Angels—messengers from God—appear frequently in Scripture, but only these three are named. Previously each of these archangels had his own feast day; now, however one day is assigned to all three, and on the more ancient date of September 29. Documentation for this feast on September 29 can be found in the Jerome Martyrology and the Calendar of Verona as well as in the tradition of the East. In the Latin Church, the feast of these three archangels was approved by the Lateran Council in 745.
Each of these archangels performs a different mission in Scripture: Michael protects; Gabriel announces; Raphael guides. Earlier belief that inexplicable events were due to the actions of spiritual beings has given way to a scientific worldview and a different sense of cause and effect. Yet believers still experience God’s protection, communication, and guidance in ways which defy description. We have every reason to believe in angels. We should recall the words of Christ: “I solemnly assure you, you shall see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (Jn 1:51).
The biblical references to St. Michael, whose name means “Who is like God?” are found in the Book of Daniel (chaps. 10 & 12), the Book of Revelation (12:7-9) and the Letter of Jude (9). And in Christian lore, his is one of the chief angels in heaven. His prominence in Jewish legend and traditions as a powerful angelic leader, an angel of healing, and a prince of the archangels made certain his significant role in the Christian tradition of angels. Veneration of St. Michael dates to a very early time in Christian history, accompanied by an extensive body of legends. He supposedly visited Emperor Constantine I (r. 306-337), made a dramatic appearance over the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian (r. 117-138) in Rome in answer to an appeal during an outbreak of plague. The plague stopped and ever since the mausoleum has been called the Castel Sant’Angelo in his honor. St. Joan of Arc (d. 1431) credited St. Michael as one of the holy spirits who aided her and gave her the courage to save France from the English during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453).
Numerous theologians examined St. Michael, including the Greek Fathers, such as St. Basil the Great. St. Thomas Aquinas devoted a section of the “Summa Theologiae” to angels. A truly beloved angel, St. Michael has long been a favorite subject of art, depicted usually as a tall, handsome angel holding a sword and shield, lance, banner, or scales; often he is shown doing battle with Satan or a dragon.
St. Gabriel, whose name means “Power of God,” is the archangel who stands in the presence of God (Lk. 1:19) and associated with the Incarnation of Christ. He is mentioned in the Book of Daniel (8:16; 9:21) as announcing the coming of the Messiah. In the New Testament he is foretelling the birth of John the Baptist (Lk 1:10 & 19) and announcing to Mary that she would be the mother of Christ (Lk 1:26). He has been venerated since the second century. He is usually depicted as a handsome archangel, holding a scroll emblazoned with “Ave Maria.” His emblem is a spear and shield emblazoned with a lily.
St. Raphael, whose name means “God has healed,” is venerated by both Jews and Christians. His name appears in the Book of Tobit (12:12 & 15), where he identifies himself as one of the seven who stand before God. He is honored in Christian lore as the head of the guardian angels, the angel of knowledge, and the angel of science. Raphael is also a prominent figure in the angelic lore and customs of Judaism (such as the legend that he was one of the three angels who visited Abraham prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah). In liturgical art, he is depicted as a young man carrying a staff or a fish.
PRAYER TO ST. MICHAEL (1884, Written by Pope Leo XIII after celebrating Mass)
“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle; be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”
Bunson, Matthew and Margaret Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Second Edition.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2014.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day-Updated and Expanded.” Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
Lodi, Enzo. “Saints of the Roman Calendar-Updated and Revised Edition.” New York: Alba House, 2012.