A Feast of Angels

In the older Roman calendar today is the Feast of the Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel, which refers to a basilica dedicated in his honor.

This has been the time of year to honor angels for a long time in the Roman Church. The ancient Veronese Sacramentary has an entry for “Natale Basilicae Angeli via Salaria” for 30 September. The Gelasian Sacramentary has a feast for “S. Michaelis Archangeli”. The Gregorian Sacramentary has “Dedicatio Basilionis S. Angeli Michaelis” for 29 September. It is possible that the basilica they were talking about was a long-gone church out the Via Salaria north of Rome. However, there is the monumental statue of St. Michael that looms over the City at the top of Hadrian’s mausoleum, known as Castel Sant’Angelo, placed there after the archangel signaled the end of a plague that had ravaged Rome.

In the new calendar today all three Archangels are celebrated, while in the older, traditional calendar we focus on St. Michael.

From Scripture we know the names of three Archangels: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.  There are other, apocryphal names of angels, but we are not to use them or invoke them.

Here is a nice depiction of all three angels easin’ on down the road with Tobias:

Our perennial Catholic thought is that the angels are in a hierarchy of nine “choirs”.  This goes back to the writings of St. Dionysius and of Gregory the Great.  St. Thomas Aquinas developed their foundational teachings.   According to the Angelic Doctor the choirs, which designate offices and roles, are

  1. Seraphim
  2. Cherubim
  3. Thrones
  4. Dominions
  5. Virtues
  6. Powers
  7. Principalities
  8. Archangels
  9. Angels

Note that Archangels are second from the last.  That St. Michael seems to be the commander of the heavenly host shows that even among angels (who are created persons, but without bodies), so vastly above us in the order of creation, God chose the lowly for His own plans.

In a few days we will have the Feast of the Guardian Angels.

Guardian Angel is a role assigned by God. Your angel or angels could be from the ranks of any of the choirs.

Do you think about angels?

Do you consider your Guardian Angel or ask for help?

Do you remember that there are also fallen angels?

Finally, one of my favorite depictions of St. Michael as a samurai warrior by Daniel Mitsui.

St. Michael by Daniel Mitsui. Click for more.

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38 Responses to A Feast of Angels

  1. Augustin57 says:

    I recall the story of the Marine in the Korean War, who had a strong devotion to St. Michael, the Archangel. He was always praying to St. Michael to protect him, handing out St. Michael holy cards, etc. One day, it was very cold and snowing lightly, and they were on patrol. This Marine was on point (well ahead of the others in case there was an ambush). As he was walking along, another Marine showed up beside him. Big, strong, burly fellow, whom he didn’t recognize. So he asked, “Hey, what’s your name? I know pretty well everyone in our unit, but I don’t recognize you. You must be new.” The big Marine said, “My name is Michael.” Then, the Marine started to explain to him his devotion to St. Michael when the big Marine yelled, “Look out!” Seven North Koreans jumped out from hiding and started firing at him, hitting him. As he fell backwards, and started to lose consciousness, he felt two strong hands catch him and gently lay him in the snow. When he came to, the rest of his patrol had caught up to him, congratulating him, and asking how he had killed those seven North Koreans! He said he hadn’t fired a shot, and they checked his gun and it had not been fired. He told them it was probably that big Marine walking next to him, “Michael.” They said, “What big Marine? We could see you, and you were walking alone! When they checked the bodies of the North Koreans, they had all been killed with a sword.

  2. mburduck says:

    As someone who works with the USMC, I find this story truly inspiring. Full disclosure: I am named after this great angel (“God’s General,” as I refer to him in my classes). I frequently ask Michael for help, and I think about him on a daily basis. I’m going through a rather unexpected, out-of-the-blue break-up at the moment, so I even ask Michael to protect me from the dark ones who might try to take advantage of me in my sadness. Well, I know he will be there for me as he always has been. I hope all of you ask Michael for help. I wish I could lead a regiment in his army. St Michael, pray for and protect us all.

