David foretold that Emmanuel's entrance into this world would be greeted by the angels and that they would humbly adore Him on His first appearance among us (Ps. 96: 8). We saw this prophecy fulfilled on the ever blessed night when Mary brought forth the Fruit of Her womb. The angelic choir sang one of their heavenly hymns, which led the shepherds to the stable; we blended our songs with theirs in homage to our Infant God. The Resurrection of our Emmanuel was sure to be honored by the presence of these blessed spirits, who had witnessed with amazement and trembling the humiliations and cruelties of His Passion. The moment He passed through the barrier that imprisoned Him in His sepulcher, an angel, with a face bright as the sun, and garments white as snow, came and rolled back the stone, and proclaimed to the holy women that He Whom they were seeking had risen. When they entered the cave of the sepulcher, two other angels, clad in white robes, appeared to them, and repeated the tidings of Jesus' triumph.
Let us reverently honor these princely heralds of our deliverance, and consider with what respect they cluster round Jesus their King and God during the forty days after His Resurrection. They adore this glorified humanity, which they are soon to see raised up to the highest heavens and enthroned at the Father's right hand. They rejoice with us in the happiness given by this Paschal feast, which restores immortality to us in the person of our Risen Savior; and thus, as St. Gregory has told us, "it is the feast of the angels, because, by recalling us to Heaven, it fills up their number." It was but right, therefore, that one day in Paschal Time should be devoted to honoring the angelic spirits. On the day previous to the Annunciation we kept the Feast of St. Gabriel, Our Lady's honored messenger; today it is St. Michael, the Archangel and Prince of the heavenly host, who is to receive our love and praise. He himself selected this day, by appearing on it and leaving us a pledge of his presence and protection.
The very name of Michael urges us to honor this glorious spirit; it is a cry of enthusiasm and fidelity, for it signifies: "Who is like unto God?" Satan trembles at hearing this name, for it reminds him of the noble protest wherewith the bright Archangel answered the call of the rebel angels. St. Michael proved his strength and prowess when he fought the great battle in Heaven. On that account, he was made the guardian and protector of God's people; first of the Jews, and afterwards of the Christian Church, for the Synagogue has forfeited all her honors. St. Michael now watches over the Spouse of Jesus; he supports Her in Her trials and She wins no triumph in which he has not had some part.
But we are not to suppose that the holy Archangel is so engaged in attending to the general interests of Christ's kingdom on earth that he cannot listen to the prayers of each individual member of the Church. God has given him a compassionate love for men; and there is not a single soul that escapes his notice. He wields the sword of defense of the Spouse of Christ; he wars with the dragon, who is ever lying in wait for the Woman and Her Child (Apoc. 12: 13); but at the same time he is attentive to each one of us; for after having confessed our sins to Almighty God and to the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, we acknowledge them likewise to Blessed Michael the Archangel and beseech him to pray for us to the Lord our God (Confiteor).
He assists at every deathbed, for his special office is to receive the souls of the elect on their quitting the flesh. With loving solicitude and princely bearing, he presents them to the Light Eternal and introduces them into the House of God's glory. It is Holy Church Herself that tells us, in the words of Her Liturgy, of these prerogatives of the great Archangel. She teaches us that he has been set over Paradise, and that God has given him the charge of leading to Heaven the souls of those that are to be received there. On the last day, when our Risen Jesus is to appear on the clouds of Heaven to judge mankind, all of whom will then have resumed their bodies in the general resurrection, St. Michael with the rest of the angels will have to fulfill a ministry of awful import—that of separating the good from the bad. Our Catholic forefathers in the Middle Ages were fond of representing the holy Archangel engaged in this function, standing at the foot of Jesus' judgment-seat, and holding a scale, in which he is weighing the souls of men and their works.
