Feast of the Holy Archangels: Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael
While angels in general are mentioned frequently in the Bible, there are only three holy angels mentioned by name in the canon of Sacred Scripture. These we understand to be Archangels or Greater Angels. We also understand them to be “Saints” in the Church. While they were never humans who died and went to heaven, these are living sentient spiritual beings who have chosen to be children of God and now see him face to face, experiencing the fullness of the Beatific Vision. For this reason they are considered Saints of the Church. While we traditionally use the pronoun “he” in reference to angels, none of them have a gender as they do not have natural bodies, though they have the ability to appear with a body when they see fit.
The names of the Archangels are interesting because they are not so much names as a reference to the archangels’ relationship to God. Michael’s name in Hebrew is actually a question, “Who is like the Lord?” This is understood to have been his battle cry in his fight against Lucifer during the war of heaven, to counter Lucifer’s prideful cry, “Who is like me?” The name Gabriel translates as “The Lord is my strength.” This name suits him well as he is understood to be the angel whose strength protects Daniel from the lions when he is cast into the lions den. Finally, the name Raphael is translated as “The Lord Heals.” This refers to his bringing the healing power of God to Tobit, a man struck blind in the book of the same name.
Often we will get the question, “but what of Uriel?” Uriel is an angel mentioned primarily in the Book of Enoch which is not a part of the Catholic Canon of Sacred Scripture. The Book of Enoch is however, a part of the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. This is why you may hear about this additional angel from time to time, but not in the Catholic liturgy.
St. Michael is mentioned in both the Book of Daniel (Ch 10) and the Book of Revelation (Ch 12). In Daniel he is spoken of as the prince who defends the people of Israel and defends his companion angel against a great demon of Persia so that he can go to visit the prophet Daniel with a message. In the Book of Revelation, there seems to be a vision of the past, back to the beginning of time, where St. Michael leads his armies of angels to war against the great red dragon (the Devil/Satan) and his fallen angels. He ultimately casts them out of heaven but they run amok on earth. For this reason, St. Michael is often called upon by name in prayers of exorcism and for defense against evil.
Gabriel too appears in the Book of Daniel (Ch 8,9). In these passages Gabriel is called upon to explain a vision to Daniel but interestingly, he silences Daniel so that he cannot speak during that time. Gabriel explains that the messiah is coming and that he, Gabriel, will return to announce it in 490 years. Later, in Luke’s Gospel (Ch 1), Gabriel reappears in true form, silencing Zachariah as he did Daniel, and heralding the new messiah in the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin. Again, his name rings true as the very power of God will be manifest as Emanuel, “God with us.” Gabriel is often called upon in prayer to bring special intentions before the Lord, or for strength in times of temptation.
One of the lesser known archangels only appears in the Book of Tobit. One of the reasons for his being lesser known is that many of our protestant brothers and sisters do not consider this book to be a part of their biblical canon. Raphael appears in a number of passages in this particular work and it is the inspiration for many of the artistic representations of guardian angels. Tobit, a godly man, sends his young son, Tobias, on a journey to find a wife. The archangel appears to the young boy as a traveling companion and, along with a dog, keeps Tobias safe on his journey. Along the journey Raphael, will help Tobias heal his father’s blindness, and bind the demon, Asmodeus, who is attacking the young boy’s eventual bride. For this reason, Raphael is often called upon to intercede on behalf of the sick and, with the other archangels, in the instances of demonic attack.