Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds an MS degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
People seem to be taken by superheroes. Fantasy ones. But what about the real celestial superheroes who are waiting to help us and who make the fantasy superheroes worth less than the paper they’re printed on?
Let’s stay with the fable for a minute. Fancy yourself as a lowly citizen, yet the king of this realm more powerful than any other on earth has his three top princes standing ready to help you every day. Sounds unbelievable?
Not to the King of Kings. Our Lord has three great Princes of Heaven as close as a prayer away. The names of this powerful heavenly trio should be on the tip of our tongues. They are the Archangels St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael.
They share a singular feast day each year — Sept. 29. Since this year it falls on a Sunday, the feast won’t be celebrated as usual. But don’t forget this powerful trio heavenly helpers — the only three angels named in Scripture. And look ahead to Oct. 2, the feast of their colleagues, our guardian angels.
Let’s start asking — as Shakespeare once did — what’s in a name? The names of the archangels tell us much about them, especially their principal attributes.
St. John Paul II reminded us of the meaning of their names in a 1986 general audience. “Mica-EL in fact means: ‘Who is like God?’ In this name, therefore, we find expressed the salvific choice thanks to which the angels ‘see the face of the Father’ who is in Heaven.”
Next is Gabri-EL, meaning “my power is God” or “power of God.”
Then there is Raphael, ‘Rafa-EL’ meaning “God heals.”
John Paul II made clear that “each one of these figures, Mica-EL, Gabri-EL, and Rafa-EL reflects in a particular way the truth contained in Paul’s “Letter to the Hebrews (1:14): Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation?”
Michael is the prince of the angels and a great warrior. For one, the angel giving revelations about the end of the world to Daniel (12:1) tells him, “At that time shall Michael rise up, 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.”
In Revelation (12:7-8) John reveals that “war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.”
What’s more, we can’t recount here all the many instances and events in which St. Michael protected God’s people and won battles of every sort. Michael is forever on the winning side and can never be defeated. Let’s just look at one instance that involves penitence and health.
The Church identifies Saint Michael as “Prince of the heavenly hosts.” From 484, churches in Rome were already dedicated to St. Michael when in 591 a devastating plague raged in Rome. To implore heavenly help, Pope St. Gregory the Great carried a painting of Our Lady considered done by St. Luke in procession through the city as penance to atone for sins and plead for forgiveness. Reaching the bridge across the Tiber, the people heard angels singing. The St. Michael appeared in huge stature above Castel Sant'Angelo. He put the sword in his right hand back into its scabbard. At that instant the pestilence stopped.
St. Gregory said, “Whenever something is to be done needing great power, Michael is sent forth so that from his action and his name we may understand that no one can do what God can do.”
Soon a statue of St. Michael was placed at the top of the castle and remains there today. This latest sculpted version dates to the 18th century.
It’s obvious why in art and images we depict St. Michael as a knight and warrior who wears armor and carries a hefty sword, always ready for battle. And always victorious since he stands triumphantly crushing Satan or a serpent. As Revelation (7-8) tells us, “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.”
Which leads us to look at St. Michael’s four major duties. First, to wage battle against Satan and the fallen angels. Second, to save the souls of the faithful from the power of Satan and the devils, especially at the hour of death. Third, to protect the People of God, the Old Covenant’s Jews and the New Covenant’s Christians. Fourth, to lead the souls of the departed to our Lord for the particular judgment. St Michael wants to see us safely into heaven so he protects and defends souls and is their advocate at death.
We should also remember that St. Michael is the patron of policemen, soldiers, first responders including ambulance drivers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, also those dying and a holy death, artists, storms at sea, mariners, bakers, grocers, and not surprisingly exorcists. Say the Prayer of St. Michael in any of these cases — and for police in these times.
Recall in 1994, St. John Paul II urged Catholics to pray together to overcome the forces of darkness and evil in the world. He strongly recommended to begin praying again the St. Michael Prayer after each Mass. Since then, and more recently, several dioceses have re-instituted this most urgent practice.
Also, remember that at every Mass just before the Eucharistic Prayer begins, the prayer right before the Sanctus calls upon us to join the angels and archangels to sing the glory of God.
