September 29 is the feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the only archangels mentioned by name in the canon of scripture. Originally this day, instituted by the Church in memory of a Roman basilica that was dedicated in 530, only mentioned Michael.
At one point in history this day was a holy day of obligation for Catholics.
Whatever may be the case behind the origin of this feast, why do we dedicate an entire day in the liturgical calendar to archangels? Who are they in the first place? How do they affect my life today? Do they still exist?
To help you understand more about these mysterious beings that God created, here are five things you need to know about archangels:
1) Archangels are the second lowest “rank” of angels
Traditionally, angels are divided into what is called “nine choirs.” This hierarchy is based on nine names of ranks of angels that are found in Sacred Scripture.
Saint Gregory the Great listed these “choirs” in a homily:
“We know on the authority of Scripture that there are nine orders of angels, viz., Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim…” (Hom. 34, In Evang.)
2) Archangels are entrusted with delivering important messages to humans
The lowest ranks of angels are the ones we are most familiar with as they are the ones who communicate or interact with us. Saint Michael is believed to be the angel who delivered God’s divine inspiration to St. John in the Book of Revelation and is known as the protector of the Church, guarding her from evil. Saint Michael is most widely known for his role in expelling the rebel angel Lucifer from heaven.
Saint Gabriel is first mentioned in the Book of Daniel and helps Daniel in his mission on earth. Later on Gabriel appears to Zachariah and the Blessed Virgin Mary, delivering the greatest message ever, that God meant to Incarnate and set his tent with us.
Saint Raphael is mentioned in the Book of Tobit, to heal Tobit and deliver Sarah from a demon. Raphael accomplished both acts, disguised as a human, guiding Tobias along the way and instructing him on what to do.
3) Archangels do not have wings, bodies or swords
Unlike us, angels are pure spirits and do not possess anything material. On occasion they can look like a human, but it is only a façade.
Dr. Peter Kreeft gives an excellent description in his book, Angels and Demons:
“Because of their lack of bodies, angels do not occupy space like we do and move within our world without taking up space. The closest analogy to how angels move is like ‘electrons’ or in ‘quantum leaps.’ Angels ‘move instantaneously from one place to another without passing through any space or time in between.’”
On the other hand, even though they do not have material bodies, they can impact and influence the material world. They are pure spirits (like God) and have such intelligence and mental power that they can move material things or assume the appearance of a body. How exactly that all transpires is a bit of a mystery. Saint Thomas Aquinas goes in more depth in the Summa.
Wings and swords are simply artistic representations of their roles and actions in our world, as messengers and protectors.
4) Archangels can protect us from evil
If Saint Michael and the heavenly host can expel Satan and his minions out of heaven, the archangels can certainly fight against demons tormenting our world and us and protect us from their influence. One of the greatest prayers is the Saint Michael prayer, which for many years was routinely said at the closing of Mass:
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
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.
5) Archangels still exist today
Thankfully, angels do not depend on our belief of them for their existence. God created their immortal spirits at the beginning of time and they will never cease existing for all eternity.
We may not see them, hear them, or feel their presence, but they are as real as the screen in front of you. Sometimes they let us know they are here, but most of the time they are busy protecting us from harm without us knowing. Just think what would happen if they weren’t here!
Children get it. They understand that angels exist and trust completely that they are present and will pray to them without hesitation. Maybe we need some of that child-like simplicity of heart to renew our belief in these celestial creatures.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).