“For I am the Angel Raphael…” (Of prayers and courtship)

Saint_Raphael

The Angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them: O taste and see that the Lord is sweet!

-Offertory from the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

A month and a half ago, if you had visited my little corner of the world, you would have stumbled upon me in my parish church, bent over my missal, sitting and reading this exact verse at the Offertory of the Mass.

It was a mere two days after I had entered into courtship. I was in the pew beside the wonderful man who had asked me to court him, and I was wearing “the veil” I’d kept tucked on my prayer altar near the St. Raphael holy card for months.

The Angel of the Lord . . . The words rebounded through my head, tingling with intense gratitude. The Angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them . . .

Today, on St. Raphael’s feast day, it’s a struggle to find words to capture the story of his guidance, protection and intercession on my behalf over the past months. It’s a challenge for me to fully absorb the reality that it is his feast day and that my current joys are due in such a special way to his prayers for me! I’m at a loss as to how to adequately honor him, apart from litanies, prayers, and praying along with the Mass of his feast earlier this morning. I have so much to thank him for but feel as though I can only give so little.

Vividly, I remember being at the beach this spring, in the middle of a jumble of vocational desire and discernment. My feet were planted in the sand, my head was bowed over the little book about him while the salty wind buffeted me and made a circus out of my hair (no exaggeration there . . .), and sensing quite strongly that I only needed to climb under the shelter of his wings in order to be lead closer towards what I was so hungry for: my vocation.

Our Lord had allowed my heart to travel a hilly road across the three years since I finished high school, and really, our family trip this spring symbolized a time of rejuvenation and reflection for me, because I had experienced and learned so much–some things through joy, others through pain. I had tucked the aforementioned book about St. Raphael into my tote bag, brought along a newly acquired holy card, and across that week, I began forming a relationship with this beautiful Archangel, thanks to the inexpressible gift that is the Communion of Saints.

For Thy counsel is not in man’s power, but this everyone is sure of that worships Thee, that his life, if it be under trial, shall be crowned: and if it be under tribulation, it shall be delivered: and if it be under correction, it shall be allowed to come to Thy mercy. For Thou art not delighted in our being lost: because after a storm Thou makest a calm, and after tears and weeping, Thou pourest in joyfulness. Be Thy name, O God of Israel, blessed forever.

-Tobias 3: 20-23 (Sara’s prayer before encountering St. Raphael and Tobias)

Across the past year, I’ve shared here about my vocational discernment, particularly in my linked article on 1P5. I’ve written about how, all my life, I experienced a real longing for marriage and children, but how it took coming into the Latin Mass for me to be able to unconditionally, spiritually surrender to God’s (unknown) will for my life and, more specifically, for my vocation: to stop being terrified that He might be calling me to something else than what I wanted.

When I finally let His grace enable me to become open to whatever it was He wanted, I was soon given the beauteous peace of interiorly knowing the rose of marriage was in Our Lord’s design for my life. He lifted me out of myself during that time and transformed my desires.

This period of discernment all happened over the summer, after I’d embarked on my devotion to St. Raphael and was praying to him twice a day, every day. The specific words of my intentions varied a little, but they were as fervent as I could make them and were very much centered on my future husband (even if the state of my discernment meant that I was including the caveat of if God desires me to marry), and that he and I would be brought together. Eventually, I got to the point where I was specifically asking St. Raphael, the same Archangel that guided Tobias to Sara, that my future husband would be inspired to pursue me as soon as God’s will permitted, so that we could do all things together for His glory.

The two prayers I was offering on a daily basis throughout this time are copied below. This first prayer (taken from the above-mentioned book) brought me, from the beginning, an indescribable sense of consolation. It instilled in me a deep trust that I and my desires for my vocation and my future husband were all being taken care of; and it became the firm foundation of my little-sisterly relationship with St. Raphael.

