Our American culture is prone to make-believe. Fairies, mermaids, hobbits and gnomes are all popular pretend creatures in books, movies and gardens, capturing people’s imaginations. Real, spiritual creatures, such as guardian angels, cherubs and archangels are often, ironically found to be less “believable” and more absurd than other made-up characters. Babies or deceased loved ones are even called angels, forgetting their true human nature. Who an angel really is and their spiritual value in our life of faith is recalled in a feast day, as the liturgical calendar turns towards the end of Ordinary Time.
On Sept. the 29, the Catholic Church celebrates three, real, important spiritual beings, the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Until Vatican II, this was simply the feast of St. Michael Archangel, or Michaelmas. But in the new liturgical calendar, all three of God’s messengers that are described by name in holy Scripture are remembered.
Each angel has a unique role to play, as well as a particular charism to focus on. We can ask for their intercession and support today especially in their particular areas of strength.
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 … .”
These spiritual beings are special messengers of God. Unique from humans, they do not have material flesh and eat and drink, but rather are spiritual beings. Immortal, the angels have their own will and intelligence, but also shine forth the glory of God, as seen as Jesus’ birth. The shepherds outside in the fields were dazzled and surprised by the bright light and voice of the angel with the heavenly host singing “Glory to God in the highest” as described in Luke 2:14.
Angels have been with Jesus Christ throughout His life, as described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church; “They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been. Again, it is the angels who ‘evangelize’ by proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection. They will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgment.”’
Like the saints, angels seek to glorify God, not themselves, and thus in remembering them, the faithful turn more toward God — kneeling side by side with them in prayer, asking for God’s help. But humans are called to one day become saints. They will never become heavenly angels, as humans are made of matter and a different form of God’s creation than angels.
Archangels are not fluffy, sweet Hallmark and Hollywood styled beings though. Often in Scripture when a person sees an archangel, they are filled with fear as with the shepherds or Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist in the Gospel of Luke. Mary herself, asks the Archangel Gabriel clarifications of “how this can be,” being “greatly troubled at what was said” when he announces God’s plan and asks if she is open to doing God’s will.
The three archangels of this special September feast are ones of particular importance in sharing God’s messages with humans throughout history. Raphael is described in the Old Testament book of Tobit, on a healing mission, helping Tobit in his blindness, protecting Tobias in his travels, as well as healing Sarah on her wedding night. Archangel Raphael’s power to protect and heal is one of whole mind, body and soul. Gabriel is best remembered for the Annunciation, in the Gospel of Luke, but also is sent to Daniel in a vision and to Zechariah in the temple.
Archangel Gabriel’s greeting, “Hail Mary, full of grace” is repeated daily in every Hail Mary prayed. In the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, it is Michael the Archangel, who leads the army of angels to cast out the devil and other rebellious angels into hell, and he will be present at the end of time to separate the righteous and the evil with the sword of justice. His protection is invoked throughout Church history, especially by Pope St. Gregory the Great, whose feast day was Sept. 3.
On their feast day, we can celebrate by re-reading these sacred Scripture passages with an open and pondering heart, listening in silence, with the Holy Spirit, to God’s word. We can pray the powerful prayer of St. Michael the Archangel, often recited after Mass. At noon we can stop whatever work we are doing and pray the Angelus prayer, with the rest of the universal Church, to honor St. Gabriel with the words announcing the Incarnation. And we can ask for archangel’s intercession with the St. Raphael prayer of healing for loved ones suffering.
Together we can remember that though we are made of mortal flesh, we live in a world filled with incredible, real, spiritual beings present all around us sharing with us of God’s great plan of salvation.
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