“We praise You O God, we acclaim You as the Lord. All the Angels sing your praise, the host of of Heaven and all the angelic powers…call out to You in unending song: Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of Angel hosts!” -St Ambrose of Milan, Hymn, Te Deum. Friends of God, every September 29, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Archangels. Of course, it is important and fitting that we pause for a while, and honour in silence, these spiritual and heavenly beings, so also to draw great fruits from today’s reflection. What is today’s Feast all about? It is about three powerful spirits, “the Angelic trinity” – Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the Princes of all the Angels.
The Catholics belief in the Angels is included and contained in the article of the Creed where we profess: “Credo in Sanctorum Communionem” (I believe in the Communion of Saints). This is because Angels are pure spirits devoid of sin. And if they are devoid of sin, then they are holy, and if they are holy, guess what? Then they are worthy to behold the face of God. This is what is captured in the above cited hymn of St Ambrose, the TeDeum. For it is because they are worthy to behold God’s face that they can call out to Him in an unending song. And in the song by which they call out to God, they proclaim that the same God they adore possesses them: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Angel hosts”. So, Ambrose’s words inform us of two things: first, that singing is a virtue; and second, that Angels sing. We can derive a syllogism from this as follows: He who sings to God is virtuous, Angels do sing to God, Therefore, Angels are virtuous.
If we carefully observe these three sentences, we can find that four words occurred two times each: virtuous, Angels, sing, God. The two is symbolic for each of them; it is a symbol of Heaven and earth. How? Being virtuous is for the sake of Heaven. That is why we strive for it while on earth. Angels who are in Heaven pray for all those on earth, for they know that while they are next to God, we are next to them, and that is why God keeps us in mind [cf Psalm 144:3]. Singing is an act of praise given to God by both Angels in Heaven and men on earth. Then God is the Maker of Heaven and earth, and He came from Heaven to earth through Jesus Christ to save us. From what we have said about these four words, we can deduce that the symbolic two present in each of them gives the idea of “ascent” and “descent”. Consequently, from the syllogism, we can use those four words that occurred two times each to form a powerful sentence:
Virtuous Angels sing to God
This is a paraphrase of what Ambrose said in the Te Deum, as seen above. What does an Angel mean? Who is an Angel? The word, “Angel” is derived from the Greek word, “ho angelos”, which means messenger. So in simple expression, Angels are God’s messengers – the errand spirits of the Divinity. Catholic theology teaches that they are of nine categories: Archangels, Angels, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Principalities, Powers, Cherubim and Seraphim. They make up what is called “Choirs” or “Hosts” of Heaven. Today’s Feast is about the greatly known class of these Hosts – the Archangels, i.e. chief messengers of God. The Church recognizes them as the above the class known as Angels in rank. It is important to note that nine is a symbolic figure too. It is 10-1 (Ten minus one). This shows that as the 10 Commandments portray how perfect God is, 9 as number of Angelic host tells us even in their multitude composed of the 9 offices, they are still subordinate to God’s Majesty.
Let us arrive now from universal to particular. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are named as Archangels. An important information notable about them is that El (Hebrew word for God) is added as suffix to the three names, yet in their meanings, El (God) becomes the Agent while they become instruments, since God acts by means of them. The Church celebrates the three of them because they are recognized by the authority of the Sacred Scriptures on the roles they play in the history of man’s salvation. We now consider them briefly. Michael is recognized as the leader of all the Angels. His name means “Who is like God?” The Bible mentions him four times: in the Book of Daniel 10 and 12, Letter of Jude and Revelation. Pope Leo XIII in his famous Prayer to St Michael the Archangel honours him as “Prince of the Heavenly Host”, and encouraged all Christians to invoke him in times of danger.
According to Sacred Tradition, St Michael Prince of Angels has these four offices: fighting against Satan (Lucifer prince of Devils); Champion of the people of God; saves souls of the faithful from the hands of devils, especially at the moment of death; and brings souls to judgement. Gabriel’s name means “Strength of God”. He is God’s messenger of Annunciation; He brings Good News as evidenced by the Bible which mentions him four times. Good references are his apparitions and announcements to Zechariah about St John the Baptist’s birth, and to Mary about Jesus’ birth. Sacred Tradition accounts that he was the one who appeared to St Joseph and the shepherds during Jesus’ birth, and that he consoled Jesus during His agony at Gethsemane. Thus, we learn that Gabriel when invoked brings good news of consolation to us.
Raphael means “God has healed”. This is a direct allusion to his healing of the eyes of the blind Tobias. He revealed his identity in the Book of Tobit 12:15. Exegetes also believe that Raphael was the Angel mentioned in John 5:1-4 in the healing that came from the pool. He is the Angel of healing, happy meetings, happy and fruitful marriages, acts of mercy, safe journey. The Archangels are not harmful to us. They terrify the devils and assist us. Perhaps, the reason our requests are not yet answered and problems not yet solved is that we are yet to invoke them, and/or that we don’t invoke them with faith. Dear Christian, why not try praying to them? They are spirits, and so they hear us because they are near us to offer our prayers to God’s Throne. Do not be afraid! Go to them, they are our friends. “And you Angels of the Lord, O Bless the Lord. To Him be highest glory and praise forever!” [Daniel 3:58]. Pray for us Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael! That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ!
• Mr. Martin Umeatuegbu is of the Department of Theology/Religious Studies, Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), Port Harcourt.