Dear St. Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings, lead me by the hand towards those I am waiting for, and those who are waiting for me. May all my movements, all their movements be guided by thy light and transfigured by thy joy. Angel guide of Tobias, lay the request I now address to thee at the feet of Him on Whose unveiled Face thou art privileged to gaze. (Mention your request.) Lonely and weary, deeply grieved by the separation and sorrows of earth, I feel the need of calling out to thee and of pleading for the protection of thy wings so that we may not be as strangers in the province of joy.

Remember the weak, thou who art strong, whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene and bright with the resplendent glory of God. Amen.

The second prayer was sent to me by a good friend earlier on this year in a text message, and I’m not sure of the source (I tweaked one or two words for clarity); but it struck me with its beauty and orthodoxy, and was in a way my first introduction to devotion to St. Raphael.

St. Raphael, loving patron of those seeking a spouse, assist me in this supreme decision of my life. Find for me as a helpmate in life the man whose character reflects many of the traits of Jesus and Mary. May he be upright, loyal, pure, sincere and noble, so that with united efforts and with chaste and unselfish love, we both may strive to perfect ourselves in soul and body, as well as the children entrusted to our care.

St. Raphael, angel of chaste courtship, bless our friendship and our love that sin may have no part in it. May our mutual love bind us so closely that our future home may ever be most like the home of the holy family of Nazareth.  Offer thy prayers to God for the both of us, and obtain the blessing of God upon our marriage, as thou wert the herald of blessing for the marriage of Tobais and Sara.

St. Raphael, friend of the young, be a friend to me, for I shall always be thine. I desire ever to invoke thee in my needs. To thy special care I entrust the decision I am to make as to my future husband. Direct me to the man with whom I can best cooperate in doing God’s holy will; with whom I can live in peace, charity and fidelity in this life, and attain to eternal joy in the next. Amen.

These prayers were the basis of my devotion to St. Raphael, but I also read the Book of Tobit and was blown away by the sheer beauty of St. Raphael’s instruction to Tobias and Sara in regards to their marriage. To imagine an Archangel, “one of the seven who stand before the Lord,” so mercifully intervening in the lives of Tobias and Sara and their families, bringing about healing and a holy marriage, was awe-inspiring, and it served as a confirmation that I was, indeed, praying to an advocate who had been made to care, with a special tenderness and power, for holy marriage and for potential spouses being led into one another’s lives.

A few months of this devotion went by; I received clarity as to my vocation and so then fell to praying more intensely; then came a new acquaintanceship, which grew into a friendship . . . and, in early September, I found myself sitting in the pew at Mass, belonging in a courtship: a time of purposeful, mutual discernment of marriage.

The Angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them: O taste and see that the Lord is sweet!

Our friendship-turned-courtship is a sweet and really amazing story in its own right, but one probably better saved for another time . . . however, the building blocks of it were so beyond me in the most literal sense of the word, so beyond my expectations and my own plans and potential conniving, as to be what one can only term “a God thing.” Or, more specifically, “a St. Raphael thing.” 😉 It all happened so effortlessly and gently; I blinked, and there it all was, laid out before me, its own story, so much better and more special than anything I could have written for myself! And now I am in awe of God’s grace and so grateful for the opportunity to discern marriage with such a good man in a courtship.

And now . . . a little bit about courtship itself, because I’ve been dying to blog about it! “Courtship” is a widely used term with various applied meanings and few if any universal rules. But for us, it’s pretty simple: courtship is a more traditional means of a man and woman coming to know one another better and asking God whether it would please Him if they married. While we don’t presume immediately upon the future and are focused on God’s will, courtship is very intentional and is not meant to last long unless the Sacrament of Marriage continues showing itself as a very possible and desired end for the couple in question.

