By Michael Ogunu
In Hebrew, Michael means “Who is like God?” Holy Scriptures describes St. Michael as the leader of the forces of heaven in their triumph over the powers of hell. He has been specially honoured and invoked as patron and protector of the Church of God from the time of the apostles.
Catholic tradition assigns to him these four offices: to fight against Satan, to rescue the souls of the faithful from his grasp especially at death, to be the special patron of the Holy Church, and to bring men’s souls to judgement. He is held to be the special guardian of the Pope and, according to St. Eutropius, of the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Michael is the most brilliant of the Angels mentioned in the Holy Scripture, and one of the foremost jewels in the crown of God’s glorious creation. Holy Church gives to St. Michael the highest place among the angels, for she refers to him as “Prince of the heavenly hosts”. One of the inspiring antiphons for his festival points out that the Archangel Michael is set over paradise, and is honoured by the citizens of heaven. “He repays with blessings the honour shown him by the faithful and his prayer leads us to the kingdom of heaven”.
St. Michael is the Head of God’s armies, champion of the people of God in the Old Testament and mighty guardian of God’s chosen flock under the New Testament. St. Michael never ceases to wage war against his enemy and ours, Lucifer, whom he once vanquished in the dim and distant ages. He is the “standard-bearer of salvation” whoever stands as firm and impregnable wall against the fiercest attack of the evil one.
Satan trembles at hearing his 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. From that hour he has been known as “Michael, the captain of the armies of God, first prince of the holy city”, to whom the other angels yield ready obedience. They most willingly and gratefully recognise his supremacy, for after God, they owe to him their perseverance in grace and their eternal happiness. With loving submission they receive from him their various offices. They are attentive to his slightest wish, because they recognise in his commands and regulations the will of God, their sovereign Lord and King.
St. Michael has appeared at different times to those who needed help and invoked his aid. A well authenticated example is assisting St. Joan of Arc in an extra-ordinary way in the divine missions given her to aid the French King restore peace and prosperity to his kingdom and expel his enemies from its shores. Again, in France, he appeared on Mont Michel, where there still exists a famous sanctuary consecrated to the Archangel. In Italy it is related that the holy Archangel showed himself to the Bishop of Siponto, on Monte Gargano in the kingdom of Naples where a beautiful Church was dedicated to him. In his apparition, St. Michael intimated to the Bishop that the place was under his protection and that it was his will that God should be worshiped there, in honour of himself and the angels. This became a place of great devotion and attracted many pilgrims.
But apart from the extra-ordinary cases in which the great Archangel deemed it necessary to appear visibly to the eyes of men, he is ever invisibly active in helping every Christian who invokes his aid.
St. Michael is the guardian of purgatory. Holy Church refers to him as bringing souls from earth to the throne of God. The priest prays at the offertory of the Mass for the dead: ‘May the standard-bearer, St. Michael, lead them unto the holy light’. In her beautiful prayers in the Mass, the Church with maternal solicitude places the souls of her departed children in the hands of St. Michael, that he may lead them unto the kingdom of everlasting light.
St. Michael has always been considered by the Church of God as its special protector. Spiritual writers assure us that, “as the chosen people of the Old Law were marvellously protected by St. Michael, so we may not doubt that this great Prince of heaven protects the Church of God in a still more signal manner”.
Under the New law as under the Old, St. Michael is the “Vicar of the Most High and the Prince of His people”, ever prepared to render assistance. With one accord the Holy Fathers of the Church teach that St. Michael is the Guardian Angel and the protector of the Catholic Church.
Time and time again, in centuries past, St. Michael came to the rescue when dreadful wars and persecutions threatened to destroy Christianity. He it was who, at the command of Mary, Queen of Angels came to the assistance of Constantine the Great in the fourth century and helped his forces to gain a brilliant victory over the pagan Emperor Maxentius. The Archangel himself revealed his identity in this instance. Appearing to Constantine after the completion of a beautiful church which the latter had erected to his honour in gratitude, he said; ‘I am Michael, the chief of the angelic legions of the Lord of hosts, the protector of the Christian religion, who whilst thou was battling against godless tyrants, placed the weapons in thy hands’. This noble edifice, generally known as the Michaelion, became the scene of many miracles wrought through the power of the great Archangel.
The Church has more than ever special need of the powerful protection of St. Michael in our perilous times. On all sides she is being assailed by strong and bitter enemies. In one country after another we behold the sad spectacle of religious persecution rising to high pitches of hatred and insolence. The terrible crimes which have been committed in recent times and are still being committed against the Church, both in her sanctuaries and her members, are instigated by the devil, for no human mind could be base enough to conceive and put into execution such hideous outrages. The Church should look to St. Michael for aid that he may triumph over her prosecutors and that the gates of hell may not prevail against her.
Assuredly, St. Michael will not fail to come to the aid of the Holy Church in our days as he did in the days of old, if we fervently and confidently implore him to do so.
On September 29, 2018, a statement from the Vatican said that Pope Francis has asked all Catholics to pray the Rosary daily during the month of October, asking Mary and St. Michael the Archangel for the protection of the Church in a moment of “spiritual turbulence”. Pope Francis also encouraged that Catholics end the Rosary with the recitation of the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel composed by Pope Leo XII. (See end of article).
St. Michael is helper of the sick and the dying. The early Christians entrusted to him the care of their sick. In the early Eastern Church the function of healer was in a special manner attributed to him. At Constantinople, he was honoured as the great heavenly physician. The Christians of Egypt placed their life-giving river, the Nile, under his protection. In Rome his reputation for healing became known when he caused the cessation of a mighty pestilence in the days of St. Gregory the great. Many other instances of a miraculous nature illustrate his power of curing ills which he shares with St. Raphael, “The Medicine of God”.
But if in His merciful designs our heavenly Father has decided to call us home, St. Michael continues his angelic ministration till he sees us safely through the eternal portals. For not only during life does the glorious Archangel defend and protect souls, he is especially their advocate at the hour of death. “He assists at every death bed”, writes Dom Gueranger, “for his special office is to receive the souls of the elect, on their quitting the flesh. He, with loving solicitude and princely hearing, presents them to the Light Eternal and introduces them unto 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 them that are to be received there”.
When the last hour of our earthly career draws near and we are confronted by that awful moment when our soul must leave the body which it has loved so much to pass through the narrow portal of death, satanic hosts like raving lions will make a last attack upon our souls. In that hour of supreme need, St. Michael, the invisible Archangel, ever ready to assist the faithful soul, will come to our aid with his glorious hosts and battle for us. He will cover us with his strong shield and lead us safely through the midst of our enemies. It is therefore a very commendable practice daily to invoke St. Michael to lend his assistance at the hour of death.
St. Michael has ever proved himself a valiant warrior for the honour of God both in heaven and on earth. By his power he wages incessant war with Satan in the great kingdom of God upon earth, the Church. Glowing zeal for the honour of God is his distinctive trait and virtue. Let us therefore pray to St. Michael the Archangel everyday to defend us against all evil forces.
Below is the prayer to the Archangel composed by Pope Leo XII:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of 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 hosts by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.