  3. Gregorius says:

    The nerd in me was distracted at OF Holy Mass today wondering if it was even appropriate to lump the archangels together for one feast day. From what I remember in my metaphysics class (and people please jump in if I get this wrong), both the essence and the physical form determines which things belong in which genus and species. But the angels completely lack physical form, and each angel was created with its own individual function. Therefore, even though we colloquially refer to the angels as a single category of beings with similar functions, each angel has its own unique essence that is not shared with other angels, unlike say human beings, whose essence called ‘humanity’ is shared among all human beings. St. Michael, then, is essentially a completely different existence from St. Gabriel and so on, though their individual existences are all ordered to the praise and service of God. We call them all archangels, but it seems the only thing they really have in common, besides their closeness to God, is that their unique functions and existences are in a similar location relative to the unique functions and existences of the other beings in the heavenly hierarchy.
    Putting aside the fact that the Consilium completely ignored the history of the feast of Michaelmas, it really does show that the study of Thomism, far from being irrelevant speculation, does affect the way we live and interact with God and the world around us. This is reason number ???? for Summorum Pontificum?

  4. Mariana2 says:

    Love St. Michael, who got me out of a frightening situation some years back!

    I didn’t know my Guardian Angel could be of other choirs than Angels. Thanks, Father!

  5. TWF says:

    I believe some authorities suggest that St Michael is actually a Seraph – thus of the highest choir – and the title “archangel” here is simply a rendering of “one of the chief (arch) princes” reference in Daniel.

  6. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “Do you consider your Guardian Angel or ask for help?” Everyday.

  7. jltuttle says:

    @Gregorius, if I remember my Summa… Whereas humans share the same genius and species, and are differentiated by their material bodies and the accidents they contain (you are that homo sapien with that body over there, I am this homo sapien with this body right here), the angels are each their own species. Since angels do not have bodies, they cannot be differentiated by them; they can be differentiated by their natures, so they must each be a unique species. They would still share a similarity in nature, similar to a genius, family, class, etc. Hence our ability to refer to them all as angelic. My tutor (read professor) supposed that we would constantly marvel at each new angel we encountered in heaven, wondering what it is.

    I suppose angels can be differentiated by their relation to others. This is how the three Persons of the Holy Trinity are differentiated, by their relations to each other: the Father begets the Son, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds from both of them. Since They have no parts (therefore no body) and They all have the same nature (divine), they can only be differentiated by their relation.

    Notice that the diabolical end behind modern gender theory is to eliminate the differentiating aspect of our bodies, from which we derive our relation within the family. This relationship mirrors the trinity. Without this relationship we will be made in the image of the one who chose not to live in relationship, who chose not to serve. The end of modernity is to remake man in his lesser image.

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Gregorius found himself “wondering if it was even appropriate to lump the archangels together for one feast day.”

    Thomas Gilmartin, in his 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia article on the “Feast of Guardian Angels” writes, “It is believed that the new feast was intended to be a kind of supplement to the Feast of St. Michael, since the Church honoured on that day (29 September) the memory of all the angels as well as the memory of St. Michael (Nilles, “Kalendarium”, II, 502).” He develops this in more detail, beginning, “There are five proper collects and prefaces assigned to this feast in the Leonine Sacramentary (seventh century) under the title ‘Natalis Basilicae Angeli in Salaria’ and a glance at them will show that this feast included a commemoration of the angels in general, and also recognition of their protective office and intercessory power.”

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    TWF,

    I just looked up Frederick Holweck’s interesting 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia article, “St. Michael the Archangel”, and read this paragraph, “Regarding his rank in the celestial hierarchy opinions vary; St. Basil (Hom. de angelis) and other Greek Fathers, also Salmeron, Bellarmine, etc., place St. Michael over all the angels; they say he is called ‘archangel’ because he is the prince of the other angels; others (cf. P. Bonaventura, op. cit.) believe that he is the prince of the seraphim, the first of the nine angelic orders. But, according to St. Thomas (Summa Ia.113.3) he is the prince of the last and lowest choir, the angels. The Roman Liturgy seems to follow the Greek Fathers; it calls him ‘Princeps militiae coelestis quem honorificant angelorum cives’. The hymn of the Mozarabic Breviary places St. Michael even above the Twenty-four Elders. The Greek Liturgy styles him Archistrategos, ‘highest general’ (cf. Menaea, 8 Nov. and 6 Sept.).”

  10. ReginaMarie says:

    I wondered the same as TWF’s comment. In the Eastern Christian tradition, St. Michael is referred to as the Archistrategos, or chief commander, of all the bodiless powers.