For us, courtship has so far involved many purposeful conversations about the essential issues of Catholic living, marriage and parenting, and our perspectives and experiences growing up; but it’s also involved simply spending time together and growing used to one another’s temperaments and how we think, act and express ourselves. We have always been reserving our first kisses for our wedding days, and I have consistently thought holding hands would be a fun and sweet way to celebrate an engagement, so our courtship’s physical boundaries are modest but certainly not awkward. We’ve chosen for courtship to involve our being always chaperoned (which probably distinguishes it most drastically from the typical dating scenario) as a means of safeguarding our chastity and purity; and we’ve chosen for it to be very family-oriented, with our siblings, parents, and nieces and nephews around a lot of the time, brightening things up, making us laugh, and quite honestly putting us at our ease!

In short, courtship–while being a tradition both of our families have always believed in–was very much our own personal choice, and something that has since brought joy and healthy growth to our God-given relationship. Apart from our deeper conversations, it also involves him always opening and closing the car door for me, and it involves me almost always saying yes when he offers me something to eat or drink; it incorporates ballroom dancing, football games, skits, cooking and home movies, chivalry and good-natured teasing, prayer and, best of all, Mass 🙂 In my mind, it’s a perfect way for two young people to discern marriage and I wouldn’t have it any other way; and today, St. Raphael’s feast, seems the perfect day to write about it, and all he has done for me, with heartfelt gratitude.

And Tobias said to him: Where wilt thou that we lodge?
And the angel answering, said: Here is one whose name is Raguel, a near kinsman of thy tribe, and he hath a daughter named Sara, but he hath no son nor any other daughter beside her. All his substance is due to thee, and thou must take her to wife. Ask her therefore of her father, and he will give her thee to wife.
Then Tobias answered, and said: I hear that she hath been given to seven husbands, and they all died: moreover I have heard, that a devil killed them. Now I am afraid, lest the same thing should happen to me also: and whereas I am the only child of my parents, I should bring down their old age with sorrow to hell.
Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will show thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power.

But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away. But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs. And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you. And when the third night is past, thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayst obtain a blessing in children.
Then Tobias exhorted the virgin, and said to her: Sara, arise, and let us pray to God to day, and to morrow, and the next day: because for these three nights we are joined to God: and when the third night is over, we will be in our own wedlock. For we are the children of the saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God.

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In Conspectu Angelorum (A Michaelmas Post)

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Bless the Lord, all ye His Angels: you that are mighty in strength, and execute His word, hearkening to the voice of His orders. (Psalm) Bless the Lord, O my soul: and let all that is within me bless His holy name. Glory be to the Father. Bless the Lord . . .

Alleluia, alleluia. Holy Archangel Michael, defend us in battle: that we may not perish in the dreadful judgment. Alleluia.

A happy and blessed Michaelmas! Upon first waking up, I was so supremely excited about wishing everyone in the house a happy Michaelmas . . . but by the time I got downstairs I was so distracted by the prospect of some toast and almond butter for breakfast that I kind of forgot about it  . . . only to let loose a howl of agony when Lena beat me to it, minutes later. Such is life in a traditional Catholic household.

I find that one of the most delightful things about the Old Calendar is that the Archangels each have their own feasts. St. Raphael (to whom I will always have a special devotion) falls on October 24th; and St. Gabriel falls on the exquisitely perfect March 24th (the day before the feast of the Annunciation).

Today, however, is St. Michael’s feast; St. Michael’s Mass; Michaelmas!

A first-class feast in the Old Calendar (I didn’t realize it used to be first-class until today!), full of splendor: in the Latin Mass, St. Michael is hailed in every Confiteor, and at High Mass, thus:

May the Lord, by the intercession of blessed Michael the Archangel, who standeth at the right side of the altar of incense, and of all His elect, vouchsafe to bless this incense and receive it as an odor of sweetness.

Earlier today, there was a High Mass in Fribourg and Lena and I took a break from the vigorous vicissitudes of housecleaning and watched as much as we could, up to the French homily which was unfortunately lost upon us . . .

