The Archangels – Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
Carved in white carrara marble from the same region in Italy where Michelangelo chose the marble to sculpt the Pieta, his David, and the Moses which now stands in my titular church in Rome, Saint Peter in Chains, the striking statues of the archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel support the altar at Saint Raphael Church in Rockville. In the Maryland parish’s sculpture, Saint Michael raises his sword in triumph with his foot on the head of Satan, whom he has defeated. At the center of the sculpture, Saint Raphael kneels on one knee and holds the oils used in the Sacrament of the Sick, reflecting his special healing role as the angel of the sick. At the right, the sculpted Saint Gabriel has his hands folded in prayer and appears to be announcing to Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus, our Savior.
As the Archbishop of Washington, I was honored to consecrate that beautiful altar a few days before Christmas in 2007. Traditionally on September 29, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. This year, September 29 falls on the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, so the feast of the archangels is superceded on our Church calendar, but I would like to reflect on the role of these archangels in our salvation history, and the special role of angels in our lives.
In our secular world, some may dismiss the notion of angels as a quaint superstition, while others may have adopted the New Age image of angels as supernatural wonderworkers or cosmic superheroes who sometimes dramatically step into our everyday lives. Our Catholic tradition has a different view of angels and their role. The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out that Saint Augustine says: Angel is the name of their office, not of their nature. . . With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they always behold the face of God who is in heaven, they are the mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word (c.f. Catechism of the Catholic Church 329).
The witness of Scripture is clear as is the voice of Tradition. In Revelation 12:7 we read, “Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it.”
We know the story of Saint Gabriel well and his famous words to Mary, which we read in Luke 1:26-38: “Hail favored one! The Lord is with you… Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High… and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
In the Old Testament’s Book of Tobit, we read of the archangel Raphael, and how he guides Tobiah in making medicine that helps protect him and his wife Sarah from a demon and cures the blindness of his father, Tobit. Raphael returns to heaven after revealing his true identity as an angel of God.
The Catechism explains, “Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels… He has made them messengers of his saving plan…” (331). Highlighting the role of angels in our salvation history, the Catechism says, “It is the angels who ‘evangelize’ by proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection” (333).
In our own call to take up the work of the New Evangelization and live and share our faith, we can be like Saint Gabriel and live as heralds of Jesus. When we recite the Hail Mary, we remember how Saint Gabriel announced the coming of our Lord, and like Mary, we can put aside our fears and say “yes” and welcome Jesus into our hearts and our lives.
In the beautiful Prayer to Saint Michael, we pray that the archangel “defend us in battle,” and his example shows that we can defeat sin and evil by turning to God. The story of Saint Raphael reminds us that in God, we find hope and healing. These archangels from the Bible can play a role in our lives, too, leading us to Jesus.