29 September 2023 – The holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
29 September 2023 – The holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
1st Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
The vision of the Ancient One and the Son of Man, in glorious splendour
As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
Gospel: John 1:47-51
“You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
God’s special envoys
Excerpt from a homily of St Gregory the Great (PL 76, 1250-1251): Office of Readings for the Feast.
The word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits . They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels. And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.
Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform. In that holy city, where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who have no names may easily be known. But personal names are assigned to some, not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their ministry when they came among us. Thus, Michael means “Who is like God”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”; and Raphael is “God’s Remedy.”
Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power. So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High. He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle was fought with Michael the archangel.
So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle. Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.
The functions of the Archangels
We rejoice on the Feast of the three Archangels who are mentioned by name in Scripture: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. In the ancient Church – already in the Book of Revelation – bishops were described as “angels” of their Church, thereby expressing a close connection between the bishop’s ministry and the Angel’s mission. From the Angel’s task it is possible to understand the bishop’s role of service. But what is an Angel? Sacred Scripture and our church tradition discern two aspects. On the one hand, the Angel is a creature who stands before God, one whose whole being is oriented to God. All three names of the Archangels end with the word “El”, which means “God”, who is inscribed in their very names, in their nature. Their true nature is existing in God’s sight and for him. The second aspect that characterizes Angels is that they are God’s messengers. They bring God to humankind, they open heaven and thus open earth. Precisely because they are with God, they can also be very close to us, for God is closer to each of us than we are to ourselves.
The Angels speak to human beings of what constitutes our true being, of what in our life is so often concealed and buried. They bring us back to ourselves, touching us on God’s behalf. In this sense, we human beings must also try to be “angels” to one another – who turn people away from the ways of error and direct them ever anew to God. If the ancient Church called bishops “Angels” of their churches it meant that bishops themselves must be men of God, fully oriented to God. The bishop must be a man of prayer, who intercedes with God for human beings. The more he does so, the more he also understands the people who are entrusted to him and can become an angel for them – a messenger of God who helps them find their true nature and live the idea that God has of them.
Now let us reflect on the figures of the three Archangels whose feast we are celebrating today. First of all there is Michael. We find him above all in the Book of Daniel, in the Letter of the St Jude Thaddeus and in the Book of Revelation. Two of the Archangel Michael’s roles appear in these texts. He defends the cause of God’s oneness against the presumption of the dragon, the “ancient serpent”, as John calls it. The serpent’s effort is to make us believe that God must disappear so that we oursselves may become important; that God impedes our freedom and, therefore, that we must rid ourselves of him. However, not only does the dragon accuse God. It is also called “the accuser of our brethren…, who accuses them day and night before our God” (12: 10). Those who cast God aside do not make man great but rob him of his dignity. Man then becomes a failed product of evolution. Those who accuse God also accuse man. Faith in God defends man in all his frailty and short-comings: God’s brightness shines on every individual. Michael’s other role, according to Scripture, is that of Protector of the People of God (cf. Dn 10: 21; 12: 1). Let my fellow pastors be true “guardian angels” of the Church which will be entrusted to you!
We meet Archangel Gabriel in the precious moment of the annunciation to Mary of the Incarnation (Luke 1: 26-38). Gabriel is the messenger of God’s Incarnation. When Gabriel e knocks at Mary’s door, God himself asks Mary for her “yes” to the proposal to become the Mother of the Redeemer: of giving her human flesh to the eternal Word of God, to the Son of God. The Lord knocks again and again at the door of the human heart. In the Book of Revelation he says to the “angel” of the Church of Laodicea and, through him, to the people of all times: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (3: 20). The Lord is at the door – at the door of every individual heart. He knocks to be let in: the Incarnation of God, his taking flesh, must continue until the end of time.
The Angel Raphael appears in the Book of Tobit, as the one to whom is entrusted the task of healing. When Jesus sends his disciples out on a mission, the task of proclaiming the Gospel is always linked with that of healing. The Good Samaritan, in accepting and healing the injured person lying by the wayside, becomes without words a witness of God’s love. We are all this injured man, in need of being healed. Proclaiming the Gospel itself already means healing in itself, because man is in need of truth and love above all things. The Book of Tobit refers to two of the Archangel Raphael’s emblematic tasks of healing. He heals the disturbed communion between a man and a woman. He heals their love. He drives out the demons who over and over again exhaust and destroy their love. He purifies the atmosphere between the two and gives them the ability to accept each other for ever. In Tobit’s account, this healing is recounted with legendary imagery. Secondly, Raphael brings healing to sightless eyes. We all know how threatened we are today by blindness to God. How great is the danger that with all we know of material things and can do with them, we become blind to God’s light. Healing this blindness through the message of faith and the witness of love is Raphael’s service, entrusted day after day to those who minister in the church, especially to the priest and to the bishop. The real wound in the soul and the reason for all our other injuries, is sin. And only if forgiven by virtue of God’s power, by virtue of Christ’s love, can we be healed.
(from a homily by Pope Benedict XVI)