"Those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels." The Catechism explains: "From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. 'Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.' Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God" (No. 336).
One of a multitude of images featuring St Michael the Archangel doing battle with Satan
GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) - "The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls 'angels' is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 328).
Today we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael: Archangels. Though we cannot know of all the many times these magnificent spirits and powerful allies have entered into history to accomplish God's will, protecting us, driving away demons, and bearing forth messages of God's providential plan of salvation, some of their specific actions are recorded in Sacred Scripture, and, in each case, we obtain a glimpse into their ardent love for God, intently focused wills and formidable intellects.
"Who Is Like God"
In the Office of Readings -- from The Liturgy Of The Hours, which is a part of the official, liturgical and public prayer of the Church -- antiphon we read: "The sea grew turbulent and the earth trembled when Michael the archangel came down from heaven."
As we read in Scripture, it was St. Michael who long ago led the battle against Satan: "Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. Although the dragon and his angels fought back, they were overpowered and lost their place in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent known as the devil or Satan, the seducer of the whole world, was driven out; he was hurled down to earth and his minions with him" (Rev 12:7-9).
The name Michael means "who is like God." St. Michael's will is focused, immovable, and entirely driven toward accomplishing goodness: he is a protector of souls, and wields his unrelenting sword of righteous justice against the poisonous and vindictive aspirations of the one who is known as a liar from the beginning. During a visit to the Sanctuary of Saint Michael the Archangel, the Venerable John Paul II said, "The battle against the devil . . . is the principal task of Saint Michael the archangel."
When St. Michael the Archangel appeared to the three children at Fatima in 1916, preparing the way for the apparition of our Blessed Mother which was soon to follow, he said to them, "Fear not. I am the Angel of Peace. Pray with me." Then, prostrating himself, he repeated three times: "My God; I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love Thee! I beg Thee forgiveness for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love Thee!" In this simple yet wonderful prayer of profound meaning, St. Michael clearly reveals his burning adoration and love for God, as well as the fact that, deep within the center of his being, he also bears great love and concern for men. How serious and committed this warrior is! St. Michael offers us a model of unwavering dedication, focus, fearlessness, and trust in God's sovereign goodness and power.
"God Is My Strength"
Gabriel means "God is my strength." As we read in the second antiphon of the Office of Readings, the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah and said, "Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John" (see Lk 1:13). Thus St. Gabriel announced the coming of John the Baptist, the greatest prophet of the Most High, who would go before the Lord to prepare his way.
It was St. Gabriel who was sent from God to Nazareth, "to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, . . . and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, 'Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you'" (Lk 1:27-28).
St. Gabriel's message announced a pivotal moment in humankind's history: the Savior was, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The Archangel who draws his strength from God brought us the message of strength in which we draw our hope: God Incarnate was soon to enter history for love of man.
Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote: "He [Gabriel] came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God's strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle" (excerpt from Hom. 34, 8-9).
"God Is My Health"
Raphael means "God is my health." St. Raphael is one of seven angels "who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord" (Tob 12:15). The meaning of Raphael's name reflects the fact that he touched Tobit's eyes in order to heal them of blindness.
In the third antiphon of the Office of Readings, we are reminded that Raphael stands before God: "I am the angel Raphael, I stand in the presence of the Lord; as for you, bless the Lord, and proclaim his wonderful deeds."
When Tobit and his son Tobiah were discussing how they should repay St. Raphael for all that he had done for them, "Raphael called the two men aside privately and said to them: 'Thank God! Give him the praise and the glory. Before all the living, acknowledge the many good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Before all men, honor and proclaim God's deeds, and do not be slack in praising him'" (Tobit 12:6).
There is a great deal we can learn from the Archangels, who are powerful messengers, allies and friends of men.
What Is An Angel?
St. Augustine 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': from what they are, 'spirit,' from what they do, 'angel.'" As incorporeal beings, creatures made of spirit and without a material body, angels are not in themselves perceptible by the senses.
Pope St. Gregory the Great distinguishes between angles and archangels: "Those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that with their whole being the angels are servants God. Because they "always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven" they are the "mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word" (CCC No. 329; Mt 18:10).
As we reflect upon the beauty, power and strength of the angels, we are drawn toward a deeper and clearer understanding of God's love for man; for billions of angels, to be sure, are given personal charge over their own child of God. Every moment of each day, day after day, year after year, our faithful guardian angels stand at our sides, focused on our well-being with far greater power than even we ourselves can summon.
The Catechism explains: "From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. 'Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.' Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God" (No. 336).
More On The Angels
In the Catechism we read that "As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness" (CCC No. 330; Dan 10:9-12).
Michael Schmaus writes: "The angels' free and powerful will corresponds to their comprehensive knowledge. It is on account of this penetrating understanding and great power of will that they make decisions without vacillating, without deliberation and with concentrated intellectual assertion, and hence never revoke them." Schmaus also notes that the angelic intellect possesses an "extraordinary power of penetration," and that the angels enjoy an intensity of intellectual life which "corresponds to their close association with God" (Dogma, New York: Sheed and Ward).
God created the angels, like man, with an intellect and will, yet these shared attributes cannot be exactly compared, for they differ greatly in strength and power. For instance, we might compare the intellect and will of a child to that of an adult: the former is not nearly so strong as the latter. The angels' intellect is far advanced over that of man, and, as for their will, they do not struggle with doubt, weakness, and the tendency to fall into sin. On the contrary, the angels' will is of unwavering force, unceasingly directed toward and powerfully focused on the Ultimate Good, which is, of course, God.
As for how the angels move, we are all familiar with pictures of winged cherubs. Yet, as wonderful as wings might be, they do no justice as a description of the angels' movement. The angels are able to travel from our bedside to the sun's corona, from there to the most distant star and back again in less than an instant. In fact, it is actually irrelevant to include the element of time in a discussion of angels' movement. The speed of light is really no speed at all for our powerful guardians; for they are not constrained by the laws of time and space as are men. Their movement is as quick and effortless as a thought. It is best to think of the angels' movement as one of entering in and out of time, rather than a movement of direction from one point to another, as we experience it in the material world.
Though the angels surpass in perfection all visible creatures, we should be mindful of the close relationship we share with them. While there are significant differences between us, both men and angels were created in and through Christ; therefore we are truly brothers, if you will, who exist for Christ, each drawing our light and life from Christ. We share with the angels our beginning and end in God, the Origin of life and the Source of all that is visible and invisible.
St. Gabriel announced the most wonderful and sublime event ever to occur in the universe, the coming of the Incarnate God into the world through the womb of our precious Virgin Mary. Though we now look back twenty centuries to that moment of his wondrous announcement, we can still feel the joy in his words, and, this moment, we continually share in that joy. We belong to that Savior of whom Gabriel spoke; along with Gabriel we pledge our allegiance to Christ, our Master and King.
On this Feast day, let us thank our Lord for the Archangels who have often entered into history as messengers in God's providential plan of salvation. Let us also remember our close connection with them in Christ, and frequently turn to them for their intercessory protection and assistance in times of trouble.
F. K. Bartels is a Catholic writer who knows his Catholic faith is one of the greatest gifts a man could ever have. He is managing editor of catholicpathways.com, and a contributing writer for Catholic Online.
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