How much do you know about what the Catholic Church teaches about the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael?
For centuries archangels have played a major role in Catholic liturgy and devotion. Catholic teaching insists the archangels exist for God in a particular and striking way. Pope Benedict XVI explains,
Sacred Scripture and the Church’s tradition enable us to discern two aspects. On the one hand, the Angel is a creature who stands before God, oriented to God with his whole being. All three names of the Archangels end with the word “El,” which means “God.” God is inscribed in their names, in their nature. Their true nature is existing in his sight and for him. In this very way the second aspect that characterizes Angels is also explained: they are God’s messengers.
History of the feast
Since the early 5th century, when a Roman basilica was dedicated in his honor, September 29 has been the feast of St. Michael the Archangel. When Paul VI reformed the liturgical calendar in 1969, the feasts of St. Gabriel and St. Raphael were added to the traditional day honoring St. Michael.
Angels vs. archangels
Furthermore, angels are a broad category of intelligent spiritual beings. While they are like human beings in that they have an intellect and free will, they are unlike us, in that they have no bodies! These pure spirits are arranged in a hierarchy in the heavenly host. We’ve come to understand, from revelation and tradition, that archangels differ from angels.
Archangels in the bible
There’s an old critique of medieval theology, which claims that medieval theologians ask only absurd questions: “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Despite the question never being found in this form in the writings of any scholastic theologian (so far as I’m aware), this dismissive reductio ad absurdum, might be used to dismiss things that we actually do know about angels, such as those things revealed in Sacred Scripture.
The hierarchy of angels
Furthermore, reflecting on the Biblical testimony, Church Fathers and medieval theologians subsequently elaborated an intricate hierarchy of angels. The different angels are tasked with different duties. Do you know how the cherubim and seraphim differ from the principalities and powers?
In the Bible, archangels are God’s special messengers. In order to see a more detailed explanation of who the archangels are and what they do, consult this article.
Which archangel is which?
However, do not be tempted to believe that the archangels are merely messengers. One is a fighter, another a diplomat, and the third the merciful one. Do you know which archangel is which?
For medievals, St. Michael’s feast day was a great festival of the Church. The day was even known in some places as Michaelmas (think Christmas levels of celebration). Set in the early fall, connected to the beginnings of the harvest, there is a tradition of pious Catholics preparing for Michaelmas by observing St. Michael’s Lent.
Should we pray to them?
Like the Catholic understanding of the saints, Catholics consider archangels powerful intercessors. We should not hesitate to implore their protection. Do you know any prayers to Saints Michael, Gabriel, or Raphael?
Call out during temptation
St. Michael, the head of the armies of heaven, defends us in our battles against the forces of evil. In addition to the traditional prayer to St. Michael, there are many other quick prayers to call out to him in moments of temptation.