Imagine you're a regular citizen, but the king of the realm has his three top princes standing ready to help you every day.
Quite breathtaking, you say? When it comes to the King of Heaven, this thought is no imaginative fairytale. Our Lord has three great Princes of Heaven only a prayer away for us and our family members. They're the archangels St. Michael, St. Gabriel and St. Raphael — the only angels named in the Bible. We celebrate their feast day each year on Sept. 29. And we celebrate the feast of their heavenly colleagues, our guardian angels, just days later on Oct. 2.
“The angels work together for the benefit of us all,” St. Thomas Aquinas tells us. These three archangels, among the seven who stand in the presence of God as the Bible makes known to us, are at our service.
St. Michael is first among the princes, so reveals St. Gabriel to the prophet Daniel. Michael's name means “one who is like God.” We know St. Michael is the warrior, head of the heavenly army that drove Satan out of heaven. He's the defender of the people of God. As far back as the fifth century, churches were dedicated to him.
At St. Michael's Basilica in Loretto, Pa., parishioners honor him on the Feast of the Archangels as they do every day. They call upon his intercession by reciting the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel that was promulgated by Pope Leo XIII before every single Mass celebrated daily at the basilica.
Although this prayer is no longer said after all Masses, Pope John Paul II strongly urged the faithful to restore the prayer to help combat the current evils in the world. We can take the Holy Father's advice by saying the Prayer to St. Michael on the Feast of the Archangels and by adding it to our daily prayers. He's pretty powerful when we're tempted.
St. Michael the Archangel Church in Bridgeport, Conn., celebrates the feast of its namesake by coupling it with another major devotion: the Forty Hours devotion.
“It's been going on for eons and eons, ever since I was a boy here,” says Conventual Franciscan Father James Smyka, the longtime pastor. “Next to Christmas and Easter, this is the most important event of the year” for the large numbers of Polish families who attend.
The Forty Hours devotion is a eucharistic devotion with continuous adoration of the Blessed Sacrament solemnly exposed for 40 hours. The length of the devotion comes from the calculation that Jesus was in the tomb for 40 hours before the Resurrection.
Up the map in another large Connecticut city, St. Michael's Church in New Haven, the oldest Italian Catholic church in the state, celebrates the feast of its namesake in his role as patron of policemen.
Every year on St. Michael's feast day the church honors two policemen from the city, according to Father Andrew Brizzolara. This year the mayor, the police chief and honor guards from the police and the Knights of Columbus will be part of the ceremony.
Last year, this traditional part of keeping the Feast of the Archangel Michael was especially poignant because the ceremony took place just three weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In light of both events, children can be taught to pray another popular prayer to St. Michael for a particular policeman they see on their way to school. Or we all can remember an anonymous policeman doing particularly dangerous work that day. The same prayer can be said to St. Michael for our families.
St. Michael is also the patron of grocers, exorcists, mariners, paratroopers, artists, ambulance drivers, emergency medical technicians, para-medics, the dying, a holy death and sickness.
‘Strength of God’
We already honor St. Gabriel — whose name means “strength of God” or “power of God” — regularly without a second thought. Whenever we pray the Hail Mary, we first honor our Blessed Mother, of course, as we begin the Ave Maria with the words Gabriel addressed to her at the Annunciation. Want to make St. Gabriel extra joyful? Keep praying the Hail Mary to our Lady.
Traditionally, St. Gabriel is considered the archangel who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, warned St. Joseph to take baby Jesus and Mary to Egypt, called him back to Israel and later comforted our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane.
In Rotterdam, N.Y., St. Gabriel the Archangel Church annually celebrates the feast of its patron in a variety of ways. Sometimes it holds a reception downstairs in the church and sometimes it celebrates outside with a tent and balloons. At the gathering, the church serves up angel food cake — a heavenly food — to families and all parishioners.
“Another special thing,” adds Father Leo Markert, “is that the pastor puts the word ‘angel’ around the sanctuary in six different languages, such as Polish, Greek, Japanese and Spanish. Sometimes in the evening we have a special prayer service that would have angels as the whole motif. Then there are St. Gabriel prayer cards available to people at the Masses.”
Because St. Gabriel is such a powerful ambassador of God, he's also the patron of communications workers and of radio and TV. We can ask his intercession to turn around our media, from print to movies.
St. Raphael plays a predominant part though most of the 14 chapters in the Book of Tobit and the beautiful story of Tobit, who was just in the eyes of God. He protects Tobit's son, Tobiah, and conducts him safely on a long journey to and from home; drives a demon away from Sarah; secures a happy marriage for Tobiah and Sarah; brings healing to Tobit; and tells them to give all the praise and honor to God.
In a way, St. Raphael is the guardian angel par excellence for all the children of God. He assures the elder Tobit that, while he prayed, Raphael himself “presented ... your prayers to the Lord” (Tobit 12:12).
In St. Petersburg, Fla., St. Raphael's Church brings the parish together as a family to celebrate the feast day of its patron. “We have a dinner every year where we serve angel hair pasta and angel food cake,” says an amiable Father Michael Smith. “It's a tradition in the parish.”
Also, on the Thursday closest to the 29th, the 270 students in the parish school attend Mass together in honor of the archangel, Father Smith adds.
Families can imitate this Florida church and put angel hair pasta and angel food cake on the menu for the feast. It's a good way to spur discussion about a most powerful archangel.
Considering the story of Tobias, St. Raphael is, in particular, the patron of travelers, happy meetings and joy. He's also patron of the blind, nurses and physicians.
“We, too, can pray to St. Raphael to ask that he help us to be messengers of joy to our families and to those with whom we work,” suggests a Daughters of St. Paul booklet TITLEd The Archangel Raphael — Sent by God. We should also pray to St. Raphael to “guide us safely to our spiritual home — heaven,” it says. Meanwhile, daily we should ask him to conduct us safely to and from work and school, to the grocery store, the library, on family vacations, to and from Mass — even in our own house and backyard.
Since his name means “health of God” or “medicine of God,” we should ask him for spiritual and bodily healing, as well as to bring us always to happy meetings with others. Remember also the specific prayers to St. Raphael.
Pope John Paul II told his general audiences in his series on angels in 1986 that we see in these three glorious archangels reflected “in a particular way the truth contained in the question posed by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation?” (Hebrews 1–14). Let's accept our King's gracious offer and ask each day the help of his three heavenly princes.
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.