Later check the companion to learn of the time St. Michael appeared to give us the significant Chaplet to St. Michael and his promises attached to it for all of us.
Gabriel, as his name reveals, is especially tied to announcing the Incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God.
St. Gregory reminded that the archangels announce the highest things, so “not any Angel but the Archangel Gabriel was sent to Mary; for this ministry, it was fitting to have the highest Angel, since he was to announce the greatest news of all.”
Luke tells us “the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary” (1:26-37).
Earlier, the archangel identified himself to Zachariah, saying, “I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news” (Luke 1:19).
We honor St. Gabriel, whose name means “Strength of God” or “Power of God,” regularly without a second thought. But we should always remember that whenever we pray the “Hail Mary,” we first honor our Blessed Mother, of course, as we begin the “Ave Maria” with the words Gabriel addressed to her at the Annunciation. Want to make St. Gabriel extra joyful? Keep praying the Hail Mary to Our Lady.
Traditionally, he’s also considered the archangel who announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, warned St. Joseph to take Baby Jesus and Mary to Egypt, called him back to Israel, and later comforted Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Because St. Gabriel is such a powerful ambassador of God, he’s also the patron of communications workers, and of radio and TV. We should always ask his intercession to turn around our media, from print to TV to movies to the internet, back to morality, decency, and the good.
Raphael has much to tell us when we meet him as he plays a predominant part though most of the beautiful Book of Tobit. For one, St. Raphael protects Tobit’s son Tobias and conducts him safely on a long journey to and from home. As the meaning of his name “God heals” and “Medicine of God” tells us, he drives a demon away from Sarah, secures a happy marriage for Tobias and Sarah in the Lord, brings healing to the father Tobit’s blind eyes, and tells the recipients of his help to give all the praise and honor to God. And he gives them much sound spiritual guidance and counsel (Tobit 12: 6-18).
In a way, St. Raphael is the guardian angel par excellence for all the children of God, as were these people. John Paul II explained that Tobit is significant for “what it says about entrusting to the angels the little children of God, who are always in need of custody, care, and protection.”
To make sure everyone knows who he really is, Raphael identifies himself to the father and son Tobias who thought him to be a relative from afar. He tells them “God sent me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah.
“I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.
“Do not be afraid; you will be safe. But praise God for ever. For I did not come as a favor on my part, but by the will of our God. Therefore, praise him forever” (Tobit 12: 14-15, 17,18).
Servant of God Father John Hardon explained that “Raphael tells us that God sends His angels to help us in our needs. This is the teaching of the Church and the deeper and more grave our needs, the more sure we can be that God is providing us with angelic assistance.”
From St. Raphael’s revelations, Father Hardon advised that we also should thank God for the trials in our lives. “Express your gratitude for the hardships and trials He gives us…God sometimes enables us who love Him to love Him more through trials.” At the same time, Raphael told Tobit and Tobias “to be at peace.”
The story also reveals St. Raphael is, in particular, the patron of travelers, of happy meetings, and of joy all revealed in the meeting and marriage of Tobias and Sarah.
Personally, St. Raphael has helped my wife and myself through countless safe journeys, rescues from potential accidents, and happy meetings. Additionally, he’s also patron of the blind, of nurses, and of physicians.
“We, too, can pray to St. Raphael to ask that he help us to be messengers of joy to our families and to those with whom we work,” counsels a Daughters of St. Paul booklet, The Archangel Raphael – Sent by God. We should also pray to him to guide us safely to heaven. Daily we should ask him to conduct us safely to and from work and school, to the grocery store, on family vacations, to and from Mass — even in our own house and yard.
We can say to family members going somewhere as Tobit did to his son Tobias at first, not realizing who Raphael was, saying “May you have a good journey, and God be with you on your way, and his Angel accompany you.”
We should also ask Raphael for spiritual and bodily healing. And to bring us always to happy meetings with others.
Pope John Paul II said 1986 that we see in these three glorious archangels reflected the truth in St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to possess salvation?” (1-14).
And Psalm 91 proclaims: “For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”
Let’s accept Our King’s gracious offer and ask each day the help of his Three Heavenly Princes.