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The Archangels: Six Things Every Catholic Must Know

September 29th is the celebrated as the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the Archangels.

1. WHAT IS AN ARCHANGEL

The word “archangel” (Greek, archangelos) means “high-ranking angel”—the same way that “archbishop” means a high-ranking bishop. (Arch in Greek means “high-ranking”)

Only St. Michael is described as an archangel in the Scripture (Jude 9), but it is common to honor Sts. Gabriel and Raphael as archangels also.

Note that the English word “Angel” comes from the Greek word “Angelos” which means “messenger.” Angels are spiritual beings created by God.

2. ARE THERE ONLY THREE ARCHANGELS

Not exactly. Only these three are celebrated because they are the only three angels whose names are mentioned in Scripture.

In fact tradition has it that there are seven (7) archangels. Pope Saint Gregory I, for instance, names them as Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel (or Anael), Simiel, Oriphiel and Raguel. Whereas Judaic tradition lists the seven archangels as Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Remiel and Saraqael. Some other traditions list them as Gabriel (Strength of God), Michael (Who is like God), Raphael (Healing of God), Uriel (Fire of God), Raquel (Friend of God), Jeremiel or Remiel (Mercy of God), Sariel or Zerachiel (Command of God).

Again, these three (Gabriel, Michael, Raphael) are celebrated because they are the only three angels whose names are mentioned in Scripture.

3. WHY ARE THEY CALLED SAINTS THOUGH THEY ARE NOT HUMANS

The word “saint” (Greek, hagios) means “holy one.” It does not mean “holy human being.” As a result, it can apply to holy ones that aren’t human. Since Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael all chose to side with God rather than the devil (evil angel), they are holy angels and thus saints. All angels that sided with God are saints, but these three’s names are known to us, and so they are picked out by name in the liturgy.

4. WHO IS ARCHANGEL MICHAEL

His name means “Who is like God?” (The implied answer is: Nobody; God is the greatest there is). St. Michael is mentioned by name in three books of Scripture (Daniel, Jude, Revelation):

In Daniel, he is described as “one of the chief princes” in the heavenly hierarchy (Dan. 10:13). He is also described to Daniel as “your prince” (Dan. 10:12). The meaning of this phrase is later clarified, and Michael is described as “the great prince who has charge of your people” (Dan. 12:1). He is thus depicted as the guardian angel of Israel. These same passages also refer to Michael doing battle against the spiritual forces at work against Israel.

In Jude 9, Michael is said to have contended with the devil over the body of Moses. On this occasion, we are told, “he did not presume to pronounce a reviling judgment upon him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’”

In Revelation, Michael and his angels are depicted fighting the devil and casting them out of heaven (Rev. 12:7-8). He is also commonly identified as the angel who binds the devil and seals him in the bottomless pit for a thousand years (Rev. 20:1-3), though the name “Michael” is not given on this occasion.

5. WHO IS ARCHANGEL GABRIEL

His name means “God is my warrior” (meaning, essentially, “God is my defender”). St. Gabriel is mentioned in two books of Scripture (Daniel, Luke):

In Daniel, he is assigned to help Daniel understand the meaning of a vision he has seen (Dan. 8:16). Later, while Daniel is in a prolonged period of prayer, Gabriel comes to him (Dan. 9:21) and gives him the prophecy of “seventy weeks of years” concerning Israel’s future (Dan. 9:24-27).

In Luke, he appears to Zechariah the priest and announces the conception and birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:13-19). Later, he appears to the Virgin Mary and announces the conception and birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:26-33).

6. WHO IS ARCHANGEL RAPHAEL

His name means “God heals.” St. Raphael is mentioned in only one book of Scripture (Tobit…one of the Deuterocanonical Books):

In Tobit, the blind Tobit and the maid Sarah, whose seven husbands have been killed by the demon Asmodeus, pray to God. The prayer of both was heard in the presence of the glory of the great God. And Raphael was sent to heal the two of them: to scale away the white films of Tobit’s eyes; to give Sarah the daughter of Raguel in marriage to Tobias the son of Tobit, and to bind Asmodeus the evil demon, because Tobias was entitled to possess her (Tob. 3:16-17). Raphael thus becomes a travelling companion of Tobias, posing as a relative named Azarias son of Ananias (Tob. 5:12). He eventually binds the demon, enabling Tobias to safely marry Sarah, and provides the means for Tobit to be healed of his blindness. Afterward, he reveals his true identity, saying: “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One”. (Tob. 12:15)

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