I culled this for today’s feast day, with a little editing, from my trilogy: “All Angels Are Not Created Equal,” “The Angels Our Spiritual Cousins,” and “The Holy Angels: Our Faithful Allies in the History of Salvation.” These articles can all be found in full on our website:
September 29: Saint Michael the Seraph, and Saints Gabriel and Raphael
Seraphim, the highest among the nine choirs of angels, are sometimes depicted as on fire. The fire symbolizes that they have nothing to be purified from, the fire in them is therefore non-consuming.
When Isaias was lifted up to heaven to the very throne of God, it was the blessed Seraphim that he saw crying out, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of His glory. What was it that the holy angels saw in God that caused them to pronounce such inflaming words? What is that thrice-repeated holiness that the angels adored, shared in, and were so profoundly moved by? How deep must these sublime intelligences penetrate into the Mystery Of God: Holy, holy, holy is all they were heard to say. Then, suddenly, one of them descended like a flash and touches the mouth of Isaias with a burning coal taken from the divine censer on heaven’s altar. The tongue must be pure, that preaches the word of God.
The Seven Before the Throne
Among the seraphim, as we approach the very Persons of the Trinity, there is found an intimate circle of even more glorious personages, seven in number. These are those blessed spirits who are privileged to stand before the throne of God. Three of the seven are known to us by name. In fact, though all the good angels as persons have names, only these three have been revealed: Raphael, which means “medicine of God”, Gabriel, which means“strength of God”, and Michael, which means “who is like unto God!”
The angel Raphael revealed himself as one of the privileged inner circle when he made known the fact to the family of Tobias: I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the throne. Gabriel, the angel of the Annunciation, identifies himself also as another of the septenary honor guard when, in appearing to Zachary, the father of John the Baptist, he announced himself as Gabriel, who stand before the Lord. And certainly, Saint Michael the Archangel must be counted among those seven. For, as already noted, a seraph can be called an archangel if one takes the prefix “arch” in its more generic meaning of chief.
No other angel has played such a prominent role either in the history of the spirits themselves or of men. When Saint Jude in his epistle (chap. 1:9) refers to Saint Michael as the Archangel, he does so in keeping with the Jewish tradition of honoring this particular heavenly hero as the chief of all angels. Scripturally, this is supported abundantly, but no Biblical argument is more clinching than the fact that we never find either Saint Gabriel or Saint Raphael referred to in such a way by any other sacred writer. Saint Michael is one of his kind, as each and every angel is, if we accept the opinion of Saint Thomas Aquinas on this point (which I do). If tradition has added the title of “archangel”to Saints Gabriel and Raphael, it is again to emphasize their preeminence. It is not to place them in the rank of the second choir of Archangels, simply so-called. If we knew the names of the other four angels before the throne of the Most High, they, too, would be designated “archangels.” The opinion of the Church fathers, nevertheless, heavily supports placing Saint Michael, not only among the privileged seven, but as the Prince even of the highest septenary circle.
In speaking to the prophet Daniel, Saint Gabriel reveals his tremendous respect and admiration for his co-seraph Michael, whom he calls the “Prince” of the Jewish people. And the true children of Zion, the Catholic Church of the New Testament, doubles the honor, calling him “Prince of the heavenly hosts” and “Protector of the Universal Church.”
For the Mass of the feast of Saint Michael, the Church has assigned the epistle from the passage in the book of the Apocalypse where Saint John greets the churches in the name of the “seven spirits who are before his throne.”(Apoc. 1:1-5) If holy Mother the Church had any doubts that Saint Michael was one of the seven spirits before the Most High’s throne, then surely she would have refrained from applying to our hero this passage.
A question arises from the fact that, since Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are seraphim, how is it that they took such an active part in the affairs of men? — for the seraphim are believed to be the angels of contemplation. The answer is simple: in extraordinary cases there are exceptions to the general rule.
Tobias was renowned for sublime charity, the likes of which the world had never seen before his time; in this he, more than any other Old Testament figure, resembled the Christ to come. It was fitting, therefore, that he be visited by the highest of the angelic lovers. This story is meant to impress men with the value of good works in the sight of God and His angels.
In the case of Gabriel, his mission was far more important than that of his brother Raphael; for this seraph was to announce the very Incarnation of God to His mother-to-be. So marvelous an event ought to require the most noble and honorable of heralds.
With Saint Michael, his appearance on the world scene is more frequent and therefore a little more difficult to justify. As Commander-in-Chief of all the heavenly hosts, he usually exercises his power through the ministry of the lower angels under his command. The situations that called for his direct guardianship were always very grave. This is not to say that upon occasion any one of the seraphim could not perform a special service and deal directly with us mortals if God willed it, as He did in the case of the unknown seraph who transpierced Saint Francis. Saint Michael himself acted as a personal guardian angel for the holy “man of desires,” Daniel the prophet. The great archangel also is the chief guardian angel of the Church militant, both in the Old Testament in its anticipatory stage, and in the New Testament in its actual stage.
But there is an even greater reason why Saint Michael and his seraphic companions are so often found down below among men. Remember it was Saint Michael who not only drove out the bad angels, but who also led the good angels in bowing in adoration before the revealed mystery of the Incarnation. The effect this tremendous revelation of Divine Love had on the angels of love, the seraphim, was far more moving than we shall ever realize in this life. They were in awe. The eagerness they felt burning within them of imitating their Lord in His descent could scarcely be controlled. And though they could not follow the Son of God so far as to adopt man’s nature, they could still come into our world, and contribute their helping hand to accomplish the saving plans of God. It is hardly surprising then to find the most zealous of the spirits of God, Saint Michael the Archangel, so often mingling his exalted spirit in a sphere far below his station.
Mention of the seven spirits before the throne occurs most often in the Book of Apocalypse:
Grace be to you and peace from him that is, and that was, and that is to come, and from the seven spirits that are before his face. (Apoc. 1, 4); and again in the same book, the sacred author Saint John writes, I saw seven angels standing in the presence of God. (Apoc. 8, 2)
Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael pray for us!