SEPTEMBER 29: Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael

António dos Santos

On 29 September, the Catholic Church celebrates the three most famous archangels in the history of Catholicism: St Michael, St Gabriel, and St Raphael. According to the Holy Scriptures, there are seven archangels, four of whom whose names we do not know. In the book of Tobit, St Raphael presents himself as “one of the seven angels who stand before the glory of the Lord and have access to his presence” (Tobit 12:15). And in the book of Revelation (8:2), St John wrote: “Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.” The Liturgy on this festive day remembers and extols all the angelic choirs: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels.

The three archangels that the Church celebrates this month represent the high hierarchy of the seven archangels, pure spirits, who attend the throne of God and are His “collaborators and messengers of the divine decrees” here on earth. The names given to the archangels – Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael – thus express a dimension of God’s powerful and saving action throughout history. Our brief exposition on the Holy Archangels is based on a reflection by Fr Alberto Eckel and Vatican News.

St Michael Archangel

The name “Michael,” which is mentioned five times in the Bible, is derived from a Hebrew expression meaning “Who is like unto God?” He is considered the guardian and warrior prince, defender of the heavenly throne and the People of God. Faithful squire of the Eternal Father, supreme head of the heavenly army and of the angels faithful to God, St Michael is the archangel of justice and repentance, patron of the Catholic Church and a great help in the fight against evil forces. His devotion is one of the oldest in the Church.

One can hardly count the number of cathedrals, shrines, monasteries, chapels – but also mountains, caves, and hills – named after St Michael the Archangel.

The vision, prayer, and supplication of Leo XIII. On October 13, 1884, right after the celebration of Mass in the Vatican Chapel, Pope Leo XIII paused for several minutes. His face, according to witnesses, showed both horror and wonder. Immediately afterward, Pope Leo went to his study, sat down at his desk, and wrote out a prayer to St Michael the Archangel. He then called his secretary and ordered him to make copies of the prayer, and have them sent to all the Bishops of the world, with the command to recite the prayer at the end of every Mass.

Pope Leo revealed that he had seen a chilling vision of “legions of demons” attacking the Church, and almost destroying it. Then he saw St Michael intervening decisively to defend the Church – not immediately, but much later, and only after the faithful had multiplied their fervent prayers to the Archangel.

In our times, the custom of reciting the St Michael Prayer after Mass has fallen into disuse. But the custom was recalled by St John Paul II at the Regina Coeli on 24 April 1994: “Although today this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass,” he said, “I ask everyone not to forget it, and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”

St Gabriel Archangel 

“God is my protector” or “man of God”. He is the archangel announcer, par excellence, of the revelations of God and is, perhaps, the one who was close to Jesus in the agony of the Lord in the olive grove.

In Luke’s Gospel we read the announcement by Gabriel to the Virgin Mary: “And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.’” (Luke 1:28-31).

This announcement by the Archangel Gabriel to Mary Most Holy is the best known in history; a singular honour given by the Lord to Gabriel. The Church’s tradition identifies in the Angel’s proclamation to the Virgin and in Mary’s docile acceptance of the divine will, the moment when God assumed human nature: “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14). In the liturgical calendar, the Church celebrates the Annunciation of the Lord on March 25th.

St Gabriel Archangel is considered the patron saint of communications

St Raphael Archangel

“God cures you” or “God’s cure.” Raphael is the protagonist of an entire book of the Bible in the Old Testament. The archangel accompanies Tobias, the young son of Tobit and Anna, when Tobit asks Tobias to carry out a delicate mission that will require a long and dangerous journey. Raphael was the only angel who dwelt among us, and the Biblical narrative is enchanting.

In summary, when Tobias returns to his parents’ house, with his mission accomplished, already married, he brings the cure – given by St Raphael – for his father’s blindness, who had been blinded when he fell asleep, were sparrows on the wall and their fresh droppings fell into his open eyes (Tobias 2:11). Tobias anoints his father’s eyes with gall from the fish (given by Raphael), and Tobit sees. Tobias would like to pay the wayfarer for all his help, but taking both father and son aside, the traveling companion reveals his true identity. He explains that God, who was moved by the prayers and charity of both father and son, sent him to heal and guide them. He says of himself, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the Holy One” (Tobias 12:15). They were both alarmed; and they fell upon their faces, for they were afraid. Raphael, however, said to them: “‘Do not be afraid; you will be safe. But praise God for ever. For I did not come as a favour on my part, but by the will of our God. Therefore, praise him forever. All these days I merely appeared to you and did not eat or drink, but you were seeing a vision. And now give thanks to God, for I am ascending to him who sent me. Write in a book everything that has happened.’ Then they stood up; but they saw him no more. So they confessed the great and wonderful works of God and acknowledged that the angel of the Lord had appeared to them” (Tobit 12:16-22).

St Raphael is the guardian of health and physical and spiritual healing; he is also considered the head of the order of virtues. He is the patron of the blind, doctors, priests and also travelers, soldiers and scouts.