What Do You Know about the Archangels?

Mary M. Dillon

What Do You Know about the Archangels?

"Bless the Lord, all you his angels, mighty in power, fulfilling his word, and heeding his voice." (Ps 103)

Tomorrow's  entrance antiphon serves us well as we consider Archangel Saints Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel on their Feast, September 29, 2017 on the Church's liturgical calendar.

The existence of angels has been stated clearly in the Creeds, especially in the Nicene-Constantinople Creed of 381: "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all things [beings] 'seen and unseen'." Additionally, their existence has been defined by the Church twice: at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and the First Vatican Council (1869-1870). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the existence of angels is a truth of faith.

From Hebrew, 'malak', from Greek 'angelos', and from Latin,'angelus', the word 'angel', is taken to mean 'messenger' or 'ambassador'. Sacred Scripture reveals that angels account for a vast multitude that is beyond human estimation. They are mentioned more than 100 times in the Old Testament and more than 150 times in the New Testament. Angels are "ministering spirits, sent to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation" (Heb 1:14). St. Augustine points out the word angel denotes a function rather than a nature: "Angel" is the name of their office, not of their nature. If  you seek the name of their nature, it is "spirit" (CCC 329). As spirits, in Biblical accounts, their human forms are only apparitions.

Angles are spiritual, non-corporeal beings, created in "the image and likeness of God and as purely spiritual creatures, angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness" (CCC 330). Although they all are good creatures, as individual persons, angels may differ in perfection of nature and grace.

Since angels may also be "distinguished and determined according to their tasks," in Sacred Scripture there are found other types of collective titles of these non-corporeal beings. These include seraphim, cherubim, thrones, powers, virtues, dominions, principalities, and archangels. All these titles or groupings correspond to "the measure of their perfection and to the tasks entrusted to them" (St. John Paul II, Catechesis on the Angels). Even before the 4th century these were known as the "angelic choirs" and their number accepted as nine (J. Hardon, SJ, Angelology, Vol. 25 #3). It is important to point out, however, that in the Summa Theologiae (I, Q. 108, A. 3), St. Thomas Aquinas has noted that our "knowledge about the angels is imperfect and that full understanding about their hierarchy and individual duties remains hidden from us" (Alex Brittain, "Catholic Teachings on The Angels").

In ancient apochryphal sources seven archangels have been mentioned, but God has identified only three angels by name as found in Sacred Scripture: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. These three are 'archangels' or chief angels, and belong to the eighth of the nine choirs of angels (Hardon). Their names are from a synthesis of words, the prefix denoting some aspect of their ministry and the 'EL' affixed at the end for the Hebrew word for 'God'.


Michael, or 'Mica-EL' means "Who is like God?". He is known for casting Satan out of heaven when Satan rebelled against God. He is mentioned by name in Daniel 10:13-20; Rev 12:7; Jude 9. He is referred to as the Prince of Heavenly Hosts and has been "revered as being the greatest of all the angels according to Christian and pre-Christian Jewish sources"; his is not "just an honorific title, but one with real authority in the angelic hierarchy" (Brittain). He has been honored and invoked as patron and protector of the Church since Apostolic times and is invoked in prayer as Conqueror of Lucifer, Angel of Faith and Humility, Guardian of the Anointing of the Sick, and Patron of the Dying. In 1884, Pope Leo XIII composed the 'Prayer to St. Michael' which was for a long period prayed by the faithful at the end of Mass. Today, this prayer continues to be a favorite among Catholics:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

In this important 100th anniversary year of the Fatima Apparitions, it would be remiss not to also point out that many sources give evidence that the “Angel of Peace’ who appearsd to the children of Fatima as precursor to our Blessed Lady’s monthly appearance from May to October 1917 was St. Michael the Archangel. This title of St. Michael, ‘Angelus pacis Michael’ or Angel of Peace is used in the Roman Breviary. The Portuguese have a long history of invoking St. Michael the Archangel under "Angel of Peace' as protector of their homeland.


Gabriel, or 'Gabri-EL' means "My Power is God," "Strength of God," "Hero of God," or "God has shown Himself Mightily." He is closely connected to the coming of the Messiah and the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in Lk 1:19-26, thereby placing emphasis on "the culmination of creation, the Incarnation is the supreme sign of the omnipotent Father" (JPII, Catechesis on the Angels). Gabriel is mentioned in Sacred Scripture, appearing to the prophet Daniel (Daniel 8); appearing to Zacharias to announce that he would have a son, John the Baptist and to the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation (Luke 1). Tradition, as well, points to Gabriel as the angel who appeared to St. Joseph in his dreams in Matthew 1:18-25 and 2:13-15 (Brittain). Gabriel—the Strength of God—is thought to be the angel mentioned at the beginning of Christ's Passion in His agony in the garden in Luke 22:43. His titles include Angel of the Incarnation, Faithful Messenger of God, Angel of Hope and of Peace, Protector of all servants and handmaids of God, Guardian of Baptism, and Patron of Priests.


Raphael, or 'Rafa-EL'means "God heals" or "Healing Power of God." Raphael has a major role in the Old Testament Book of Tobit, which is considered to have the most impressive visible manifestation of  angels in the entire Bible. He is mentioned by name in 3:17 and later, self-identifies in 12:15. It is thought that he may be the Angel of the Lord described at the healing pool of water in Bethsaida by the sheepgate in John 5:2-4. He is revered as the Archangel of Healing and is invoked in prayer under an array of titles—Angel of Divine Love, Conqueror of the hellish fiend, Helper in great distress—and is patron of physicians, wanderers and travellers.


"The Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being" (CCC 352). It is fitting, then, to know that the Church honors the three archangels--Michael, Gabriel, Raphael--angels of service before the throne of God as well as angels of service for mankind with a special liturgy. 

May we always be aware of and thankful for the presence of these holy angels, our powerful, heavenly helpers and along with them, from tomorrow's Liturgy, exclaim, "In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord" (Ps 138)!


What else do you know about the Archangels? Leave a comment!