Feast of the Holy Archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. St. Michael – More Than An Archangel

The Feast of the Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel on September 29th is often just called: The Feast of St. Michael the Archangel.

St Michael, Archangel

Angels are pure, created spirits. The name angel means servant or messenger of God. They are celestial or heavenly beings, on a higher order than human beings. An angel has no body and does not depend on matter for his existence or activity. They are distinct from saints, which men can become. Angels have intellect and will and are immortal.

St. Michael – More Than An Archangel

Archangels are one of the nine choirs of angels listed in the Holy Bible. In ascending order, the choirs or classes are 1) Angels, 2) Archangels, 3) Principalities, 4) Powers, 5) Virtues, 6) Dominations, 7) Thrones, 8) Cherubim, and 9) Seraphim.

St. Michael is regarded as the special Guardian Angel of Saint Joseph and the Guardian Angel of each one of the Popes and one of the seven great angels who stand before the throne of God. As a result, it is taught that while we refer to St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael as “Archangels” we are not referring to their rank but rather denoting that they are a higher level than ordinary angels. It is believed that all three of them are actually seraphim – the higher-ranking angels.

The Liturgical Calendar
Enriched by Angels in Recent Centuries

While the Novus Ordo Calendar combined their feast on September 29, the Traditional Calendar in place for 1962 (and prior) kept St. Michael on September 29th, St. Gabriel on March 24th, and St. Raphael on October 24th. The feast day of St. Raphael was included by Pope Benedict XV for the first time in the General Roman Calendar in 1921, for celebration on October 24. By a decree of the Congregation of Sacred Rites dated October 26, 1921, issued by command of Pope Benedict XV, it was directed that the feast of St. Gabriel the Archangel should also be added and kept – this one on March 24th in connection with the Annunciation on March 25th. In addition to these three Archangels, the Eastern Catholic Churches also venerate the Angels Uriel, Selaphiel, Jegudiel, Barachiel and Jerahmeel. The Synaxis of the Holy Archangels is on November 8th in the Byzantine Rite.

Dr. Michael Foley in a piece published on the website of New Liturgical Movement in March 2022 provides a concise history of this gradual addition of angels to the Liturgical Life of the Church:

Angels were added to the Church calendar gradually. In A.D. 530, Pope Boniface II consecrated a basilica in Michael’s honor on the Salarian Way about seven miles from Rome, with the ceremonies beginning on the evening of September 29 and ending the following day. Subsequent celebrations of this dedication were held first on September 30 and later on September 29. In the traditional calendar, “Michaelmas,” as it is also called, maintains the official title “The Dedication of Saint Michael the Archangel,” even though the basilica it commemorates disappeared over a thousand years ago.

Michaelmas also commemorates all the heavenly hosts (including Gabriel and Raphael by name in the Divine Office), but the primary focus is on St. Michael. Over time, the Church began to see the wisdom of singling out particular angels for liturgical veneration. In 1670, Pope Clement X included the Feast of the Guardian Angels on October 2 of the universal calendar, the first available day after Michaelmas.

The Catholic Encyclopedia provides an overview of St. Michael:

St. Michael is one of the principal angels; his name was the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against the enemy and his followers. Four times his name is recorded in Scripture: Daniel 10:13… Daniel 12… In the Catholic Epistle of St. Jude: ‘When Michael the Archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses’, etc. St. Jude alludes to an ancient Jewish tradition of a dispute between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses, an account of which is also found in the apocryphal book on the assumption of Moses (Origen, De Principiis III.2.2).

St. Michael concealed the tomb of Moses; Satan, however, by disclosing it, tried to seduce the Jewish people to the sin of hero-worship. St. Michael also guards the body of Eve, according to the ‘Revelation of Moses’… Apocalypse 12:7, ‘And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon.’ St. John speaks of the great conflict at the end of time, which reflects also the battle in heaven at the beginning of time. According to the Fathers there is often a question of St. Michael in Scripture where his name is not mentioned. They say he was the cherub 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), the angel who routed the army of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35)…

Consequently, the Church attributes four offices to St. Michael as the Catholic Encyclopedia next summarizes:

  1. To fight against Satan.
  2. To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.
  3. To be the champion of God’s people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament; therefore, he was the patron of the Church, and of the orders of knights during the Middle Ages.
  4. To call away from earth and bring men’s souls to judgment

Why Have A Devotion to St. Michael?

The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in a 2006 book published by TAN Books answered this question well:

According to the great St. Alphonsus Liguori, veneration of the holy Angels, and particularly of St. Michael, is an outstanding sign of predestination. St. Lawrence Justinian says: ‘Although we must honor all the Angels, we ought to invoke in a very special manner the glorious St. Michael, as the Prince of all the heavenly spirits, because of his sublime dignity, his pre-eminent office and his invincible power, which he proved in his conflict with Satan, as well as against the combined forces of Hell.’ Again, the same Saint says: ‘Let all acknowledge St. Michael as their protector, and be devoted to him, for he cannot despise those who pray to him . . . But he guards them through life, directs them on their way and conducts them to their eternal home.’

The Two Feasts in Honor of St. Michael

Traditionally in the Liturgy of the Church prior to the year 1960, there were two feasts in honor of St. Michael. Those familiar with the Litany of Saints will also recall that his name is mentioned by name in the Litany. And those who attend the Traditional Latin Mass will be familiar with several references to St. Michael in the course of the Liturgy.

In the 6th century, the angelic St. Michael appeared in southern Italy on a mountain named Gargano. In this apparition, St. Michael asked that the cave in which he appeared would become a shrine to the True God in order to make amends for the pagan worship that once occurred there. The Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano still remains to this day.

St. Michael later appeared with a flaming sword atop the mountain during a storm on the eve of battle for the Lombards. The Lombards attributed their victory in battle on that day, May 8, 663, to St. Michael. And the Church then established a Feast in honor of the Apparition of St. Michael on May 8th, the anniversary of the battle.

This feast is still kept by priests who offer the pre-1955 Liturgy. It’s quite unfortunate that a decree was issued on July 26, 1960, that dropped this feast from the Universal Calendar. While the feastday is not kept even in the 1962 Missal, priests who offer the 1962 Missal may (and arguably should) say a Votive Mass on that day for St. Michael. Since in the 1962 Missal May 8th is a feria, a Votive Mass may be offered on that date (unless May 8th falls on a Sunday or another high-ranking day in the sanctoral cycle like Ascension Thursday).

On September 29th the Feast of the Dedication of St. Michael occurs, allowing us for the second time in the year to honor the Glorious St. Michael. The Feast of the Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel on September 29th is often just called: The Feast of St. Michael the Archangel.

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