This weekend’s collect begins by asking that the Catholic people have the grace to shun all the defilements of the devil. Diabolica vitare contagia. It is a fitting prayer, given that we celebrated the feast of St Michael this past week—St Michael, the patron of our diocese. Our diocesan coat of arms bears it out beautifully: the red cross of St Micheal shelters four springs of water on a white field, these four springs being Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties.
I thought I would say something about our patron this weekend. If we study the sacred liturgy closely, we notice that St Michael has two missions in the spiritual order.
The first mission is connected with the one spoken of in our collect today: St Michael assists the Catholic people to resist the influence and attacks of Satan. Now is the time for me to remind you about how interpenetrated the human order is with the angelic order. Remember that angels have no bodies and therefore they cannot be said to dwell in places as such. Rather, angels are present where they act; and both good angels and bad are always acting in the arena of redemption. Holy Scripture bears out this truth time and time again.
At each holy Mass we are reminded of it, too. I did not have the time to thoroughly look into it: but how many times the angels are mentioned in the texts of the Mass would be interesting to know. I think of these examples: in the Confiteor we confess our sins to St Michael and beg his help. I invoke him again when I bless the incense at the offertory, saying:
By the intercession of blessed Michael, who stands at the right of the altar of incense . . . may the Lord vouchsafe to bless this incense and receive it as an odor of sweetness.
During the Preface and Sanctus the angels are invoked. Once during the canon, with the priest bowing low over the consecrated Host, he asks that an angel take up the offering.
Doubtless there are more examples. But this first function of St Michael is both protective and liturgical; we ask him to be present so that Satan and his angels will not be.
The second function of St Michael is less known but equally attested to in the sacred liturgy. In one of the antiphons of the divine office on the feast of St Michael, the Church prays, speaking in the voice of God: “O archangel Michael, I have constituted you prince over all those souls about to be received [into eternity.]” Principem super animas suscipiendas. Thus, according to the liturgical doctrine of the Church, St Michael is patron of newly departed souls.
A second example of this same function occurs in the texts of our funeral Mass. At the offertory, the choir chants:
deliver these souls from the lion’s mouth, that Tartarus may not swallow them up; but let Michael, the standard-bearer, bring them into the holy light which you promised to Abraham and his seed.
Again, it is St Michael, bearing the battle standard of God, who leads the souls of the faithful departed safely to the haven of the blessed.
Both of these missions of St Michael should give us great comfort and courage. To say nothing of the fact that when we venerate the holy angels, our faith grows more Catholic and strong. In our times, a certain anti-supernaturalism persists: that is, the attitude which is scandalized by the supernatural, which finds belief in the angels nothing more than a quaint hold-over from naïve mediæval piety. I have only to say that all of the references to St Michael above were removed from the missal of 1970.
But you and I know well that such an attitude is a serious mistake. We know this, not because we are interested in polemics, but simply because we are interested in every work of God, no matter how mysterious. And someday we hope to see with our own eyes this very great work of God who is St Michael. May he pray for us now and always.