Devotion to St. Michael was sure to spread through the Church, especially after the worship of idols had been banished from the various countries, and men were no longer tempted to give divine honor to creatures. Constantine built a celebrated Church called Michaelion in honor of the great Archangel, and at the time when Constantinople fell under the power of the Turks, there were no fewer than fifteen churches bearing the name of St. Michael, either in the city or the suburbs. In other parts of Christendom the devotion took root only by degrees; and it was through apparitions of the holy Archangel that the faithful were prompted to have recourse to him. These apparitions were local and for reasons which to us might seem of secondary importance; but God, Who from little causes produces great effects, made use of them whereby to excite Christians to have confidence in their heavenly protector. The Greeks celebrate the apparition that took place at Chone, the ancient Colossae in Phrygia. There was in that city a church dedicated to St. Michael and it was frequently visited by a holy man named Archippus, who was violently persecuted by the pagans. One day, when Archippus was at his devotions in his favorite St. Michael's, his enemies resolved to destroy both him and the church. Hard by ran a brook which flowed into the river Lycus; they turned it aside and flooded the ground on which the church stood. Suddenly there appeared the Archangel St. Michael holding a rod in his hand; the water immediately receded, and flowed into a deep gulf near Colossae where the Lycus empties itself and disappears. The date of this apparition is not certain, but it occurred at the time when pagans were still numerous enough in Colossae to harass the Christians.
Another apparition which encouraged devotion to St. Michael in Italy, took place on Mount Gargano, in Apulia; it is the one honored by today's Feast. A third happened on Mont Tombe (Mont Saint-Michel; see images at left and at bottom), on the coast of Normandy; it is commemorated on the 16th of October.
The Feast we are keeping today is not so solemn as the one of September 29th; it is, however, more exclusively in honor of St. Michael, inasmuch as the Autumn Feast includes all the choirs of the Angelic hierarchy. The Roman Breviary gives us the following account of the Apparition on Mount Gargano:
That the Blessed Archangel Michael has often appeared to men, is attested both by the authority of Sacred Scripture, and by the ancient tradition of the Saints. Hence, the memory of these apparitions is commemorated in divers places. As heretofore St. Michael was honored by the Synagogue of the Jews as Guardian and Patron, so is he now by the Church of God. A celebrated apparition of the Archangel took place, under the Pontificate of Gelasius I, in Apulia, on the top of Mount Gargano, at whose foot lies the town of Siponto.
A bull belonging to a man who lived on the mountain, having strayed from the herd, was, after much searching, found hemmed fast in the mouth of a cave. One of its pursuers shot an arrow, with a view to rouse the animal by a wound; but the arrow rebounding struck him that sent it. This circumstance excited so much fear in the bystanders and in them who heard of it, that no one dared to go near the cave. The inhabitants of Siponto, therefore, consulted the Bishop; he answered that in order to know God's will, they must spend three days in fasting and prayer.
At the end of the three days, the Archangel Michael warned the Bishop that the place was under his protection, and that what had occurred was an indication of his will that God should be worshiped there, in honor of himself and the Angels. Whereupon the Bishop repaired to the cave, together with his people. They found it like a church in shape, and began to use it for the celebration of the divine offices (see image below). Many miracles were afterward wrought there. Not long after, Pope Boniface dedicated a church in honor of St. Michael in the great Circus of Rome, on the third of the Kalends of October (September 29), the day on which the Church celebrates the memory of all the Angels. But today's Feast is kept in commemoration of the Apparition of St. Michael the Archangel.
Holy Church tells us of the glories of St. Michael in several portions of the Liturgy; but particularly in the following Responsory and Antiphons, taken from today's Office:
R. This is Michael the Archangel, the chief of the Angelic host: * He repays by blessings the honor shown him by the faithful; and his prayer leads us to the Kingdom of Heaven. Alleluia. V. The Archangel Michael is set over Paradise, and is honored by the citizens of Heaven. * He repays by blessings...
Ant. The Archangel Michael came with a multitude of Angels; God confided unto him the souls of the Saints, that he might lead them to the Paradise of bliss, alleluia.
Ant. Michael the Archangel came unto the aid of God's people; he stood as a help to the souls of the just, alleluia.
Ant. O most glorious Prince, Michael the Archangel, be mindful of us, here and everywhere: pray always for us to the Son of God. Alleluia, alleluia.
The first of the following hymns is used by the Church in the Vespers of the Feasts of St. Michael. The second is taken from Lauds. They speak of the praises, not only of our great Archangel, but likewise of St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and of all the Blessed Spirits in general:
Vespers: O Jesus, life-spring of the soul, the Father's power and glory bright!
Thee with the angels we extol; from Thee they draw their life and light.
Thy thousand, thousand hosts are spread, embattled o'er the azure sky;
But Michael bears Thy standard dread, and lifts the mighty cross on high.
He in that sign the rebel powers did with their dragon prince expel;
and hurled them from the Heaven's high towers down like a thunderbolt to Hell.
