The scriptural word “angel” (Greek, angelos) means, literally, a messenger. According to the biblical witness, angels, messengers from God, can be visible or invisible, and may assume human or nonhuman forms. In his Church Dogmatics, the great Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth summarizes the section of the text on angels (“the ambassadors of God”) in this way:
God’s action in Jesus Christ, and therefore his lordship over his creature, is called “the kingdom of heaven” because first and supremely it claims for itself the upper world. From this God selects and sends his messengers, the angels, who precede the revelation and doing of his will on earth as objective and authentic witnesses, who accompany it as faithful servants of God and man, and who victoriously ward off the opposing forms and forces of chaos.
Of the angels who appear in the biblical narrative, only four are given names: Michael (Hebrew, “Who is like God?”) and Gabriel (“God is my strength”) are named in the canonical Scriptures; Raphael (“God heals”) in the deuterocanonical book of Tobit; and Uriel (“God is my light”) in 2 Esdras and in the apocryphal Book of Enoch and the Testament of Solomon. Michael appears in the Book of Daniel as “one of the chief princes” of the heavenly host and as the special guardian or protector of Israel (Daniel 10 and 12). In the Book of Revelation he is the principal warrior of the heavenly host against the dragon, who was “thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12). In the Epistle of Jude, Michael disputes with Satan over the body of Moses and declares, “The Lord rebuke you.” (The epistle may be citing a lost passage in the Assumption of Moses, an apocryphal Jewish book.) The second-century Christian text Shepherd of Hermas depicts Michael as an angel of majestic aspect, who has authority over “this people and governs them, for it was he who gave them the law…and superintends those to whom he gave it to see if they have kept it.” In the second-century Testament of Abraham Michael’s intercession is so powerful that souls can be rescued even from hell, a passage that may have inspired the offertory antiphon in the former Roman Liturgy for the Dead: “May Michael the standard-bearer lead them into the holy light, which you promised of old to Abraham and his seed.”
The formal veneration of Michael began in the Christian East, where he was invoked particularly for the care of the sick. A famous appearance of Michael at Mount Garganus (Monte Gargano) in Italy in the late fifth century was important in the spread of his veneration to the West. The feast of Saint Michael on September 29 commemorates the dedication of his basilica on the Salarian Way near Rome. From early times his veneration was strong in the British Isles, such that by the end of the Middle Ages in England, almost seven hundred churches were dedicated to him. He is the patron of the monastery fortress of Mont-Saint-Michel off the coast of Normandy and of Coventry Cathedral, England’s most famous modern cathedral, which was built out of the ashes of the devastation of that city during the Second World War.
prepared in part from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The First Lesson
Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Benedic anima mea
Bless the LORD, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.
He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;
He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;
He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
The LORD executes righteousness *
and judgment for all who are oppressed.
He made his ways known to Moses *
and his works to the children of Israel.
The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.
He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.
For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.
As a father cares for his children, *
so does the LORD care for those who fear him.
For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.
Our days are like the grass; *
we flourish like a flower of the field;
When the wind goes over it, it is gone, *
and its place shall know it no more.
But the merciful goodness of the LORD
endures for ever on those who fear him, *
and his righteousness on children’s children;
On those who keep his covenant *
and remember his commandments and do them.
The LORD has set his throne in heaven, *
and his kingship has dominion over all.
Bless the LORD, you angels of his,
you mighty ones who do his bidding, *
and hearken to the voice of his word.
Bless the LORD, all you his hosts, *
you ministers of his who do his will.
Bless the LORD, all you works of his,
in all places of his dominion; *
bless the LORD, O my soul.
The Second Lesson
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world — he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”