On this day, I never fail to think of the irrepressible Mrs. Jennings. Surely you know Mrs. Jennings? Sense and Sensibility, of course! “If I do not have the three of you {girls} married by Michaelmas, it will not be my fault!” But I digress. I do think she would have done better to extend her matchmaking plans through the feast of St. Raphael, but alas . . .

Sorry. Moving on.Michael1

O most glorious prince Michael Archangel, be mindful of us, and here and everywhere entreat the Son of God for us. Alleluia, alleluia. (Antiphon at the Magnificat, Second Vespers)

As I mentioned yesterday, I was once immersed in writing a (still unfinished) novel that had to do with St. Michael, underground Catholicism and had at least a dozen points of view. During this spell of creativity, I displayed more common sense than usual and actually embarked on some research on St. Michael and the traditional theology of Angels. I wanted to share a patchwork of assorted facts and ponderings with you all today!

The Propers and Vespers for St. Michael are wonderfully illuminating enough (in the Missal beginning on page 1424, by the way!), but in particular I also wanted to share several excerpts, beginning with one from Mother Angelica’s Sons of Light:

Then came the staggering proclamation from the Most High: the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity would become Man and, as the God-Man, be their superior —their Lord and King!

This however was not all of the test: the God-Man would have a Mother—a Woman—and she too would be raised above them!

Like a flash of lightning, Lucifer the greatest of all Angels, the one most like the Most High, the one called “Angel of Light”—cried out with a voice of thunder, “I will not serve!” Other Angels of every class and degree of intelligence all cried out together, “We will not serve!”

Then began the battle between pride and humility. Michael rose above all the others and thundered, “Who is like God!” The battle they fought was not one of swords—swords that make one bleed and die. No, it was a more deadly battle—a battle of intellects, of wills, of ideas and loyalties . . .

As the debate raged on Lucifer become more adamant. It was not fair for the Word to take on human nature and continue being Lord. Human nature was gross and inferior and the Most High had no right to make such an unjust decree. If the Word became man, all mankind would have the opportunity to become sons of God. Was not Lucifer the greatest of all Angels? Was not his intellect superior to them all? Yes, he, Lucifer, would be Lord and King of Angels and Men.

He would not bow before an Incarnate Word; neither would he accept a Woman, the Mother of the Incarnate Word, as Queen of Heaven.

The blow of all blows would be the fact that since the Word would become flesh, all mankind would have the opportunity to arrive at great heights of sanctity—heights above some of the Angels themselves. Yes, they would become brothers because they would share the same Father.

Lucifer and his cohorts would not accept such a humiliation . . .

Michael3Michael rose to the defense of God: God alone is Holy he reasoned; God alone is Lord; God alone is Most High; He does as He pleases . . . Was it not more important that God be glorified than that they as pure spirits be glorified? Was it not God’s privilege to give as He willed since all Goodness came from Him alone? They were all brought out of nothingness and they owed God eternal thanksgiving for the least amount of grace and glory.

No, it was not a humiliation—it was a truth . . .

As the battle raged, Angels from the different choirs began to take sides—some agreeing with Michael, others with Lucifer. Lucifer’s arguments were very convincing and he “dragged a third of the stars from the heavens” with him. (Apoc. 12:4)

The longer the battle went on, the more entrenched each side became until finally Lucifer said, “I will set my throne above the Most High.” (Is. 14:13) At this final blasphemy Michael cried out, “Who is like God! Victory and power and empire forever have been won by our God and all authority for His Christ.) (Apoc 12:10) . . .

Christ looked at them and said, “I watched Satan fall like lightning from Heaven.” . . .

Michael and the other spirits who rallied to the cause of truth and the glory of the Most High entered into the Beatific Vision. They saw the One they had fought for with such courage, for their wills were forever set on God . . .

