Celebrating the Archangels: 7 things to know and share
September 29th is the feast of St.s Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael—archangels.
These are the only three angels whose names are mentioned in Scripture, and this is their day.
Here are 7 things to know and share . . .
1) What is an archangel?
The word “archangel” (Greek, archangelos) means “high-ranking angel”—the same way that “archbishop” means a high-ranking bishop.
Only St. Michael is described as an archangel in Scripture (Jude 9), but it is common to honor St.s Gabriel and Raphael as archangels also.
2) Why are they called “saints” if they’re angels rather than humans?
The word “saint” (Greek, hagios) means “holy one.”
It does not mean “holy human being.” As a result, it can apply to holy ones that aren’t human.
Since St.s Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael all chose to side with God rather than the devil, they are holy angels and thus saints.
All angels that sided with God are saints, but these three’s names are known to us, and so they are picked out by name in the liturgy.
3) Does this day have any other names?
Yes. Traditionally in English it has also been called “Michaelmas” (i.e., the Mass that celebrates St. Michael, on the same principle that “Christmas” is the Mass that celebrates Christ’s birth).
4) What do we know about St. Michael?
His name means “Who is like God?” (The implied answer is: Nobody; God is the greatest there is.)
St. Michael is mentioned by name in three books of Scripture:
- In Daniel, he is described as “one of the chief princes” in the heavenly hierarchy (Dan. 10:13). He is also described to Daniel as “your prince” (Dan. 10:12). The meaning of this phrase is later clarified, and Michael is described as “the great prince who has charge of your people” (Dan. 12:1). He is thus depicted as the guardian angel of Israel. These same passages also refer to Michael doing battle against the spiritual forces at work against Israel.
- In Jude 9, Michael is said to have contended with the devil over the body of Moses. On this occasion, we are told, “he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’”
- In Revelation, Michael and his angels are depicted fighting the devil and casting them out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-8). He is also commonly identified as the angel who binds the devil and seals him in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3), though the name “Michael” is not given on this occasion.
5) What do we know about St. Gabriel?
His name means “God is my warrior” (meaning, essentially, “God is my defender”).
St. Gabriel is mentioned in two books of Scripture:
- In Daniel, he is assigned to help Daniel understand the meaning of a vision he has seen (Dan. 8:16). Later, while Daniel is in a prolonged period of prayer, Gabriel comes to him (Dan. 9:21) and gives him the prophecy of “seventy weeks of years” concerning Israel’s future (Dan. 9:24-27).
- In Luke, he appears to Zechariah the priest and announces the conception and birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-19). Later, he appears to the Virgin Mary and announces the conception and birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:26-33).
6) What do we know about St. Raphael?
His name means “God heals.”
St. Raphael is mentioned in a single book of Scripture: Tobit.
In Tobit, the blind Tobit and the maid Sarah, whose seven husbands have been killed by the demon Asmodeus, pray to God.
The prayer of both was heard in the presence of the glory of the great God. And Raphael was sent to heal the two of them: to scale away the white films of Tobit’s eyes; to give Sarah the daughter of Raguel in marriage to Tobias the son of Tobit, and to bind Asmodeus the evil demon, because Tobias was entitled to possess her (Tob. 3:16-17).
Raphael thus becomes a travelling companion of Tobias, posing as a relative named Azarias son of Ananias (Tob. 5:12). He eventually binds the demon, enabling Tobias to safely marry Sarah, and provides the means for Tobit to be healed of his blindness.
Afterward, he reveals his true identity, saying:
I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One (Tob. 12:15).
7) How is this day celebrated?
In addition to its commemoration in the liturgy, there are various local ways of celebrating this day. See here for some examples.
It might also be a good day to say the Prayer to St. Michael:
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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