In Conspectu Angelorum (A Michaelmas Post)


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 . . .

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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.

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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.”

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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!


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.