Grant us with Michael still, O Lord! against the prince of pride to fight;
So may a crown be our reward, before the Lamb's pure throne of light.
To God the Father and the Son and Holy Paraclete to Thee,
as evermore hath been before, be glory through eternity. Amen.
Lauds: O Christ, the glory of the Angel choirs! of man the Maker and Redeemer blest!
Grant us one day to reach those bright abodes, and in Thy glory rest.
O Michael, glorious Angel of peace! come to our homes and pray,
the Author of peace serene may drive Hell's warring hosts away.
Angel of Strength! thou, Gabriel, cast out our ancient foes, usurpers of thy reign;
The temples of thy triumph round the globe, revisit once again.
And Raphael, physician of the soul, let him descend from his pure halls of light,
to heal our sicknesses and guide for us each dubious course aright.
Thou, too, fair Virgin, Daughter of the skies! Mother of Light and Queen of Peace! descend;
bringing with thee the radiant court of Heaven to aid us and defend.
This grace on us bestow, O Father blest, and Thou, O Son by an eternal birth; with Thee,
from both proceeding, Holy Ghost, Whose glory fills the earth. Amen.
How beautiful art thou, O St. Michael, in thy heavenly armor, giving glory to the God Whose enemy thou hadst overcome! Thy humble and fervent gaze is fixed on the throne of God, Whose rights thou didst defend, and Who gave thee the victory. Thy sublime cry: "Who is like unto God?" roused the faithful legions and became thy name and thy crown. It will remind us for all eternity of the fidelity to our Creator and thy triumph over the dragon. Meanwhile, we enjoy thy loving protection; we are thy happy devotees.
Guardian Angel of Holy Church, now is the time for thee to exert all the might of thy arm. Satan is furious in his efforts against the noble Spouse of thy Master; brandish thy bright sword, and give battle to this implacable enemy. The kingdom of Christ is shaken to its very foundations. Is it that the reign of the Man of Sin is about to be proclaimed on the earth? Are we near that last day when this guilty world is to be destroyed by fire, and thou art to exercise, in the name of the Sovereign Judge, the terrible office of separating the goats from the sheep? If this earth is still to exist; if the mission of the Church is not yet completed, is it not time for thee, O St. Michael, to show the dragon of Hell that he may not with impunity insult on this earth the God Who created it, Who redeemed it, and Whose name is King of kings and Lord of lords? The forces of error and crime are unceasingly dragging the world to the brink of the precipice; save it, O glorious Archangel, by confounding the dark plots which are laid for its destruction!
The following prayer was promulgated in a Motu Proprio of Pope Leo XIII on September 25, 1888. The translation is taken from the Raccolta of 1908 and 1910. In later editions of the Raccolta, the words in bold print were eliminated:
O GLORIOUS Archangel St. Michael, Prince of the heavenly host, be our defense in the terrible warfare which we carry on against Principalities and Powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, spirits of evil. Come to the aid of man, whom God created immortal, made in His own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil. Fight this day the battle of the LORD, together with the holy angels, as already thou hast fought the leader of the proud angels, Lucifer, and his apostate host, who were powerless to resist thee, nor was there place for them any longer in Heaven. That cruel, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan, who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with his angels. Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of men hast taken courage. Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the name of GOD and of His CHRIST, to seize upon, slay and cast into eternal perdition souls destined for the crown of eternal glory. This wicked dragon pours out, as a most impure flood, the venom of his malice on men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, and of every vice and iniquity. These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the Spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on Her most sacred possessions. In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered. Arise, then, O invincible Prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of GOD, and give them the victory. They venerate thee as their protector and patron; in thee holy Church glories as Her defense against the malicious power of Hell; to thee has GOD entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude. Oh, pray to the GOD of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly conciliate the mercies of the LORD; and beating down the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations. Amen.
V. Behold the Cross of the LORD; be scattered ye hostile powers.
R. The Lion of the tribe of Juda has conquered, the Root of David.
V. Let Thy mercies be upon us, O LORD.
R. As we have hoped in Thee.
V. O LORD, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee.
Let us pray:
O GOD, the FATHER of OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, we call upon Thy Holy Name, and as suppliants we implore Thy clemency, that by the intercession of Mary, ever Virgin Immaculate and our Mother, and of the glorious Archangel St. Michael, Thou wouldst deign to help us against Satan and all other unclean spirits, who wander about the world for the injury of the human race and the ruin of souls. Amen.
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