Angel is a word that means “messenger of God.” The painting above is “The Assumption of the Virgin” by Francsco Botticini. Out of all the angels mentioned in scripture, only three are called by name: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Before the reform of the calendar, each of these archangels had a separate feast — Michael on September 29, Gabriel on March 24 and Raphael on October 24. Now we celebrate them all on this one day, Michael’s day, or, as it called in some places, Michaelmas.
The name Michael means “who is like God?” And in the twelfth chapter of Revelations, Michael is shown casting out of heaven those angels who think they know the answer to that question. “Who is like God?”
They answer like Adam and Eve, listening to the serpent, “We are.”
Perhaps because presuming to be God is the primary sin, Michael is known as the protector of Israel and the protector of the Church. He stands guard against those who take upon themselves what belongs to God alone.
Gabriel — “God is my strength” — is the bringer of good news. It is Gabriel who brings the news that John the Baptist will be born to Elizabeth and Zechariah and Gabriel who appears to Mary and tells her she is to be the Mother of God. Tradition holds that Gabriel will sound the trumpet to awaken the dead on the Judgment Day.
Raphael’s name means “God has healed.” The story of Raphael and the healing of Tobit’s elderly blind father is told in Tobit 11:1-15. In John’s gospel, chapter 5:1-9, the story is told of a sick man lying by the pool of Bethesda. He wants to go into the waters, which, according to tradition were stirred up by Raphael. Jesus tells the man, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” The man is healed.
Invoking the angels
There are two verses from the Outer Hebrides, dedications that invoke the angels as one begins the day. The first is for the kindling of the fire. For us, that might mean plugging in the coffee pot or turning on the heat:
I will kindle my fire this morning
In the presence of the holy angels of heaven.
And this for making one’s bed:
I make this bed
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
In the name of the night we were conceived,
In the name of the night that we were born,
In the name of the day we were baptized,
In the name of each night, each day,
Each angel that is in the heavens.
As you begin this day, ask God to help you be a protector, a bringer of good news and a healer, this day and every day.
Cooking for the Feast
Because Gabriel, especially in its feminine form, Gabriella, is such a popular name, and because Michael retains its popularity, this is surely the nameday of someone among your family and friends. Make rolled sugar cookies today using a favorite recipe and cut them out in the shape of angels. (You may have to look through your Christmas cookie cutters for this. Or, since most craft stores are already stocked for Christmas, angel-shaped cookie cutters should be easy to find.)