History & Culture / Opinion / Politics

An Archangel is Making News. Here’s Why

AMAC Exclusive – By – David P. Deavel

archangel michael newsGiven that Christmas is only a few weeks ago, those who think of the angels will probably still be thinking of heavenly hosts or the horn-blowing, virgin-birth-announcing Gabriel. But this past year Michael the Archangel has been in the news again. Given his destined defeat of the great dragon, Satan, in the book of Revelation (see chapter 12: 7-9), perhaps public interest is a sign that The End is Near? Possibly, but the great captain of the angelic hosts has been seen, from the Book of Daniel to the age of twentieth-century Communism and beyond, as a source of help for those who fear God. In the relatively recent past Catholic Christians have had a practice of praying what is called the “St. Michael prayer” on a regular basis every Sunday after Mass in order to defeat the enemies of Christ in then-Communist Russia. This history of interest in Michael points to some lessons. First, that attention to the angels is good because they point us to their master, the God whose help we all need. Second, that first lesson is deeply important because some of the most important battles are not merely political but spiritual.

First the news, which, these days, must include a crazy woke story. In July 2021 a New York Times profile of Black Rifle Coffee founder and CEO Evan Hafer revealed that the company had been working on a coffee bag design of a “Renaissance-style rendering of St. Michael the Archangel, a patron saint of military personnel, shooting a short-barreled rifle.” According to Hafer the design was scrapped because a friend from the Pentagon informed him that “white supremacists” had embraced an image of the archangel “trampling on Satan” as “reminiscent of George Floyd.”

I confess to my doubts about such an account. Even if it were true, wouldn’t it be a smart thing to “appropriate” the archangel’s image and take it from such folks? St. Michael certainly doesn’t belong to white supremacists or even white people. In Jewish tradition Michael was seen as a special protector of the people of Israel. The New Testament book of Jude includes the detail that Michael disputed with Satan over the dead body of Moses. The source of the story, the third-century B.C. Jewish Book of Enoch, tells how God had ordered Moses’s body to be buried to avoid any idolatry on the part of Israel. Satan attempted to thwart this process and Michael rebuked him in the Lord’s name. As Alban Butler put it in The Lives of the Saints, Michael, whose name means Who is like God?,  “checked [Satan’s] insolence, not commanding him in his own name, but with humility, intimating to him the command of God to desist.” The Book of Enoch also identifies Michael—along with Uriel, Raguel, Raphael, Sariel, Gabriel and Remiel—as one of the seven archangels who stand before the Lord.

In fact, Michael is mentioned in several other places in the Bible, most notably in the Book of Daniel. Daniel receives a vision in which an unidentified man (identified by some scholars as Gabriel) tells Daniel that “Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me” in the fight against the king of Persia—usually interpreted as the rebel angel who claimed that place (Daniel 10: 13). This figure predicts that in the apocalyptic battle, “At that time, shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people” (Daniel 12:1). This is no doubt where the tradition of Michael as a special protector of the Jewish people comes from, later attributing to him roles in the binding of Isaac, the Exodus, and many other important events. There were even Jewish prayers to Michael for his help.

This attribution to Michael of a special role was continued by Christians who saw him not only as a warrior but, as with the Jews, their special angelic protector assigned by God. His defeat of Satan in Revelation was depicted in a painting in the early fourth century and placed in a church in Constantinople dedicated to Michael and built by Constantine himself. Popular love of this saint was picked up all over. By the sixth century there were feast days celebrating this angelic warrior. In 2014 the mummy of an Egyptian woman from around 700 A. D. was found, revealing upon inspection that she had a tattoo of Michael on her thigh.

By the Middle Ages Michael was seen as in particular a model for and patron of soldiers. This has continued up to this day, as another bit of recent writing on him indicates. An August 2021 article in Tablet by Maggie Philips, entitled “The Army’s Favorite Saint,” detailed (with no mention of white supremacy) some of that long history of soldiers who look to Michael for inspiration and help. Like the recently exhumed Egyptian woman, many of them have his image tattooed on them.

Pope Leo XIII, who served from 1878-1903, was neither, to our knowledge, a soldier or tattooed. He, too, however, looked to Michael the Archangel for help in his own day. After the unification of Italy in 1871, the Italian government not only took over the large territories in Italy controlled by the Vatican and known as the Papal States; it also passed a number of anti-Catholic laws, including some that seized Catholic charitable organizations. Italian nationalist and secular protesters appeared in the Roman streets quite often. Though he himself never spoke or wrote of it, stories told by priests who worked for him indicate that sometime between 1884 and 1886 Leo, troubled by events, had a vision of demonic spirits hovering above Rome.

Later the story was embroidered a bit, sometimes indicating that the pope had seen a conversation between Satan and God, similar to that in the book of Job when Satan asked permission to do his worst to God—though in this case it was to do his worst against the Catholic Church. Whatever the specific content, the vision inspired Leo to write a prayer to St. Michael invoking his aid in difficulty and add it in 1886 to a series of prayers Catholics had been asked to pray since the difficult times for the Catholic Church in Italy by the previous pope, Pius IX, after every low (meaning with a single priest and not sung) Mass. In English this prayer reads:

Saint Michael the 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, o prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.  

