3 Archangels Recognized by the Catholic Church
To the Catholic Church, angels are spirits in heaven, and saints are human beings in heaven. Angels can be called “saint” (as in the case of St. Michael the Archangel) as a sign of respect and honor.
St. Michael the Archangel
Patron: police officers, the military
Feast day: September 29
Michael means “who is like God?” — a fitting name for one whose mission is to battle the egos of others and remind them that no one is like God. St. Michael is the only angel mentioned in both the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and New Testament. Daniel 10:13, 21 describes him as the prince of the angels and a protector of Israel. The Epistle of Jude and the Book of Revelation also mention Michael as the one who victoriously battles the devil. He is invoked anytime there is suspicion of demonic or diabolical activity. The prayer to St. Michael is used on such occasions and also was prayed after every Mass in the Catholic rite from 1886 (by Pope Leo XIII) to 1964, when Pope Paul VI dropped it. The prayer to St. Michael is:
St. Michael, 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, prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who prowl about the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.
St. Michael is typically depicted in military armor, thrusting a sword or spear into a dragon. The Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano in Apulia, Italy, is the oldest shrine in Western Europe dedicated to St. Michael. Pious tradition holds that the archangel appeared there four times in a 1,000-year period. Pilgrims of St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina often visit, as St. Pio had a strong devotion to the place and to St. Michael. Also, St. Joan of Arc had visions of St. Michael (accompanied by St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Margaret) in the 15th century.
Although he’s called archangel, St. Michael is most likely a member of the seraphim, the highest rank of angels, whose mission is to praise God day and night. Any angel above the rank angel can be called archangel out of respect.
St. Gabriel the Archangel
Patron: messengers, journalists, and communications
Feast day: September 29
St. Gabriel is probably most widely recognized as the angel who comes to Mary and tells her she’s carrying the Christ child. He also appears to Zachariah to inform him that his wife Elizabeth — the Virgin Mary’s cousin — will give birth to a son, John (the Baptist).
The name Gabriel means strength of God. Images of St. Gabriel often depict him with a herald’s trumpet, as he was the divine messenger to the Virgin Mary.
St. Raphael the Archangel
Feast day: September 29
Raphael means healing of God. This angel appears in the Book of Tobit, where he is sent by God to help three people: Tobit, his son Tobiah, and his future daughter-in-law Sarah. Sarah had been cursed by the demon Asmodeus so that her husband died on their wedding night before they consummated the marriage, leaving her without offspring.
Widows without children were considered the most desperate and pathetic of society, because in ancient times, women literally depended on their husbands and sons to care for and protect them. Without either husband or children, a widow was as vulnerable as an orphan. For Sarah, the situation was even more tragic: Before she married Tobiah, she had had seven previous husbands, and all of them died on their wedding night.
Tobit, a wealthy and devout Jew, lived among the captives being deported to Nineveh from the northern kingdom of Israel in 721 b.c. According to Jewish tradition, Jews are required to bury their dead, especially the Hebrew victims of King Sennacherib of Assyria. The burial rite was against the law, however, as Hebrew captives had no civil rights whatsoever.
One night, after burying a fellow Israelite, Tobit slept outside his bedroom and was blinded by droppings left by birds. In those times, blindness was as much a tragedy as being a widow or orphan. Raphael was sent to help restore sight to Tobit, to end the curse of Sarah, and to unite Sarah and Tobiah as husband and wife.
During his visit, he appeared in human form, and only when he was about to return to heaven did Raphael reveal his true identity. Because of his time accompanying young Tobiah on a journey, St. Raphael is invoked as the patron of travelers, especially those on a pilgrimage.
Tobit is one of the seven books of the Old Testament that are in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles but are missing from the Protestant Bibles, or sometimes placed at the back of the book in a section called Apocrypha (other writings). Catholicism calls these books deuterocanonical, which means from a second (deutero in Greek) canon (authorized list). The first 39 books are from the first canon and were written originally in Hebrew before the Babylonian Captivity (586 b.c.), when two-thirds of the Jews were exiled from the southern kingdom of Judah. (The northern kingdom of Israel had been conquered by Assyria in 720 b.c.)
The seven books of the Deuterocanon (or Apocrypha in Protestant theology) are Baruch, Maccabees I and II, Tobit, Judith, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), and Wisdom. They were written in Greek during the captivity and were included in the Septuagint (the first Greek translation of the entire Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament), written in 250–150 b.c.