    From today’s Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Archangels…

    Commanders of the heavenly hosts, we who are unworthy beseech you, by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory, and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you: “Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commanders of the powers on high!” +

  11. Kathleen10 says:

    What beautiful commentary! How encouraging. I love to contemplate angels, but am ashamed I often forget to ask my Guardian Angel for help. I believe this is because I have no name to associate with my Guardian Angel, and that would make a plea, seem generic.

  12. robtbrown says:

    TWF says:

    I believe some authorities suggest that St Michael is actually a Seraph – thus of the highest choir – and the title “archangel” here is simply a rendering of “one of the chief (arch) princes” reference in Daniel.

    Some of the Eastern Fathers thought him the highest of the angels, which would make him a Seraph.

    St. Thomas disagrees. St Michael is considered to be of the lower ranks, but by virtue of grace is more powerful than Satan, who by nature was of a higher order.

  13. robtbrown says:

    jltuttle,

    You are correct that St Thomas says that human individuals are of the same genus and species (animal/rational) and distinguished by matter, the principle of individuation.

    Also that acc to St Thomas that each angel is a distinct species. How then are they differentiated? St Thomas says that it’s like brute animals, which are differentiated by strength of faculties. Both a chimp and an crocodile are brute animals. They are distinguished because the chimp can be trained (due to strength of memory and estimative sense) and the croc cannot. In fact, the croc cannot distinguish between the man who is throwing him the chicken and the chicken–both are potential meals.

    BTW, sapiens is singular. Homo sapiens (s); homines sapientes (pl)

  14. robtbrown says:

    NB: There is a new statue of St Michael in the Vatican Gardens.

  15. SanSan says:

    I don’t go anywhere without my Guardian Angel! :) St. Michael’s Prayer intersession prayed everyday to fight evil around us.

    I often tell my children that when we talk about our Guardian Angels they have a party!

  16. SanSan says:

    Angel of God, my Guardian Dear, to whom God’s love has put me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule, to guide.

  17. Vincent Uher says:

    Not to veer too far off topic, but there is a Catholic consideration of the Archangel Uriel worth reading entitled “Inchiesta su Uriele, l’Arcangelo scomparso” by Don Marcello Stanzione (http://www.amazon.it/gp/product/8861384072.) I find the story told within it of the apparition of St. Uriel the Archangel to a Sicilian priest fascinating.

  18. Susan M says:

    I read somewhere that some saints have had more than one Guardian Angel. Is this true, and if so, could it be then that one of the angels was from the Choir of Angels and the other from a different Choir…Powers, or Virtues, etc?

  19. wised says:

    I completed a novena to St Michael today. I am ashamed to admit that I rarely consult my guardian angel. When I was a child, I gave him the name Max( do not know where that name came from) and over the years I fell out of practice calling upon him for help. If I remember correctly, one of the nuns in grade school suggested naming our guardian angels to make it easier to talk to them. I will make a point of asking Max for help daily. Thanks for the reminder!

  20. Laura R. says:

    I ask my guardian angel for help every time I get in my car to drive anywhere. It’s a good way to “stay in touch” since driving is something I do regularly, besides the fact that I’ve always been phobic about traffic and consider driving an inherently dangerous activity.

  21. Priam1184 says:

    @Kathleen10 Just remember the prayer: “Angel of God my guardian dear, to whom his love entrusts me here, ever this day be at my side: to light and guard and rule and guide.”

    Short, quick, to the point, and easy to remember.

  22. Caritas in veritate says:

    After reading about the genesis of the St. Michael prayer and that Our Lord asked Pope Leo XIII to have it prayed after every Low Mass across the world- for protection for Holy Mother Church- I don’t understand why that stopped. No earthly explanation makes sense.

  23. Grumpy Beggar says:

    One of my favorites about our guardian Angel by St Anthony the Great- Father of monasticism:

    “When you close the doors to your dwelling and are alone you should know that there is present with you the angel whom God has appointed for each man…This angel, who is sleepless and cannot be deceived, is always present with you; he sees all things and is not hindered by darkness. You should know, too, that with him is God, who is in every place; for there is no place and nothing material in which God is not, since He is greater than all things and holds all men in His hand.”

