Monday, September 29, 2008

St. Michael: Prince and Guardian of God's People

And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels: And they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: because the accuser of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before our God day and night.

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of the testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you that dwell therein. Woe to the earth, and to the sea, because the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman, who brought forth the man child: And there were given to the woman two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the desert unto her place, where she is nourished for a time and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. And the serpent cast out of his mouth after the woman, water as it were a river; that he might cause her to be carried away by the river.

And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the river, which the dragon cast out of his mouth. And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. And he stood upon the sand of the sea.

-The Apocalypse of St. John, Chapter 12:7

Today, September 29, is Michaelmas (also spelled Michelmas), a day in which we commemorate the Prince of the Heavenly Host, St. Michael the Archangel. Angels are frequently mentioned in the Scriptures, but only three are liturgically commemorated: Raphael (Ointment of God), Gabriel (Strength of God), and Michael (Who is like unto God?) St. Gabriel’s Feast is March 24 (eve of the Feast of the Annunciation) and St. Raphael's Feast is October 24th. On October 2, the Guardian Angels are commemorated. From the apocryphal Book of Enoch, we know the names of the other archangels who stand before the throne of God, which are related as Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, and Jeramiel. In the Western tradition, their names are (H)anael or (H)aniel; Jophiel or Cassiel; Zedekiel or Sachiel.

In the Middle Ages, this day of Michelmas was celebrated as a holy day of obligation. It is likely no coincidence that since the 18th century (the “Age of the Enlightenment” in which the heresy of rationalism rabidly sought to consume reason illuminated by the Deposit of Faith), the public honor accorded to this great saint progressively came to an end. Despite mankind's arrogance, St. Michael remains the Church's patron and protector and we may offer him private honor while also invoking his guardianship and defense.

Salvation history shows that St. Michael fulfills four offices:
1) God’s first loyal defender, he fights against Satan while this world lasts
2) Rescuer of the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.
3) Champion of God's people -the Jews in the Old Dispensation, the Christians of the New; therefore he is the patron of the Church, and of the orders of knights during the Middle Ages.
4) Angel of Judgment, he calls souls away from earth and brings them to the Throne of Judgment. (Frederick Henwick, “St. Michael,” 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 10)

Four times is Michael’s name explicitly mentioned in the Scriptures:

---In Daniel, an Angel spoke to the prophet of the help he also received against "the prince of Persia" (which seems to refer to a fallen "guardian" angel, for an Angel of Heaven would not have resisted another good Angel but instantly obeyed God's Will). That assistance came by the hand of St. Michael, Prince of the Heavenly Host: “But I will tell thee what is set down in the scripture of truth: and none is my helper in all these things, but Michael your prince.” (Daniel 10:21)

---In relation to the time of Anti-Christ, the Prophecy of Daniel also relates: “But at that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people: and a time shall come such as never was from the time that nations began even until that time. And at that time shall thy people be saved, every one that shall be found written in the book.” (Daniel 12: 1)

---In the Epistle of St. Jude: “When Michael the archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him the judgment of railing speech, but said: The Lord command thee.” (Jude 1:9) According to Origin, in this passage St. Jude referred to an ancient Jewish tradition, made known by revelation, that St. Michael concealed the tomb of Moses at God’s command, because Satan moved to incite the ancient Hebrews who, accordingly, would have not have honored the body of Moses as a precious relic; instead, they would have accorded it worship meant only for God. (Origen, De Principiis III.2.2; cited by Henwick, “St. Michael,” 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 10).

---In The Apocalypse of St. John, Chapter 12:7, as cited above.

The Fathers of the Church declare that St. Michael is the Church’s foremost guardian and protector. In regard to Scripture passages in which his name is not explicitly mentioned, they say that St. Michael was the angel who stood at the gate of paradise, ‘to keep the way of the tree of life’ (Genesis 3:24), the angel through whom God published the Decalogue to his chosen people, the angel who stood in the way against Balaam (Numbers 22:22), [and] the angel who routed the army of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35).” (Frederick Henwick, “St. Michael,” 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10) According to the apocryphal Revelation of Moses, St. Michael also guards the body of Eve. ("Apocryphal Gospels", etc., ed. A. Walker, Edinburgh, p. 647. Cited by Henwick, “St. Michael,” 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 10). Thus St. Michael is known as the protector and guardian of God’s ecclesia (both independently and collectively - that is, the Church as a whole but also of individuals), the herald of judgment, and the guardian of Paradise.

Appearing on earth throughout the ages, St. Michael also came to Fatima, first identifying himself as “the Angel of Peace” and later as “the Angel Guardian” of Portugal. Both of these titles have long belonged to the Prince of the Heavenly Host. In the course of his few apparitions to the three shepherd children, St. Michael taught them the deep reverence due to the Holy Trinity and the Blessed Sacrament.

Of St. Michael’s first visit to them, Sr. Lucia revealed:

“Kneeling on the ground, he bowed down until his forehead touched the ground. Led by a supernatural impulse, we did the same, repeating the words we heard him say:

‘My God, I believe, I adore, I hope (trust), and I love Thee! I beg pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not trust, and do not love Thee!’

“Having repeated these words three times, he rose and said, ‘Pray thus. The Hearts of Jesus and Mary are attentive to the voice of your supplications.’ Then he disappeared.”

At another time, St. Michael gave Holy Communion to the children. To Jacinta and Francisco, he administered the Precious Blood and to Lucia he gave the Precious Body of Our Lord – thus foreshadowing their collective vocations. In their brief lives, Blessed Jacinta and Francisco would drink quickly and deeply of the Cup, while Lucia, who Our Lady said would remain on earth “for some time longer,” lived a different Passion. Should we not be awed to discover that St. Michael is also known as the Angel of the Holy Eucharist?

The angels in heaven are our true friends, like loving older brothers who desire only God’s glory and the salvation of our souls. Every day, we should pray the St. Michael prayer which begins “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle…” and the Guardian Angel prayer to our own personal, heavenly protector. For their honor and for the good of our own souls, we might also invoke the seven angels who stand before the throne of God, every day offering 7 Glory Be’s to the Holy Trinity in their names, even as we ask them to enlighten, guard and defend us.

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