* * *

Here are a few excerpts from FishEaters:

There are seven Archangels in all, but only the three mentioned in Sacred Scripture are commemorated liturgically; St. Gabriel’s Feast is on 24 March, and St. Raphael’s Feast is on 24 October (the Guardian Angels are remembered on 2 October. The other archangels, whom we know from the Book of Enoch, are Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, and Jeramiel.) Today, though, we honor St. Michael the Archangel, whose very name in Hebrew means, “Who is Like God.” St. Michael is described in the Golden Legend, written in A.D. 1275 by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, thus:

For like as Daniel witnesseth, he shall arise and address in the time of Antichrist against him, and shall stand as a defender and keeper for them that be chosen. [Daniel 10:13, 12]

He also fought with the dragon and his angels, and casting them out of heaven, had a great victory. [Apocalypse 12:7-9]

He also had a great plea and altercation with the devil for the body of Moses, because he would not show it; for the children of Israel should have adored and worshipped it. [Jude 1]

He received the souls of saints and brought them into the paradise of exultation and joy.

He was prince of the synagogue of the Jews, but now he is established of our Lord, prince of the church of Jesu Christ.

Michael2And as it is said, he made the plagues of Egypt, he departed and divided the Red Sea, he led the people of Israel by the desert and set them in the land of promission, he is had among the company of holy angels as bannerer. And bearing the sign of our Lord, he shall slay by the commandment of God, right puissantly, Antichrist that shall be in the Mount of Olivet. And dead men shall arise at the voice of this same archangel. And he shall show at the day of judgment the Cross, the spear, the nails and the crown of thorns of Jesu Christ.

Expounding on St. Michael’s final victory over the Antichrist, the Golden Legend continues:

The fourth victory is that the archangel Michael shall have of Antichrist when he shall slay him. Then Michael, the great prince, shall arise, as it is said Danielis xii.: “He shall arise for them that be chosen as a helper and a protector, and shall strongly stand against Antichrist.” And after, as the Gloss saith: “Antichrist shall feign him to be dead, and shall hide him three days,” and after, he shall appear saying that he is risen from death to life, and the devils shall bear him by art magic, and shall mount up into the air, and all the people shall marvel and worship him. And at the last he shall mount up on the Mount of Olivet, and when he shall be in a pavilion, in his siege [seat], entered into that place where our Lord ascended, Michael shall come and shall slay him. Of which victory is understood, after St. Gregory, that which is said in the Apocalypse. The battle is made in heaven.

This word of the treble battle in heaven is expounded of the battle that he had with Lucifer when he expulsed him out of heaven, and of the battle that he had with the devils that torment us.

* * *

Also, this excerpt concerning Angels in general still fills me with awe in considering the glory of St. Michael and all the heavenly hosts which throng about the altar at every Holy Mass:

Now, Moses tells us in Exodus 20:11 that “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them.” From this we know that the angels, too, were created during those six days (whether those “days” were literal, 24-hour days or metaphorical isn’t the point of this article). Futher, the angels were created before the earth was made, as Job 38:1-7 speaks of how the “sons of God made a joyful melody” when the “corner stone” of the earth was laid. What must be believed, then, is that the angels were created by God, in time, and at some point before the creation of all other things. 2

So, before He created the natural world that we can readily see and touch and hear and taste, He created the praeternatural realm — the realm inhabited by the creatures we call angels. They were created to adore God, implement His will, and to reveal His will to men. This last purpose is the origin of the very word “angel,” which comes from the Greek “aggelos,” meaning “messenger” (“malak” in Hebrew).

They are beings without bodies like ours. The Fathers and Doctors disagree as to whether they are absolutely “pure spirit,” like God, and so are completely bodiless, or whether they possess “subtle matter,” 3 but in either case they can sometimes be seen, either because of the nature of subtle matter, if that is the case, or, as St. Thomas Aquinas believed, in the same sort of way that “air” can seem to “condense” to form clouds. 4

In either case, angels were created immortal, and with great power and intelligence — an intelligence so great that angels are sometimes referred to as “intelligences.” They are not omniscient, however, but according to St. Thomas Aquinas, God infuses them with knowledge according to their rank (see below). Neither can they read our minds, but God may reveal to them our secret thoughts — and they are able to perceive the material world and to understand our thoughts by the things we do and the way we appear. As an example, most of us are unable to read others’ thoughts in some telepathic way, but we are quite able to see sadness in someone’s face. Angels can do this, too, but are able to discern such things much better than we because of their astounding intelligence. They are able to act on our imagination, senses, and the intellect, but not directly on our will.