    Mother Anglica from EWTN says St. Michael appeared to her to show her where the short wave antennae for EWTN’s broadcasts should be located. An excerpt from Mother Angelica and the Pain of Providence by Raymond Arroyo:

    “It is customary to place short-wave antennae in flat open fields, making it all the more peculiar that Mother Angelica should decide to place her antennae on a mountain top. According to Mother Angelica, St. Michael (the Archangel) appeared to her when she first visited the mountain. It is there, on the site where St. Michael’s appeared, that Mother would decide to erect the antennae. Flying in the face of all the experts, the antennae reach millions a day. But no one can explain just how. Even the British Broadcasting Company has sent a team of experts to try to unearth the reason. They are still baffled. The folks at EWTN have their own answer: divine providence.”

  24. Bea says:

    To all 3 questions:
    Yes
    Yes
    Yes

    My dear Guardian Angel is always at the ready.
    He closes (wind) the door behind me when I have an armful of groceries etc.
    He makes me drop my pencil when doing crosswords and I just KNOW I should be getting up to start supper. I reach for the pencil and continue and I drop it again, this time it falls on its’ head and summersaults across the room. OK, I know what he’s trying to tell me.
    He finds parking places for me: “ante” handicap placard. I had composed a little ditty and it always helped and a friend uses it too and it works for her too:

    Angel of God
    My Guardian, dear,
    Help me to find
    A place that’s near.

    He always complied. He even found shady spots as an “addendum”.
    God Bless our Guardian Angels, our friends, from Conception to the Grave.

  25. fan312 says:

    “There are other, apocryphal names of angels, but we are not to use them or invoke them.”
    Is there a reason behind this?

  26. Gregory the Great holds a contrary opinion. From today’s Office of Readings, the Second Reading:

    You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.

    And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.

    Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform. In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily be known. But personal names are assigned to some, not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they came among us. Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.”

    Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power. So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High. He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle was fought with Michael the archangel. So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

    Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.

  27. ReginaMarie says:

    Kathleen10 & Wised: Regarding the naming of your Guardian Angel, it is not advised…

    http://taylormarshall.com/2011/06/you-are-not-allowed-to-name-your.html

  28. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    ReginaMarie,

    Thank you for the interesting reference (if that is not too inadequate way of describing it)!

    One of the commenters provides a link to the English version of the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, from which Dr. Marshall quotes, and the whole section on “The Holy Angels” (212-17: in ch. VI) is good to read:

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20020513_vers-direttorio_en.html

    I cannot find a Latin version under the “Documenta lingua Latina exarata” on the Vatican website, though an ‘Adoremus Bulletin’ I found online said, “The Congregation issued the Directory in Latin on December 17, 2001. The Vatican’s English translation of this exhaustive teaching document on popular piety appeared on the Vatican web site in August 2002.”

    The section from which Dr. Marshall quotes (217) gives no explanation for why “The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture” beyond its distinction of what is explicitly “contained in Holy Scripture”.

    Dr. Marshall proceeds on a certain understanding of names, and does not address, for example, nicknames, ‘pet’ names, or the use of epithets or titles.

    There is a lot of discussion in the comments of interactions with Guardian Angels and possibilities of deception by fallen angels.

  29. Ellen says:

    mburduck, I am going through my own very unexpected and painful break-up too. I am going to ask St. Michael, whom I love dearly to pray for me. Our parish has begun saying the St. Michael prayer after every Mass.

  30. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    First prayer I ever learned was to my Guardian Angel.

  31. wised says:

    I am very sure that my seven year old self had no concept of ruling over my guardian angel. Naming “him” brought him closer as a friend and confidant as best I can remember, as it has been a few years ago. I do have memories of thinking, “Max, help me”. It seems somewhat friendlier than “hey you”!

    I also assigned him a gender. Angels may be a generic neuter. Is that issue also addressed? There seem to be several more pressing issues within the Church that are to be discouraged rather than my guardian angels’ name.

    Sorry, my relationship with my guardian angel appears to be more personal than I had
    realized. I have already spoken with him several times this morning.

  32. AvantiBev says:

    “Our perennial Catholic thought is that the angels are in a hierarchy of nine “choirs”. ”
    Nope, I count TEN.
    #10 Canis Familiaris esp. Dachshunds!
    I think young Tobit of the O.T. and San Rocco would back me up on this. :-)

  33. mburduck says:

    mburduck, I am going through my own very unexpected and painful break-up too. I am going to ask St. Michael, whom I love dearly to pray for me. Our parish has begun saying the St. Michael prayer after every Mass.

