Remember TV's "Touched by an Angel"? For a time it was a hugely popular hit, and not without its charms.

But the show was full of confused ideas about God’s attendants. (Hint: Real angels don’t sip double lattes while strategizing ways to help someone out of a jam.)

In a 1986 general-audience address, Pope John Paul II spoke about three real angels while reflecting on the whole heavenly host. He used them to illustrate Hebrews 1:14: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation?”

The three the Holy Father called by name are the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. He pointed out how they reflect, in a particular way, the truth of the letter’s rhetorical question. These three must be especially powerful, as they’re the only three angels named in the Bible. Surely, the Holy Father inferred, they have special assignments.

There’s no better day to consider what their missions might be than Sept. 29, feast of the Archangels. (The feast of the Guardian Angels follows less than a week later, on Oct. 2.)

John Paul II pointed out that the name Gabri-El means “power of God,” and he’s “a figure bound especially to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.”

Do we remember Gabriel’s role in the Annunciation when we recall his words to the Blessed Virgin when praying the “Hail Mary?”

In his classic book All About the Angels (Tan, 1945), Dominican Father Paul Sullivan tells us to say the Hail Mary, the Angelus and the first Joyful Mystery in union with St. Gabriel. When we do, he says, we give “delight and gladness” to Mary and also give “boundless pleasure” to St. Gabriel.

It’s no wonder that this powerful archangel — God’s ambassador — is also the patron of communications workers, radio and TV. In our day we might ask his assistance in cleaning up the morals of our media and airwaves.

As a communicator in the Old Testament, Gabriel brings important information to the prophet Daniel, calling Michael “the great prince” (Daniel 12:1).

The latter’s name Mica-El means, “Who is like God?” We picture him in warrior’s clothing wielding sword or spear and doing what St. John tells of in Revelation 12: As head of the heavenly army, he drove Satan and the fallen angels out of heaven. As far as we know, he’s still in charge of routing the evil spirits.

To ask his intercession for this, at St. Kilian Church in New Bedford, Mass., Institute of the Incarnate Word Father Samuel Leonard has reintroduced the Prayer to St. Michael at the end of all Masses, as once promoted by a pope.

“Pope Leo XIII had a vision, some kind of mystical experience after Mass one morning,” reminds Father Leonard. “He heard God and Satan talking. Satan asked permission to test the Church for 100 years.” Leo promptly promulgated the prayer to St. Michael to be said after all Masses. And so it was, through more than half the 20th century.

“We know the last 100 years have been horrendous,” says Father Leonard. He prints the prayer in the parish bulletin so everyone can also pray it daily at home.


Across the country, at St. Mary’s Church in Pendleton, Ore., Father Bailey Clemens has also reinstituted the Prayer to St. Michael.

“We should bring it back to really emphasize to people today the loss of the sense of evil,” he explains. “This prayer after Mass really brings the awareness to people of that reality of the evil one and the sense of evil that exists in the world, and that it’s a battle going on. It’s really important to pray to St. Michael for that help.”

In fact, back in 1994, during the International Year of the Family, John Paul recalled Leo XIII’s vision and asked for all Catholics to pray it daily “to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”

We can pray to St. Michael as the patron of policemen, soldiers, artists, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, the dying, a holy death and for help against temptation. 

“One of the most sublime acts of faith is to humbly ask the Lord in prayer,” says Father Leonard. “Look in Daniel 10:12. Gabriel says to Daniel, ‘From the moment you decided to humble yourself before God and seek wisdom, your prayer was heard.’ Raphael says the same thing to Tobit: ‘I was sent because you prayed.’”

Raphael, whose name Rafa-El means “God heals,” tells Tobit that, in answer to prayers, part of his mission was to heal both him and Sarah, his future daughter-in-law.

John Paul II called the story of Tobit “so significant for what it says about entrusting to the angels the little children of God, who are always in need of custody, care and protection.”

Why Archangel Raphael is also the patron of travelers, joy, the blind, healing, physicians and nurses, and happy meetings becomes apparent in the Book of Tobit.  

“That’s where St. Raphael entered my life,” says Judy Strandberg of Englewood, Fla. Her devotion began back in Pittsburgh. There, she thought she had found that special man in her life, but instead they broke up.

Despondent, she went to Mass. “The reading was for me to hear that day,” she recalls. “It hit me profoundly. Sarah had similar feelings. I went home and finished reading the whole book of Tobit.”

Strandberg began praying for St. Raphael’s help and meditating on the story.

“When Sarah actually meets Tobit’s son, Tobiah, whom she ends up marrying, Raphael tells Tobit she was set aside for him before the world existed,” Judy recounts.

Answered Prayers

That knowledge inspired her to put her similar concern into the Lord’s hands — and to pray for St. Raphael’s intercession.

“I had a lot of feelings that he was working on my behalf,” Strandberg says. One day, as she talked with a longtime friend named Rick who was living in Florida, he said that he could hear the bells from St. Raphael’s Church from his house. Rick was non-Catholic.

They were married in 2001 (at St. Raphael’s Church in Englewood, Fla.) after a long-distance courtship. They chose a reading from Tobit for their wedding — the prayer of Tobiah and Sarah. And Judy’s devotion came to play a big role, she says, in Rick’s becoming Catholic.

“I never dreamed I would move to Florida,” says Strandberg. Nor that she would be asked to work in the office of St. Raphael Catholic Church there.

“I feel privileged to be working for a church under his patronage,” she says, marveling about all the blessings she’s received. “St. Raphael has played an integral part in my life.”

As can all three archangels in ours. They’re armed for spiritual battle and no more than a prayer away.

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen

writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.