The Archangels

Today is the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, three of the seven archangels. They are recognized in the Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. An archangel is an angel of high rank. There are few scriptural references to archangels. The New Testament refers to archangels and the Hebrew scripture refers to chief princes.

We can find plenty online about the archangels, how they are described in different religious traditions, and the sacred writings in which they are found. Some branches of Abrahamic faiths identify seven archangels, but the names vary, depending upon the source. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are always mentioned.

Our tradition tells us that angels are immaterial spirits created by God prior to human creation, to serve as messengers, especially regarding the divine plan of salvation. Christians tend to be most familiar with Gabriel, because of his role in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, in the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

The Hebrew scriptures have many references to divine messengers who appeared to guide and protect people, for instance the Israelites in their history as the Chosen People, including their journey through the desert. Later thinkers, for instance Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Gregory the Great. St. Thomas Aquinas, and others contributed to the theological interpretation about angels.

Michael (“Who is like the Lord?”) is seen as the special protector of Israel and of Christians. Increasing numbers of men and women offer a special prayer to Saint Michael, at a time when so many factors both within and outside the Church are assailing her unity. Michael’s protective role is described in Revelation 12.

Gabriel (“Strength of God”) is best known as the one who appeared to Mary, in her home in Nazareth, and to Zechariah. Gabriel plays an important role in salvation history.

Raphael (“Medicine of God” or “God heals”) makes his appearance in Tobit 12, stating that he stands in the glorious presence of the Lord, ready to serve him. He is described as the angel of peace, health, and joy.

We often need angels and archangels to express a specific aspect of our relationship with God – protection, guidance, and so on. These gifts are not restricted to women and men of faith. We often hear of individuals with no particular faith, looking to their angels for protection and guidance.

There are people in our culture who are captivated by the notion of angels who appear in human form, seeming to come along at just the right moment to rescue or comfort us. This is connected to what we hear from the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, about loving each other. The writer suggests that we entertain strangers, for by doing so we sometimes entertain angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13;1-2).

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 07:45h, 29 September Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Caroline Maloney
    Posted at 00:42h, 30 September Reply

    Thank you, Fr. Philip, the this overview. I have always thought of angels as a another manifestation of God, forgetting some of them are named in scripture. I think it’s not an accident that I have had (for forty some years) a gorgeous painting/icon of the Archangel Michael, that I find myself looking to at times! Blessed be God in his angels and his saints!

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