23a. Michael the Archangel – In the Church
The Church of Christ has ever paid special honour to the glorious Archangel Michael, whom in her liturgy she hails “Prince of the heavenly host.” His name is the war cry with which, in the primeval mighty battle, he smote the proud followers of Lucifer and their chief, and cast them down out of heaven into the depth of the pit. “I will ascend into heaven,” was the boast of the rebel angel; “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God – I will be like the most High.” (Isaias 14:13-14) But as a flash of lightning came the challenge, “Who is like God?” and the faithful angels, with Michael at their head, grappled with the rebellious hosts and prevailed against them so that their place was no longer found in heaven.
That battle is still waged here in this world. The Church of God is the object of constant and violent assaulots on the part of the powers of darkness, but the holy angels are arrayed on her side, and Michael is ever at hand to champion her cause against the fury of her envenomed foes, and to conduct her to a glorious victory. He is the guardian and protector of the Church, as he was formerly of the Synagogue, “your prince,” as the angel who spoke to Daniel called him, and “Michael, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people.” (Daniel 12:1) No harm can come to them so long as he, “standard-bearer of salvation,” stands a firm and impregnable wall against the fiercest attacks of Satan. Michael vanquished Lucifer once for all in the dim and distant ages, adn the verdict of that battle will never be reversed.
The Church commends her children to the great Archangel in life and more particularly in death. “Define us in the conflict,” she cries out to him, “that we may not perish in the awful judgement.” And as the crisis in the combat approaches, and the departing soul is at the last grips with the foe, she prays that “Saint Michael, the Archangel of God who has deserved to be the Prince of the heavenly host,” may admit her child to the kingdom of heaven, and that all the holy angels of God may come to meet him, and conduct him to the heavenly city, Jerusalem.
So, too, after death, the solicitude of holy Mother Church still follows her dear ones, and again she asks the intervention of the Archangel Michael in their behalf. Her prayer occurs in the strikingly beautiful Offeratory of the Mass for the Dead, she prays,
O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell and from the deep pit. Deliver them from the lion’s mouth; let not tartarus swallow them up; let them not fall into the darkness, but let Saint Michael, the standard-bearer, introduce them to the holy light, which Thou didst promise of old to Abraham and to his seed.
Nor is this the only mention of Saint Michael that is found in the Mass. Every time the Holy Sacrifice is offered, the priest in the general confession which makes at the foot of the altar, and the people after him, twice invoke the intercession of the great Archangel, and the people do the same once more at the moment of the Holy Communion draws nigh. Again, in the solemn Mass, when the incense is blessed at the Offertory, the celebrant prays that “through the intercession of Blessed Michael the Archangel, standing at the right of the altar of incense, the Lord may deign to bless the incense, and receive it in an order of sweetness.”
For many years, too, we have been offering after every low Mass a special prayer to Saint Michael for his powerful assistance against the arch-enemy of our souls, and there occurs in it a phrase, “Rebuke him, O God,” which, while it comes in with a certain abruptness, is yet particularly forcible as containing a direct allusion to the victory of the Archangel over Satan in the famous encounter. For, as Saint Jude in his Epistle (5:9) reminds us, “when Michael the Archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him the judgement of railing speech, but said, ‘The Lord command thee.'”
The incident to which the apostle refers is not found elsewhere in Holy Writ, but must have been known by revelation, and handed on by tradition, or through some inspired writing long since lost. It is thought that the occasion was this – after the death of the great law-giver, the devil would have had him buried where the Jews might come in crowds to pay homage to his remains, hoping thereby to seduce them to idolatry. But the Archangel Michael, knowing their proclivity to this sin, sought to prevent it by laying the body in some secret resting place. And yet, with that modesty and meekness which so befits the truly great, he would not revile Satan for his resistance, but appealed to God to coerce him by His power. Not, to be sure, that the Archangel feared the devil, whom he might himself easily have restrained, but that he judged it an unbefitting thing to wrangle with the evil one, or by stinging words to rebuke his pride and malice.
One of the two festivals which the Church keeps in honour of Saint Michael, that of the eighth of May, is celebrated in memory of an apparition of the Archangel, which took place on Monte Gardano, in the south-eastern part of Italy, in the province of Foggia, and in what is called “the spur,” there a mountainous promontory juts out into the Adriatic Sea. The Archangel made known to the Bishop of Sipontum, now Manfredonia, in whose diocese the Mount is situated, that the spot was under his protection, and the Bishop, in consequence, came there with a trhong of people, and finding a cave in the mountain side, hollowed out in the shape of a church, began to use it as a place of religious service until it grew to be a famous and much frequented shrine of the Archangel.
About a century later, that is, c.589, after an inundation of the Tiber, the city of Rome was visited with a frightful pestilence. In the following year, Pope Saint Gregory the Great was leading a penitential procession to Saint Peter’s Basilica to obtain the cessation of the plague, bearing in his hands at the time, a picture of our Blessed Lady, whien he came to the Aelian bridge which connected the tomb of Hadrian with the city, and as he raised his eyes toward that massive structure, he beheld on its summit an angel sheathing a bloody sword, while chorus of angels round about chanted the anthem, Regina coeli – “Queen of heaven, rejoice! He whom thou wast meet to bear, hath arisen as He said, Alleluia!” To which the Pope responded, “Pray for us to God, Alleluia!”
A moment before the people had been dropping to the ground, even at the side of the Holy Pontiff, but now the plague was at an end, and in commemoration of the event, a shrine was erected on the top of the mausoleum by Pope Boniface IV, successor to Saint Gregory, and dedicated to Saint Michael. Later the shrine was replaced by a statue, many times destroyed, and as often renewed, and the Moles Hadriani acquired the name of the Castle of Sant’ Angelo, while the bridge was called Ponte San Angelo.
It was the great Archangel Saint Michael also who spoke to the simple peasant girl, Jeanne d’Arc, when she was but a child of thirteen years, and whose voice summoned her from her flocks to the command of armies. His was one of the “voices” which she heard repeatedly, but he did not come alone. He was accompanied by a troop of angels, and she saw them, as she told her judges, as plainly as her eyes then beheld her hearers. At first she was seized with fear, but later, as often as her heavenly visitors departed from her, she used to weep and pray that they might carry her away with them.