Happy feast day! Today is the Michaelmas, or the feast day of the Archangels St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael!
Yes, all three of them! For all three of them show up in the Bible! St. Michael appears several times as the protector and guardian, with his fiery sword. Raphael shows up in the account of Tobit, in which he leads Tobias off on an adventure towards marriage — which, by the way, is a fantastic story that all couples preparing for marriage ought to read. And Gabriel is the angel in the Annunciation — and also is the one who strikes dumb the doubting Zacharias.
All of them are different, yet if you look at the names, there is one thing in common: the last two letters spell “el.” Why? Because the name “Elohim” was the common name for God in the Hebrew bible. So, to have that suffix -el meant that the owner of the name was of God. And the archangels are messengers of God!
Now! The disconnect between the depiction of the archangels in art and their portrayal in the gospel accounts is huge. When the archangels reveal themselves as angels in their full glory (which is not always the case… for instance, in the Book of Tobit, Raphael is disguised), whoever is receiving the message falls down in fear. And yet, archangels in art generally do not look so fearsome.
I mean, just take the case of St. Gabriel. In the Gospel of Luke, his first appearance is basically him striking Zacharias mute when Zacharias dares to question God. This is no angel to be trifled with! And yet, in every single picture that I’ve featured so far of the Annunciation, he definitely doesn’t look fearsome. Just take a look: Picture #1, Picture #2, Picture #3, Picture #4, Picture #5, Picture #6, and Picture #7. See what I mean? Definitely not fearsome! And that’s not because I haven’t looked… trust me, I’ve researched artwork of the Annunciation, as they are featured in my book, The Joyful Mysteries! St. Gabriel is just generally depicted as being meek and mild.
The depictions of St. Michael are a little better, as he is owner of a flaming sword and is often depicted as battling with Satan with this sword. And yet, even then, he generally looks like a strong youth with wings. Were he to approach you without his sword, you would probably not fall down in fear. (Alas, I have not featured St. Michael very much, other than this blog… I will have to change that!)
Which is perhaps the reason why I adore this beautiful work which depicts St. Michael.
This stained glass window depicts St. Michael. He has traded his sword with a trumpet, as he does not need his sword anymore, and his hand raised as he announces the Last Judgment has begun. The words on the stained glass say, “Awake thou that sleepest: Arise from the dead and Christ shall give thee light,” which is from Ephesians 5:14.
He is garbed in the robes of a Crusader and he looks like a soldier. His face is fierce. He is a warrior for God, and honestly, were he to appear in front of me, even without his flaming sword, I would probably fall to my knees in fear too!
But don’t just take my word for it… take my daughter’s word! When I asked my four-year-old whether the angel was scary or friendly, she said, without thinking twice, “Scary.” Then she paused and said, “But also a little friendly.”
And that is probably the most realistic description of an angel that I have probably heard… scary, but a little friendly too.
Anyway, have a Happy Michaelmas! May you have a blessed day.
Sts. Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and all the other angels of God, pray for us!