It is now an accepted fact that when the Church gets rid of something, the secular world adopts it and adapts it to its own needs. Gregorian chant is a great example. When the ancient music of the liturgy was dropped to be replaced by folk songs and romantic ballads, chant suddenly became popular and even made its way into pop music. So too with the holy angels. As many in the Church today try and convince us that angels do not exist, the New Age movement is suddenly gushing with angelic messengers and offering us all sorts of treatments, products and experiences with these beings, adapted, of course, to suit the occult. As many have found to their cost these "angels" are not what they seem, and so are best avoided in favour of the figures revealed and venerated by Christianity and Judaism. So if you have angel cards or any of the paraphernalia of that kind consign them to the flames from which they have originally come. As people have found, the angels this "spirituality" invokes are not the heavenly kind.
Today's feast of the Holy Archangels provides us with an opportunity to get to know the real mccoy personally. Traditionally this feast day belonged to St Michael alone, SS Gabriel and Raphael had their own celebrations, but with the change in the liturgical calendar they are grouped together. I can understand the wisdom of that, but to be honest I think separate feast days would be best because it would give us more time and space to reflect on each Archangel, his work for the Lord and his intervention in human affairs.
Of the three, St Michael is the most invoked, I think. I remember the first time I came across him when I was a child and I was impressed: a fierce warrior brandishing a sword and clobbering the living daylights out of the devil - no mean feat, I said to myself. Since that time I have been praying to him and looking for his protection - and there have been times when I certainly needed it - and got it! My late singing teacher, Evelyn Dowling, had a tremendous devotion to St Michael, and I tell you as like attracts like she could be fiercesome herself at times, especially when you arrived unprepared for a lesson. With that angelic smile of hers she would put you through the vocal exercises relentlessly and without mercy until your diaphragm and vocal chords were stretched to oblivion and nimble enough to dash off a coloratura aria. In agonising moments like those prayer was the only refuge..."St Michael the Archangel, defend us in the hour of conflict...." Of course, as I quickly discovered, he was always on her side!
Michael is the great defender: he protects us against the work of the devil, and so the Church sees in him a powerful ally who symbolises the protection of God. When we look to St Michael we are led to understand that the victory is already won, the devil is defeated, so we can take to heart the message of victory, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, "Do not be afraid". St Gabriel is the messenger par excellence. He was chosen to announce the Incarnation. An ancient tradition relates that he was also Our Lady's own Guardian Angel - she was so important she merited such an exalted angel. Imagine Gabriel's delight when the assignment was handed out: "Brilliant", he might have said, "little trouble there!" And then there is St Raphael. He features in the Book of Tobit and as his name means "healing of God", he is sent to bring healing - physical, emotional and spiritual, to various people in the book. He is invoked as an intercessor for the sick. Tobit is a beautiful read, if you have time today dip into it; or better still, sit down and read it. If ever you are lonely or facing difficult moments that book reminds you that, even though you may not sense it, God is very close. And that is what we celebrate today: God's loving and enduring presence, healing and protection as revealed in the companionship and ministry of his angels. Happy feast day!!