Who is St. Michael the Archangel?

 
 
St. Michael the Archangel slaying the devil.Devotion to Michael the Archangel is one of the oldest devotions of the Church; indeed, his roles in God's divine plan date back before the Incarnation. It was St. Michael who led God's army against Lucifer and the other rebellious fallen angels, St. Michael who guards the Catholic Church and her pope, and St. Michael who, at God's commands will reprise his role against the Antichrist in the End Times.

Saint Michael in the Old Testament

St. Michael the Archangel is referred to by name rarely in the Old Testament, only in the book of Daniel – in 10:13 and 21, and again in 12:1:

"At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time; but at that time your people shall be delivered, every one whose name shall be found written in the book." - Dan 12:1

He was previously described but unnamed in the earlier book of Joshua 5:13-15:

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, "Are you for us, or for our adversaries?"

And he said, "No; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, "What does my lord bid his servant?"

And the commander of the LORD's army said to Joshua, "Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy." And Joshua did so.

However, traditions from both before Christ's coming and after, as well as the teachings of the Fathers of the Church, indicate St. Michael was honored as guardian angel of the people of God, and fulfilled the role of defender during the time of the patriarchs onward. The Fathers of the Church tell us that in many events throughout the Old Testament, the appearance and assistance of an unnamed angel is believed to be Michael, the archangel.

Devotion in the Early Catholic Church

Icon of St. Michael the ArchangelAs St. Michael was an advocate for the people of God under the Old Law, he continues to be protector in the New Law after the coming of Jesus. Devotion to St. Michael has been present in the lives of the Catholic faithful from the earliest centuries of the Church. As he was the advocate of the patriarchs in the Old Testament, and is believed by many eminent Doctors of the Church to have been the angel assigned to be with the Savior in His 33 years on earth, Michael is now considered the Guardian of the Blessed Sacrament. Due to the various events and miracles associated with St. Michael, Christian Tradition names to him the following four offices:

 
1. To fight against Satan

2. To rescue the souls of the faithful from the Devil, especially at the hour of death

3. To attend the dying and accompany them to judgment

4. To be the champion of God's people; the Israelites in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Law; and to be Patron of the Church.

The Vision of Pope Leo XIII

Woodcut of Pope Leo XIIIIn 1884, Pope Leo XIII received a shocking vision regarding the Devil ravaging against the Church. Shortly after the experience, he composed the short prayer to St. Michael to be included in the prayers after the end of a low Mass, and then in 1890 composed the longer form.

(Search: Pope Leo XIII)

There is some debate as to what exactly Pope Leo XIII witnessed in the vision, since he did not record the vision but instead composed the prayer to St. Michael.

There is an account from Fr. Domenico Pechenino, who worked at the Vatican during the papacy of Leo XIII, and recounted witnessing the event:

"I do not remember the exact year. One morning the great Pope Leo XIII had celebrated a Mass and, as usual, was attending a Mass of thanksgiving. Suddenly, we saw him raise his head and stare at something above the celebrant's head. He was staring motionlessly, without batting an eye. His expression was one of horror and awe; the color and look on his face changing rapidly. Something unusual and grave was happening in him.

Finally, as though coming to his senses, he lightly but firmly tapped his hand and rose to his feet. He headed for his private office. His retinue followed anxiously and solicitously, whispering: 'Holy Father, are you not feeling well? Do you need anything?' He answered: 'Nothing, nothing.' About half an hour later, he called for the Secretary of the Congregation of Rites and, handing him a sheet of paper, requested that it be printed and sent to all the ordinaries around the world. What was that paper? It was the prayer that we recite with the people at the end of every Mass. It is the plea to Mary and the passionate request to the Prince of the heavenly host, [St. Michael: Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle] beseeching God to send Satan back to hell."

One version of the vision of Pope Leo XIII is that he heard, seemingly from the tabernacle, the voices of God and the Devil. The Devil proclaimed that he could destroy the Church if he had time and power (75-100 years) to which God answered, "You have the time, you will have the power. Do with them what you will."

Another account indicates it was a vision of images, rather than a conversation, that he saw the Devil and other evil spirits working to devastate the Church, and of St. Michael's eventual triumph over Satan and his legions.

As Pope Leo XIII did not write down the vision, we can't know exactly what the pope was privy to see or hear. However, after the experience, he found it pertinent to write down the prayer to St. Michael, to ask for his aid and defense, and to add the prayer to the set of prayers said after the completion of each low Mass. The significance is obviously great. The prayer, along with some other prayers, collectively known as the Leonine prayers, at the end of Mass ceased in 1970 with the promulgation of the New Mass.

With the indult in 1984 from Pope John Paul II, allowing the celebration of the Mass of the 1962 missal, the practice of reciting the Leonine prayers after Mass was revived. Pope John Paul II then referred to Leo XIII's Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel in his Regina Coeli address of April 24, 1994 as follows:

"May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: 'Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might'. The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St Michael the Archangel. Pope Leo XIII certainly had this picture in mind when, at the end of the last century, he brought in, throughout the Church, a special prayer to St Michael:

'Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in 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 Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.'

Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the evil spirits of this world."

Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St. Michael to be Said after Mass - English

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in 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 Host,
by the power of God,
cast (thrust) into hell Satan and all evil spirits
who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen

(Search: St. Michael Prayer)

Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St. Michael to be Said after Mass - Original Latin

Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio.
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae caelestis,
Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute, in infernum detrude.
Amen

 

Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to St. Michael - Long Form

O glorious Archangel St Michael, Prince of the heavenly host, defend us in battle, and in the struggle which is ours against the principalities and Powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against spirits of evil in high places. Come to the aid of men, whom God created immortal, made in his own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil.

Fight this day the battle of the Lord, together with the holy angels, as already thou hast fought the leader of the proud angels, Lucifer, and his apostate host, who were powerless to resist thee, nor was there place for them any longer in Heaven. But that cruel, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan, who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with all his angels.

Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of man has taken courage, Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the name of God and of his Christ, to seize upon, slay and cast into eternal perdition souls destined for the crown of eternal glory. This wicked dragon pours out, as a most impure flood, the venom of his malice on men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.

These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions.

In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered.

Arise then, O invincible prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and bring them the victory.

The Church venerates thee as protector and patron; in thee holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious powers of this world and of hell; to thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude.

Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly conciliate the mercies of the Lord; and beating down the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations.


The above prayer was shortened and replaced in 1902, a year and a half before the death of Pope Leo XIII:

O glorious Archangel St Michael, Prince of the heavenly host, defend us in battle, and in the struggle which is ours against the principalities and Powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against spirits of evil in high places. Come to the aid of men, whom God created immortal, made in his own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil.

The Church venerates thee as protector and patron; to thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude.

Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly conciliate the mercies of the Lord; and beating down the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations.

(As the removed verses - Crafty enemies, throne of their abominable impiety, etc - are written in past tense, not future tense, it is believed they referred to events that had recently occurred. Specifically, the seizing of Quirinale Palace by the excommunicated King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel. Prior to the seizure in 1870, it had been a principal papal palace in Rome, the customary location for papal conclaves and one of the places where the pope had held court. Hopes of reconciliation with the King of Italy in 1902 explained the changes from that year.)

 - This article adapted information from Angels and Devils, by Joan Carroll Cruz, the St. Michael the Archangel booklet, and Wikipedia.
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