All About Archangels
The Catholic Church teaches that “The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls "angels" is a truth of faith.” (CCC 328) This means that as Catholics, we believe in angels, the most famous of which are the three Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. So, what is an Archangel and what can learn from knowing more about them?
The term angel simply means messenger or servant. And so, each angel is a servant of God with some special role to play in the history of salvation. Most often scripture depicts them as carrying a message to God’s faithful, but they perform many other duties. For example, God stations a “cherubim” with a “fiery revolving sword east of the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24
The archangels are angels with a special station before God. Three are named in Scripture, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Each displays a unique aspect of God’s grandeur and thus we can learn a lesson from each.
St. Michael is a warrior angel and leader of the armies of God. It was St. Michael who led God’s forces as Lucifer was cast out of heaven. This great battle is depicted in the book of Revelation.
“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.” Revelation 12: 7-9
Interestingly, Michael’s name means “Who is like God” and it is often stated that this was Michael’s great battle cry during his contest with Satan whose pride led him to try to displace God. Traditionally, Michael is believed to be charged by God with 4 tasks: fighting Satan, rescuing souls, championing God’s people, and bringing men’s souls to judgment.
Michael appears 4 times in scripture. Twice in the book of Daniel, once in the book of Revelation, and once in the letter of St. Jude. Traditionally, it has been taught that Michael's strength flows from his humility. In other words, it is not through reliance on his own strength that he conquered the devil, but through the strength of God. The Letter to Jude seems to reiterate this noting,
“Yet the archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him but said, “May the Lord rebuke you!”” Jude 9
And so, we can learn that self-reliance is a mirage and that true strength comes from God.
Gabriel’s name means “strength of God”. He is mentioned by name 4 times in scripture, twice in the book of Daniel and twice in the Gospel of Luke. It is Gabriel who appears to both Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Baptist and to Mary to announce the birth of Christ.
Luke provides a long and detailed account of both conversations. In his conversation with Zechariah, Gabriel provides a key insight into his character.
“Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.” Luke 1: 18-19
“I am Gabriel who stand before God.” This is how Gabriel defines himself. As one who stands always in the presence of God. His very being, his essence, is to stand in the presence of God.
Appearing to Zechariah and appearing to Mary does not disrupt Gabriel’s presence before God. Throughout all his labors, Gabriel remains in the presence of God. This is what the Church would call a perfect state of “recollection”.
Recollection can be defined as the knowledge of God’s presence. Gabriel had this perfectly. We too, can and ought to maintain a state of recollection as we move throughout our daily tasks. No duty of work or unexpected obstacle in our daily life ought to cause us to forget the presence of God. We should strive to stand with Gabriel always before God.
Raphael’s name means “God has healed”. He is mentioned by name in the book of Tobit. Tobit is a fascinating book which I highly encourage you to read. In the book, Raphael, under the disguise of a kinsmen, accompanies young Tobiah on a long journey to retrieve the family fortune for his sick father, Tobit. On this journey, Tobiah falls in love with and marries Sarah, a young woman who is plagued by a demon who has killed her 7 previous husbands on their wedding night. Raphael slays the demon breaking the curse through the mercy of God. He then accompanies Tobiah and Sarah home where he further heals Tobit and reveals himself.
“I was sent to put you to the test. At the same time, however, God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah. I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord.” Tobit 12: 14-15
Raphael is a messenger of God’s mercy and reminds us that no matter how desperate the situation, we are not beyond the mercy of God.