week - St Michael, Gabriel and Raphael

Name: Archangel Michael Patron Saint of: Soldiers; Police Name: Archangel Gabriel Patron Saint of: Messengers; Postal workers Name: Archangel Raphael Patron Saint of: Travellers; the blind Feast Day: 29th September “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels, who present the prayers of the saints, and who go in and out before the glory of the Holy One." (Tobit 12:15)

The communion of saints who adore God in heaven, include not only human beings but also angels (see for example Revelation 5:11). Although God can enable angels to be seen by humans in what appears to be a bodily form, angels are pure spirit with no material substance. Although in art and popular culture we imagine them as being beautiful, winged humans, in reality angels have no ‘form’ at all. Given this fact the nature and existence of angels remains mostly shrouded in mystery. What we know of angels comes predominantly through revelation. The references to angels in both the Old and New Testaments is so vast as to be impossible to summarise here. Most of the angels who appear in scripture have no recorded name. There are three notable exceptions: the three archangels Michael (Rev 12:7; Jude 1:9), Gabriel (Daniel 8:15-26; Luke 1:11-38) and Raphael (Tobit 3:17-12:15). They are called ‘arch’-angels because they are ranked among the seven ‘chief’ or ‘principal’ angels. As angelic beings, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are without chronology, lineage, or (indeed!) relics.

Each of their names is a clue to their role in the Divine Economy. The name Michael is derived from the Hebrew Mikha-el meaning ‘Who-is-like-God?’ His name is a rhetorical question (since no-one is equal to God) and a rebuff to the hubristic diabolical narcissism of Satan who sought to make himself God’s equal. St Michael is usually represented as an angel dressed in a soldier’s armour subjugating Satan, on account of the description in Revelation 12. Gabriel’s name (Gavri-el) means ‘God-is-my-strength’. He is most prominent in Luke’s Gospel appearing firstly to Zechariah in the temple before appearing to Mary to announce that she is to be the Mother of God. The name Raphael (Rafa-el) means ‘Healing-of-God’. Raphael appears as the heaven-sent guide to Tobias in the Old Testament Book of Tobit where he brings God’s healing to Tobias’ father, Tobit, who has been blinded. Thus, we observe that each of these Archangels find his mission and purpose in glorifying and serving God. This is true of all the saints and for each of us: we find our truest purpose and identity in ‘losing’ ourselves and seeking to glorify and serve God first. The lesson is all the more important for a culture that is perpetually fixated on the ‘self’ – and consequently completely miserable and depressed.

In the old liturgical calendar Michael, Raphael and Gabriel each had their own feast day. In the revised 1970 calendar, Pope Paul VI lumped all three into what was previously the Feast of St Michael on 29th September (known as Michaelmas). Three days later the Church celebrates the feast of the Guardian Angels on 2nd October. The texts of the Sacred liturgy frequently remind us of the presence and intercession of angels (eg. they are mentioned in the ‘Confiteor’ of the penitential Rite, in all the Prefaces, and the First Eucharistic prayer). May the feast of these holy archangels inspire us to more actively seek out the intercession of the angels.

Below is Pope Leo XIII’s well-known prayer to St Michael, seeking his protection:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defence 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 roam the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Holy archangels, Saints Michael, Raphael and Gabriel: pray for us!