SongoftheAngelsThey are able to affect the material world, too, just as you and I can, only with much more strength. Remember how, on Easter morning, it was two angels who rolled away the great rock that was placed in front of Our Lord’s tomb by Joseph of Arimethea. The stone was so “very great” that the three women who went to the tomb were wondering how they could move it — but they arrived to find it moved away, and a “man” sitting on it, with another “man” inside the tomb.

Brilliant, powerful, awesome in appearance, and they are numerous, like the stars. Psalm 67 tells us how the “chariot of God is attended by ten thousands; thousands of them that rejoice.” Daniel 7:9-10 describes God, the Ancient of Days, and how “thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him.” St. John writes in his Apocalypse:

And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the living creatures, and the ancients; and the number of them was thousands of thousands.

St. Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics that followed taught that angels are pure spirit and not corporeal in any way. The earlier, more Platonic belief of most of the Church Fathers is that only God is pure Spirit, and that, though angels are not corporeal in the way that we are, they are, in a limited sense, “corporeal” in that they are made, in part, of “subtle matter” which is unlike matter in the physical world. Most Catholics tend to believe that angels are totally incorporeal, a belief that stems from the fact that this is what was taught in the good ole “Penny Catechisms” of better times, but a Catholic may believe that angels possess subtle matter.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, I-I-51-2: “Although air as long as it is in a state of rarefaction has neither shape nor color, yet when condensed it can both be shaped and colored as appears in the clouds. Even so the angels assume bodies of air, condensing it by the Divine power in so far as is needful for forming the assumed body.”

* * *

Isn’t that so fascinating? And as for the ranks of angels, mentioned above, I thought this was marvelous food for thought:

AngelThe 1st triad :
Angels, Archangels, and Principalities: concern themselves with the minute ordering of the universe and specific causes, including the welfare of people. Each human being, each church, and each country has a Guardian Angel.

The 2nd triad
Powers, Virtues and Dominions: known as the “angels of creation” because they concern themselves with the ordering of the universe and a plurality of causes.

The 3rd triad
Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim: concern themselves with contemplating the glory of God. It is the 6-winged Seraphim — “The Burning Ones,” aglow with Love for God — who sing the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts” (Isaias 6:3).

So yes . . . the richness and awe-inspiring splendor of the Faith shines forth so beautifully on the feast of St. Michael! Let’s all endeavor to be mindful of the presence of the angels who continually behold and adore the face of God. In fact, let’s all pray Psalm 137 and rejoice in their intercession on our behalf, especially that of St. Michael!

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I will praise Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart: because Thou hast heard the words of my mouth.
I will sing praise to Thee in the sight of the Angels: I will worship toward Thy holy temple, and I will give glory to Thy name.
For Thy mercy, and for Thy truth: for Thou hast magnified Thy holy name above all.
In what day soever I shall call upon Thee, hear me: Thou shalt multiply strength in my soul.
May all the kings of the earth give glory, O Lord, for they have heard all the words of Thy mouth.
And let them sing in the ways of the Lord: that great is the glory of the Lord.
For the Lord is high, and looketh on the low: and the high He knoweth afar off.
If I shall walk in the midst of tribulation, Thou wilt quicken me: and Thou hast stretched forth Thy hand against the wrath of mine enemies, and Thy right hand hath saved me.
The Lord will repay for me; Thy mercy, O Lord, endureth forever: O despise not the works of Thy hands.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
I will sing praise to Thee in the sight of the Angels, O my God.
I will worship towards Thy holy temple, and I will give glory to Thy name.

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