The feast of the Archangels, formerly known, and in some circles still is, as the feast of Michaelmas, after the one who is ‘like God’, celebrates those spiritual beings who stand mid-way between Man and God. The three commemorated on this feast are those who played a significant role in salvation history: Raphael, ‘God heals’, guiding the young Tobias to his vocation, marrying his kinswoman Sarah. Gabriel, the ‘strength of God’, announcing the Good News of salvation to the young virgin Mary. And, of course, Michael, waging war with the ‘great dragon’, the Devil or Satan, legions of whose own angels will fight until the end of time to drag souls away from God’s salvific purpose.
Although we cannot see angels (although some saints were given this rather curious charism), we can infer their existence. Saint Thomas reasons that it makes sense that there should be a hierarchy of such purely spiritual beings, for otherwise there would be too great an ontological gap between man in his animal existence, and God the Almighty. Revelation tells us that there are indeed myriads of angels, untold numbers, each of them a person made in the image and likeness of God, not enfleshed in bodies, but who, like us, had to choose to serve the Lord, their Creator.
Sadly, some (revelation says ‘one third’) of these exalted beings at the dawn of their existence (if angels can have such a thing as ‘youth’) declared ‘non serviam’, the rallying cry of all sin: To refuse to obey God as one should. Hence, the pride and violence of the demons, while the lowliness and gentleness of the angels. Yet, as I quoted Chesterton a few days ago, the reason the heavenly angels can fly is that they take themselves so lightly. I wonder whether the hellish angels, whom we call demons, are stuck on the ground as a paradoxical punishment for their self-exaltation, crawling around like the ‘serpent’ in the garden. On your belly ye shall go and dust ye shall eat…
Yes, even the glorious angels must choose humility, to see themselves as less than God, but all the greater for it. He who humbles himself shall be exalted…Hence, their queen is the most humble of all creatures, the Virgin herself, totally absorbed in God, totally giving of self.
I suppose that is the ultimate purpose of these powerful, mysterious angelic beings: To lead us to be with them in serving God, in which only we will find our joy and ultimate purpose and end.
Sancti Michael, Raphael et Gabriel, orate pro nobis!