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Saint Michael and all Angels
On the Feast of St. Michael and all Angels (or Michaelmas) we thank God for the many ways in which He lovingly watches over us, both directly and indirectly. We also remember that the richness and variety of God's creation far exceeds our knowledge of it.
The angels are referred to as "messengers of God," or simply as "messengers." The word for a messenger in Hebrew is malach
, in Greek, angelos
, from which we get our word "angel."
Michael (the name means "Who is like God?") is said to be the captain of the heavenly armies. In the Scriptures, Daniel (10:13
) calls him prince of the people of Israel; Jude 9
notes an apocryphal story of a dispute with the devil about the body of Moses; Revelation 12:7
shows him leading the heavenly armies against those of the great dragon. He is often pictured in full armor, carrying a lance, and with his foot on the neck of a dragon.
Why do we call him "Saint" Michael? Isn't this word reserved for God's holy people? Well, the word actually means "holy," that is dedicated and set aside for a special Godly purpose or having an intrinisic goodness. All of God's people are holy because of Christ. Therefore, all are saints — especially the dead in Christ. Because they are completely sinless, Michael and all the angels are "holy" and thus may be called saints.
Many theologians through the centuries have suggested that Michael is actually a theophany
, a divine manifestation of the Son of God. Reading the passages where he is mentioned doesn't convince me entirely one way or another. The name itself is intriguing: If we answer the question, "Who is like God?" we must say, "No one — except God."
Also, while Christian literature, liturgics, and hymnody is filled with references to archangels, Michael is the only being in Scripture called an archangel. All other "archangel" names come from the Apocrypha or even more spurious writings. The prefix normally means ruling, chief, or principal and can also carry the meaning of a prototype or an earlier model.
We know that Jesus testifies of His Father: He was and remains the principal (arch-) messenger of God's grace. He also preceded the existence of the angels, being alive from all eternity. In fact, He not only is the great messenger of God's Word, He is
God's Word. Thus, understanding the Son as the
archangel, the primary and ruling messenger of the Father is totally congruent with Scripture's revelation.
I say this not to attempt to persuade the reader to accept the idea that Michael is
the Son of God but to open the mind to the possibility that they could be one and the same.
As for the angels, there are numerous times and places where they are mentioned. Yet all the spirit beings who serve God are not called angels by Scripture. While we often in our thinking lump them together, a number of distinct created beings exist.
When reading the Pauline epistles, many early theologians took as titles some of the descriptive language he used in writing of the spiritual realm. They came up with nine "choirs" or ranks of angels, normally grouped in three triads. Their order varied among the different commentators. For example, Pseudo-Dionysias
ranked them (in ascending order) as seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominions, virtues, powers, principalities, archangels, and angels.
Cherubim, seraphim, angels and at least one archangel we know of definitely from the Bible. Whether or not "thrones, dominions, virtues," and the like are also specific creatures or whether they're rather general characteristics of the spirit beings, these lists appear to have identified the "four living creatures
" mentioned in Ezekiel and Revelation as cherubim.
These lists have made it into our liturgy, where the Communion Preface speaks of "angels and archangels and all the company of heaven." They've also been incorporated into our hymnody, most notably "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
James Kiefer's Hagiographies
give even more details on the choirs of angels and related material with Mr. Kiefer's article on Michael and All Angels
Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3
Matthew 18:1-11 or Luke 10:17-20
Everlasting God, You have ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order. Mercifully grant that, as Your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones,
Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
Virtues, archangels, angels' choirs,
O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises, Alleluia!
Thou Bearer of the eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord,
Respond, ye souls in endless rest,
Ye patriarchs and prophets blest,
Ye holy Twelve, ye martyrs strong,
All saints triumphant, raise the song,
O friend, in gladness let us sing,
Supernal anthems echoing,
To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Labels: angel, apocrypha, archangel, cherubum, christianity, christology, feasts, festivals, four living creatures, liturgics, michael, new testament, old testament, seraphim, theology