St Michael, Prince of the Heavenly Host

By Maria Madise

Today we celebrate the feast of St Michael the Archangel. Normally depicted as a glorious warrior, clad in armour, subduing the Devil with his sword or spear, it is impossible to separate St Michael from the weapons he wields in the service of God. Describing Lucifer’s defeat at the hands of St Michael, St John writes: “There was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels: And they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven.” (Apocalypse 12:7-8) This fight at the end of time mirrors the first battle in heaven at the beginning of time.

Mi-cha-el – “Who is like God?” – was the war-cry with which the Archangel led the attack on Lucifer and the rebel angels. Satan wanted to be like God, not just the greatest in the order of His creation, but God Himself. Michael’s fight, therefore, was significant not because he battled over the highest place amongst the angels, but because he was the first to assume the fight for God’s honour and glory.

From the beginning, the angels had perfect knowledge of all creation of the natural order. But as God started to reveal His supernatural order to them, and particularly His plan concerning the Incarnation – that the Word will become flesh, take the form of a creature and that the Son would sit on the right hand of the Father in all eternity – Satan was struck with envy and pride. “Non serviam!” cries the one, who wants the place of the Son of God for himself, and thus led a host of angels to join the rebellion. “Non serve!” he also whispered to Eve to drag the entire human race down with his own fall and thus even prevent the Incarnation he so feared.  

But after being miserably defeated by St Michael, one humiliation follows the next. In the marvellous designs of God, it is not human armies, nor the most illustrious soldiers of all time that make war on the devil for the eternal fate of humanity, but a humble handmaid whose “Fiat!” opens the way to the redemption of fallen men. What could be more humiliating to the devil than being defeated anew by one word of a humble virgin? Not only did this Virgin conceive the Son who assumed the place he desired on the right hand of the Father, but who also redeemed the human race which the devil had managed to lead out from paradise.

Nevertheless, Satan continues to battle over each soul until the end of time. His demons are confronted by our angels – who again are subject to St Michael. He is the chief of all individual guardian angels who fight to deliver each one of us from the demons until the last moment of our earthly life. 

We must be infinitely grateful to our guardian angels not only for protecting us by fighting the demons who joined Lucifer in his revolution against God, but also because they joined St Michael in the decisive battle and were certainly part of this tremendous victory. It should, therefore, be a great consolation to us in all our earthly struggles that we have for assistance an angel from the army whose victory over evil has been assured!

St Michael, being the commander of all angels is also a most powerful protector of the Church. There could be no better guardian for the Church Militant than the Captain of God’s celestial army. 

Of all the angels named in scripture, we know most about St Michael. Based on these revelations, the Catholic Encyclopaedia lists four particular offices attributed to him:

1)   To fight against Satan. (Daniel 10:13 sqq)
2)   To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death. (Daniel 12)
3)   To be the champion of God’s people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament; therefore he is a patron of the Church, and of the orders of knights during the Middle Ages. (Catholic Epistle of St Jude)
4)   To call away from earth and present the souls of men for judgment. (Apocalypse 12:7)  

Having cast the demons out of heaven, St Michael has an important role in exorcisms, casting demons out from the souls of men. In the traditional form of the Confiteor, he is invoked immediately after Our Lady. This reflects the prominence given to St Michael and his power to deliver us from our enemy who “as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour.” (1Pt 5:8)

From 1886, the protection of St Michael was invoked at the end of every Low Mass throughout the world. This well-known prayer was composed by Pope Leo XIII after a vision in his private chapel, which he described to those who accompanied him at the time, “What a horrible picture I was permitted to see!” In this vision, the Holy Father saw that Satan was given the choice of one century in which to do his worst work against the Church and he chose the twentieth century. The prayer to St Michael to be recited by the faithful after each Low Mass was the Holy Father’s response to his prophetic vision. 

The Angel of Peace, who heralded the apparition of Our Lady at Fatima is widely identified as St Michael. And in 1929 the Leonine Prayers after Mass were offered for the conversion of Russia. With the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass in 1969, however, this practice was suppressed. It is a sad paradox that Pope Paul VI, who warned that the “smoke of Satan has entered the Church”, was also responsible for ending the regular invocation of St Michael’s protection. 

Today, St Michael must remain our special patron in the fight against the powers of evil. It was his humility as an angel from the lower ranks which allowed St Michael to unite himself perfectly to the will of God and cast down Lucifer in his pride. Therefore, let us never cease to implore St Michael in our current battle in the world and in the Church. May he deliver us from evil and train us in purity, humility and the zealous love for God which is necessary to serve Him faithfully and fight for His glory.

St Michael, Prince of the Heavenly host, pray for us!
Holy Mary, Queen of Angels, pray for us!