The second last day of September, the 29th, is the feast of St Michael the Archangel. But who is this Prince of all the Angels?
If we glance through the Old Testament we notice that the Jews already considered Michael by this title, their powerful Protector as well as the symbol of the mighty divine help for them as the chosen people of the Old Covenant. His triple mention in the Old Testament, especially in the book of Daniel (Dan 10: 13.21; 12:1) clearly suggests his staunch defence of the Jewish people and the head of the entire heavenly army. St Michael stands for the defence of both the weak and persecuted. The book of Daniel tells us of him: At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book (Dan 12:1).
His name is Michael, “Mi-ka-El” in Hebrew means “Who is like to God!” We call St Michael Archangel as we likewise call Gabriel, whose name means “God’s strength” and Raphael, which means “God heals”. The New Testament rightly portrays St Michael as the adversary of the devil as well as the victor of the last battle against Satan and his followers.
Chapter 12 of the book of the Apocalypse says it all: Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Rejoice then, O heaven and you that dwell therein! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Rev 12:7-12).
Like their Jewish brothers and sisters, Christians regard St Michael the Archangel as their most potent defender. In both eastern and western iconography, we find the telling representation of St Michael as a warrior, having a sword or a lance in his hand and, under his feet the dragon, monster, Satan, who is completely defeated in battle. Countless are the believers who entrusted themselves and their loved ones to His mighty protection during their earthly life, and most specifically at the moment of judgement. This is beautifully described in an ancient prayer: St Michael, defend us in the day of the battle, lest we perish on the day of judgement. Furthermore, St Michael the Archangel is recognized as the accompanier of souls towards Heaven. The Roman liturgy accentuates this role of the mighty Archangel, especially at the Offertory of the Mass for the dead: O Lord Jesus Christ King of glory deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell; but may the holy standard-bearer Saint Michael, lead them to the holy light; which you promised to Abraham and to his seed of old.
Moreover, our tradition shows us that St Michael’s task is that of weighing the souls after death. Here is the reason why in certain iconography he is at times portrayed as holding a pair of scales and a sword. It needs to be said that in the first centuries of Christianity, particularly amongst the Byzantines, St Michael was seen as a heavenly doctor of men’s infirmities. Some identified him with the Angel of the pool of Bethesda whom the Chapter 5 of the Gospel of St. John says: “Now there is at Jerusalem, by the Sheep Gate, a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these were lying a great multitude of the sick, blind, lame and those with shrivelled limbs, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel of the Lord used to come down at certain times into the pool, and the water was troubled. And the first to go down into the pool after the troubling of the water was cured of whatever infirmity he had” (John 5,2-4).
The Akathistos of St Michael the Archangel, which is the Byzantine liturgical hymn dedicated to the Prince of Angels, gives him the following praise: You not only defeated the great and horrible dragon in the shrine of Chone but a water course formed that heals all the infirmities of the body. Adding to this, St Michael is a strong helper at the throne of the Divine Majesty. To Bishop Lawrence, St Michael said: I am Michael and I am always in the presence of God… Whereas the liturgy of the Council of Trent prayed: Through the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel who is at the right-hand of the altar of incense… deign to accept and bless this offering of incense…”.
Let us pray daily, and especially after Mass, the following prayer to St Michael the Archangel:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Divine Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits, who roam throughout the world, seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.