September 29, 2021
“Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his.”
~ John Henry Newman
Who are they? What are they? Let’s start with the angels.
St. Augustine can get us started. He says, “Angel is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’” (CCC 329). Their nature is ‘spirit’ – with intelligence and will. They are immortal, personal creatures. They are servants and messengers of God (CCC 329-330).
If we take that a step further, then an archangel would be at the head of the class, so to speak. They are messengers of the highest office. They have tasks like the common angels, but the most important jobs are given to them. Their names suggest their roles and their nature: all end with “El”, which is the Hebrew word for “God” or God’s messengers.
On this feast of the Archangels, we are reminded of the purpose of the angels. They are created beings who glorify God endlessly. Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael had specific roles in Scripture, and our Catholic tradition celebrates them. As creatures formed in love by the Creator, we, too, are called to glorify God with our lives.
In celebration of Heaven’s main messengers, let’s take a closer look at their roles in our lives.
Michael – Who is like God?
There are references to Michael the archangel in both the Old and the New Testaments. Michael is referred to as the archangel, but he is not in a class by himself. In Daniel 10:13 we see Michael described as “one of the chief princes.” This presents the possibility that there is more than one archangel, but even so, Michael stands out as the chief among them. He is one of the angels closest to the throne of God, giving him the unofficial title of “the left hand of God.”
Michael is the warrior who fights against Satan and his emissaries. He is the champion of the Church, defends those who love God, and protects the people of God. The Archangel Michael is sent from heaven to protect and guide men, to teach them to distinguish good from evil and truth from falsehood.
Who IS like God? We learn from St. Michael that being great at what we do is not the answer. We serve God’s will, and we will never be as great as He. Michael’s greatness is not what makes him great; what makes him great is his humility. He knows his place in God’s plan – he knows that he is an archangel, and that he knows less than God – and he embraces his place.
Gabriel – My power is God
If Michael is the soldier, then Gabriel is a good, old-fashioned mailman. And like Michael, when Gabriel speaks, everybody listens. Gabriel, the mailman, brings the biggest and best messages. Namely, just about anything concerning the Messiah. Gabriel seems to have been given special charge over the Holy Family. It is suggested that Gabriel appeared to Joseph in his dreams and that he may have been the angel who came to comfort Jesus during his Agony in the Garden (Luke 22: 39-46).
We once again turn to Daniel (Daniel 9:21-27), where Gabriel shares with him a timeline of sorts as to when the Messiah will come. And he appears in the New Testament first to Zechariah to revel that Elizabeth will give birth to a son despite her old age. Then he takes away Zechariah’s ability to speak because of his disbelief (Luke 1:10-20).
Of course, Gabriel’s ultimate message is best known as The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). Gabriel appears to our Blessed Mother and announces to her that God had chosen her as the mother of His only Son. No imposition. No obligation. Only a request, addressed by one of the most powerful angels to a simple and humble girl. This is Gabriel’s defining moment, so to speak – he brings God’s message to us, making it understandable to us, helping us to listen with a pure heart and to accept the will of the Almighty.
Raphael – God heals
Michael is the Soldier. Gabriel is the Mailman. Raphael is the Doctor. Raphael is the Archangel whose mission is to bring healing. In fact, his name comes from the Hebrew which means “God’s Doctor”. Through St. Raphael, we are granted God’s healing and purifying love.
The only specific reference to the Archangel Raphael in in the book of Tobit. In separate stories, Tobit and Sarah pray for death, believing that this was the way to be relieved of their sufferings. Tobit sends his son, Tobiah, on a journey and tells him to find a trustworthy traveling companion to join him on the journey. Raphael helps Tobiah on his journey, teaches him ways to make medicines, and eventually heals both Sarah and Tobit of their ailments.
In the moment at which Raphael reveals himself to the people (Chapter 12 of the Book of Tobit), he tells them. “Do not fear; peace be with you! Bless God now and forever. As for me, when I was with you, I was not acting out of any favor on my part, but by God’s will. So bless God every day; give praise with song.” (Tobit 12:17-18)
And like Gabriel, Raphael was present during the New Testament, as well. As God’s “doctor”, it is possible that he could be found at the pool called Bethsaida, where the sick would go for healing (John 5:2-4). And perhaps he is still at work today, healing the faithful.
Happy Feast of the Archangels!
Celebrate the Archangels today by reading the Book of Tobit or the first chapter of Luke or even a page or two of Daniel. For me, it will be saying the prayer to St. Michael.
And we Pray:
St. Michael, the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our protection 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, cast into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Image Source: Master of Pratovecchio, The Three Archangels, Italian, c. 1450, Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin