“Be Thou unto us, O Lord, a help when we go forward, a comfort by the way…”

Workshop_of_Andrea_del_Verrocchio._Tobias_and_the_Angel._33x26cm._1470-75._NG_LondonAs it is the Feast of Raphael the Archangel in the older, traditional Roman calendar, I’ll share something I wrote for the UK’s best Catholic weekly… also, I’m traveling today, back to Rome after a nice rest at Lake Garda.


As I tap on my awkwardly propped laptop in a van bouncing on Roman streets, my mind turns to Archangel Raphael.   I invoked him in the prayer called the Itinerarium, raised before a journey. Our pilgrimage group is heading north.   Raphael is a protector of travelers, as we know from the book of Tobit. In the National Gallery in London there is a lovely painting by Verrocchio of Tobit (Tobias) and his fish, a jaunty Raphael, and, of course, a bit with a dog. In the traditional calendar of the Roman Church we celebrate the Feasts of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael individually. Monday 24 October is the Feast of St Raphael.

Stepping out your door is a mysterious event. Ancient Romans had liminal deities (Latin limen is a threshold), the most famous of which is Janus, the god with two faces, one old, one young. A ianua is a doorway and our month January looks both forward and backward. When we go forth from our houses and churches to be about our daily business, we cross thresholds of hope and plunge into the unknown. Given the perils and vicissitudes of our modern world, with so many allurements to distract and trip the soul, we do well to pray to our angel guardians as we get under way.

Speaking of getting underway, here are a couple of the prayers of the aforementioned Itinerarium, which I prayed moments before plunging out of Rome and onto the Autostrada.

O God, who didst call Thy servant Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, and didst keep him from evil through all the ways of his pilgrimage, we beseech Thee, that it may please Thee to keep us Thy servants. Be Thou unto us, O Lord, a help when we go forward, a comfort by the way, a shadow from the heat, a covering from the rain and the cold, a chariot in weariness, a refuge in trouble, a staff in slippery paths, a haven in shipwreck Do Thou lead us, that we may happily come thither where we would be, and thereafter come again safe unto our own home.

Graciously hear our supplications, O Lord, we beseech Thee, and order the goings of Thy servants in the safe path that leadeth unto salvation in Thee, that amidst all the manifold changes of this life’s pilgrimage, Thy shield may never cease from us.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Grant M says:

    If I was a movie director I would love to make a movie of the book of Tobit. I see so much heterodox and nonsensical stuff about angels and demons on TV, it would be great to see something that was both good cinema and good Catholicism.

  2. Andrew D says:

    Thank you Fr. Z. I love St. Raphael and pray every day that he, Michael, Gabriel and my beloved angel will protect me and assist my family’s angels in this valley of tears.

  3. Thorfinn says:

    “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to. Do you realize that this is the very path that goes through Mirkwood, and that if you let it, it might take you to the Lonely Mountain or even further and to worse places?”

  4. Anne C. says:

    Just a few hours from now, our Parish, Church of St. Raphael in Crystal, MN (one of Fr. Z’s former parishes), will be celebrating its first Latin High Mass in honor of our patron, St. Raphael! Music will be by our former choir director, Benjamin Blackhawk, and his Chant choir, and Mass will be officiated by our Parochial Vicar, Fr. Robert Altier, whom we are greatly blessed to have here!

  5. Anne C. says:

    Grant M. – My mother-in-law, Ruth Ann Cramer, has been in the process of writing a musical based on the book of Tobit for many years! She successfully published a novel, loosely based on her own life (“Not Without Spirit”) in 2012, but, due to her health problems, the musical may not be finished in the foreseeable future. She has asked several of us in the family to help with the music, etc., so there is still a chance it may someday be completed . . . I agree that it is a great story that should be celebrated!

  6. PNeri says:

    I have long had a devotion to St Raphael. He is patron of the things we need, bodily health, safe travel, holy spouses. As he helped Tobit collect a debt, I invoke him for assistance in business. I have been surprised that in the now “settled” matter of same-sex marriage he did not seem to be more widely invoked for assistance. He is after all the patron of marriage. Perhaps in these last days devotion to St Raphael will flourish.

  7. Anne C. says:

    Our Latin High Mass at St. Raphael’s went very well! Father talked about St. Raphael as being the patron of several things, including healing, marriage, travel, etc., and told us how our parish came to be named for this great Archangel! (It’s an amazing story, but I’m afraid I’d mess it up! It involves our first Pastor during WWII, finding a medal of St. Raphael just before a battle . . .) He also encouraged everyone to read the book of Tobit, mentioning that many Catholics were not familiar with this wonderful story, a book of the Bible to which Protestants don’t share access!

  8. Grant M says:

    Yes a great story! Protestants don’t know what they’re missing: Raphael vs Asmodeus, Judith vs Holofernes, Maccabees vs Antiochus, and a Daniel who prefigures Fr Brown in being both a man of faith and an astute detective.
    Best of luck with the musical. I’m having fun mentally story-boarding several action sequences I feel I am justified in padding out a bit in my ideal movie: Asmodeus’ attack on Sarah’s seventh husband at the beginning of the movie to set the scene and show how much is at stake (of course the demon is not shown clearly at this stage), Tobias’s fight with the river monster (a fish which threatens to devour him is clearly no ordinary fish) till Raphael gives his advice, and the pursuit of Asmodeus by Raphael (the first time we see Raphael in his “angelic” form) until Asmodeus is imprisoned in a mysterious temple in the depths of the Egyptian desert. (I am not ashamed to recycle a Hollywood cliche if it fits the storyline.) But of course I shall include the great prayers as well, so not your usual action movie. Hmm… maybe I can take some art classes so I can at least produce the graphic novel…

  9. Allan S. says:

    Yesterday I read the Book of Tobit – I don’t even know why I thought to, as I was unaware that it was the feast of the Archangel Raphael (prompting of grace?). I am currently storming the gates of heaven with prayers for my son, dealing with so much. I was very much taken by Tobit 5:20, which I now recall daily as part of the prayers I offer for him:

    And the angel said to him: I will lead thy son safe, and bring him to thee again safe.

  10. Grant M says:

    We really need to pray to St Raphael to bind Asmodeus the marriage-killing spirit. He seems to have broken loose again.

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