    Ellen, of course St. Michael will pray for you and help bring you comfort. Little by little since Monday I’m feeling better with each passing hour. Be strong and you will make it through the tough timers. It takes time. St. Michael stands besides us!

  34. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Wised writes, ” Angels may be a generic neuter. Is that issue also addressed?” C.S. Lewis, in pursuing his agreement with his Catholic friend Tolkien to each try writing science fiction novels, ‘supposes’ (rather than strictly ‘speculating about’) Angel ‘gender’ (not ‘sex’!) in Perelandra and That Hideous Strength – having already read some of Tolkien’s ‘legendary’ imagining of ‘Angelical’ (Valar and Maiar) ‘gender’ – and ‘sex’ (Luthien’s mother is a ‘Maia’). I suppose it is seriously angelogically addressed, but cannot think of any immediate references.

  35. MouseTemplar says:

    This is our ten year wedding anniversary. We chose it to honor the angels and we ask for their guidance and protection daily. So far, so good.

  36. Suburbanbanshee says:

    So long as you know that you are dealing in nicknames, I imagine there is no particular harm. The problem was with people going all occultish about names, and having evil spirits take advantage, as well as having the mentally ill have problems. But the good angels like obedience, too.

    Moving along, the angels are bodiless spirits without sex or gender. But we tend to think of them according to how they appear in the Bible, which is as usually as young men. But they also appeared as stars in space, which is rather sexless, and as weird beings with several animal faces in Ezekiel, and in many other ways.

    So again, if you wanted to think of an angel as male or female, it can only be as a sort of nickname, because they are strange beings living a life not like ours. But I am sure that our guardian angels do love and care for us, and know us like nobody else except God.

  37. Torpedo1 says:

    I talk to my guardian angel all the time. I started doing it about 11 years ago upon hearing Mother Angelica’s advice to just pray to them, ask for advice and help. The more I talked to him, the closer he seemed to be to me. I know my angel isn’t male, but I think of him that way probably because I feel very protected by him and it’s a trait I associate with masculinity. Also, I call him Samuel, not because I believe it’s his name, or that I believe he has a name, but it’s easier and more friendly, as another commenter said above, to do that rather than saying, “hey angel.” I can’t BS him… ever. If I’m squirmy about going to confession, for example, he’ll get firm with me, reminding me to just go and do it because it’s right. He reminds me to always be charitable in conversations with people and to always cultivate forgiveness towards others. He helps me to be very aware of our Lord in the blessed Sacrament, because I can’t see him and I’m so greatful for that. I hear him in my head, not as an autitory voice, but as thoughts, I know didn’t come from me and they are always good, never scary. Also, he is, for some reason, very protective of acult stuff, cards, crystals and junk like that. Not that I’m in to that stuff, but when ever I come into contact with it, I can feel him there especially, warning me to stay far away from it. Also, being blind, when I drop stuff, I pray to him, asking for help especially if it’s something small. He always places my hand directly on whatever I have dropped. I think of him as a guardian and as someone there to help keep me on the path of holiness, which is what they are there for, right?
    Finally, one more thing about Uriel. I always thought there were four Arch-Angels in scripture and I thought he was one of them. I didn’t know he wasn’t mentioned… why did I think there were four? My family, at least to my knowledge, never read anything outside of scripture for our ideas about angels, but I can’t be certain of that so… I don’t know. Anyway, I’d encourage everybody to talk to, and pray especially to their guardian angel. It all started with a search for a box of spaghetti and now, I know I have a friend when I feel the most alone, one who is always pointing me towards our Lord.

  38. marcpuckett says:

    I had never seen that Directory of Popular Piety etc and so looked. There is some mistranslation that must be going on e.g. I looked at no 100, ‘the Winter Quartertense’, the Ember Days, only to see that the directory writer is going on about ‘the Winter interstice’, the change of season in popular observance, in such a way that makes me think he really is talking about those Catholic traditional pieties connected with the Winter Solstice and not the Ember Days at all– the other three quattuor anni temp0ra aren’t mentioned. Who knows.