By 1930 relations with the Italian government had finally been ironed out. Today’s establishment of the Vatican City State had been finalized. Though the new pope did not have large properties, he had enough to be independent. In this context, Pope Pius XI asked that those prayers (known now as the Leonine prayers) after Mass be continued, but this time specifically with the intention that Christ “permit tranquillity and freedom to profess the faith to be restored to the afflicted people of Russia.” In 1952 the next pope, Pius XII, released an apostolic letter to the people of Russia in which he condemned Communism and renewed the request that Catholics pray those prayers, including the St. Michael prayer, for the intentions of Russia. This practice was present in most Catholic Churches throughout the world.

By 1965, however a new order came from Rome removing the official use of these prayers after Mass. But the prayer never really went away. Many Catholics continued to pray it on their own after every Mass. Pope John Paul II recommended it in a 1994 address “to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.” In 2018 Pope Francis asked Catholics to pray it after recitation of the Rosary during the month of October. And a large number of Catholic Churches in the United States began again the practice of saying the St. Michael prayer after Mass, many prompted by priests or laypeople who want to fight evil. Some twelve different American bishops have also requested that it be prayed after Mass.

In another 2021 article, this one from the liberal Catholic Jesuit periodical America, about this revival of the St. Michael prayer, there were the usual gripes from liturgists who seem to be able to fit anything they want into public worship—except things done prior to the 1960s which must be cast into oblivion (if not hell). But the article also included those desires of lots of people to face down the evil they are seeing in society but also in the midst of the Catholic Church.

While some Christians do not understand or approve of the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican practice of calling on saints and angels to intercede for or defend them, it must be understood that Christians who do so do not think of these angels as agents independent of God. They are, as the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it, God’s “ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation” (1:14). Those who have looked to Michael to defend them from evil spirits that have influenced Communists or even the bad priests or bishops in their own churches understand that ultimately help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

While a great many of our fights in life are political, some of the most important in these days are distinctly spiritual battles about who is going to be in charge—God or man. May we allow or help people who are in pain to kill themselves? May we kill children in their mothers’ wombs? Are we created in the image of God, male and female? Or do we pick and choose a gender identity? Are we one human race? Or is our racial identity as black, white, Asian, or whatever the most important thing?

To invoke Michael the Archangel is to invoke the help of his master, the one true God, who created all things according to an order that we must see and respect—or be in danger of perishing. Whether it is now or at the last day, we depend on this and other ministering spirits to help us in battles that are not ultimately against “flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

 

David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN). He is the co-host of the Deep Down Things podcast.


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Linda Behr
8 days ago

My husband and I say the prayer to Holy Michael every evening at our dinner. We know that God has instructed his angels to guide and protect us . We are blessed to believe in our God.

GMehan
8 days ago

Very good article- but in the second-to-last paragraph, I believe Mr. Deavel meant “pain,” (…”people who are in pain”) rather than “paint.”

Daniel
8 days ago

We should never pray directly to angel’s, any of the angels including the arch angel Michael! We should pray to God Almighty and to Him only in the name of (through) our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! We can pray to God for protection by the angels but not simply pray to angels or pray direct angel prayers to any angel, regardless! Speaking as a New Testament Christian, it states many times throughout the Holy Christian Bibles to NOT do this! When angel’s appeared many times throughout the Bible, those witnessing them would fall to the ground, bow to them and the angels would immediately tell them not to bow to them, for they were angels (messengers for and from God in the highest!) Fear, for seeing their brightness, obviously caused this occurrence but it was unnecessary and even forbidden by/for, the angels! Other faiths, whether Catholicism or Orthodox Jewish may have done this in the past and might still practice these prayers to angels today but it is all in vain! Treating angels like God Himself, is dangerously wrong! Read over these places in the Bible about man seeing or facing angels and you will see! The arch angel Michael is by far, the most powerful angel but only because The Supreme God Almighty created him this way! The arch angel Michael does only God’s will and His alone!

Max
8 days ago
Reply to  Daniel

Just one comment, do not be a New Testament Christian only, the New Testament is based on the Old Testament as it reference and is important on all aspects. You may want to treat the OT as the Covenant and the NT as the renewed Covenant. You are totally correct on the aspects of the angels.

Suzanna Green
8 days ago
Reply to  Daniel

Thank you for your wonderful response, Daniel. You are totally correct in saying we are not to pray to angels. We pray to the Father through His Son, Jesus . Jesus became our high priest when the curtain was torn from top to bottom. Therefore, it is not necessary to pray through anyone other than Him.

Doug
9 days ago

Please correct typo in 14th paragraph, 2nd sentence, “May we allow or help people who are in pain …” (not paint)

Patricia
8 days ago
Reply to  Doug

I was going to do the same thing Doug.

GMehan
8 days ago
Reply to  Doug

I caught that too! Otherwise, a very good explanation of St. Michael’s role in helping us. And sad to think there are nuts who say it’s “white supremacy” to depict Michael as vanquishing Satan.

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