Angels are pure, created spirits. The name angel means servant or messenger of God. They are celestial or heavenly beings, on a higher order than human beings. An angel has no body and does not depend on matter for his existence or activity. They are distinct from saints, which men can become. Angels have intellect and will and are immortal.
St. Michael – More Than An Archangel
Archangels are one of the nine choirs of angels listed in the Holy Bible. In ascending order, the choirs or classes are 1) Angels, 2) Archangels, 3) Principalities, 4) Powers, 5) Virtues, 6) Dominations, 7) Thrones, 8) Cherubim, and 9) Seraphim. For more general information on angels, see What are Angels? A Summary & Exposition on Angels for Catholics which is taken from A Tour of the Summa compiled by Msgr. Paul J. Gleen for Aeterna Press.
St. Michael is regarded as the special Guardian Angel of Saint Joseph and the Guardian Angel of each one of the Popes and one of the seven great angels who stand before the throne of God. As a result, it is taught that while we refer to St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael as “Archangels” we are not referring to their rank but rather denoting that they are a higher level than ordinary angels. It is believed that all three of them are actually seraphim – the higher-ranking angels.
The Liturgical Calendar
Enriched by Angels in Recent Centuries
While the Novus Ordo Calendar combined their feast on September 29, the Traditional Calendar in place for 1962 (and prior) kept St. Michael on September 29th, St. Gabriel on March 24th, and St. Raphael on October 24th. The feast day of St. Raphael was included by Pope Benedict XV for the first time in the General Roman Calendar in 1921, for celebration on October 24. By a decree of the Congregation of Sacred Rites dated October 26, 1921, issued by command of Pope Benedict XV, it was directed that the feast of St. Gabriel the Archangel should also be added and kept – this one on March 24th in connection with the Annunciation on March 25th. In addition to these three Archangels, the Eastern Catholic Churches also venerate the Angels Uriel, Selaphiel, Jegudiel, Barachiel and Jerahmeel. The Synaxis of the Holy Archangels is on November 8th in the Byzantine Rite.
Dr. Michael Foley in a piece published on the website of New Liturgical Movement in March 2022 provides a concise history of this gradual addition of angels to the Liturgical Life of the Church:
Angels were added to the Church calendar gradually. In A.D. 530, Pope Boniface II consecrated a basilica in Michael’s honor on the Salarian Way about seven miles from Rome, with the ceremonies beginning on the evening of September 29 and ending the following day. Subsequent celebrations of this dedication were held first on September 30 and later on September 29. In the traditional calendar, “Michaelmas,” as it is also called, maintains the official title “The Dedication of Saint Michael the Archangel,” even though the basilica it commemorates disappeared over a thousand years ago.
Michaelmas also commemorates all the heavenly hosts (including Gabriel and Raphael by name in the Divine Office), but the primary focus is on St. Michael. Over time, the Church began to see the wisdom of singling out particular angels for liturgical veneration. In 1670, Pope Clement X included the Feast of the Guardian Angels on October 2 of the universal calendar, the first available day after Michaelmas.
The Catholic Encyclopedia provides an overview of St. Michael:
St. Michael is one of the principal angels; his name was the war-cry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against the enemy and his followers. Four times his name is recorded in Scripture: Daniel 10:13… Daniel 12… In the Catholic Epistle of St. Jude: ‘When Michael the Archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses’, etc. St. Jude alludes to an ancient Jewish tradition of a dispute between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses, an account of which is also found in the apocryphal book on the assumption of Moses (Origen, De Principiis III.2.2).
St. Michael concealed the tomb of Moses; Satan, however, by disclosing it, tried to seduce the Jewish people to the sin of hero-worship. St. Michael also guards the body of Eve, according to the ‘Revelation of Moses’… Apocalypse 12:7, ‘And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon.’ St. John speaks of the great conflict at the end of time, which reflects also the battle in heaven at the beginning of time. According to the Fathers there is often a question of St. Michael in Scripture where his name is not mentioned. They say he was the cherub who stood at the gate of paradise, ‘to keep the way of the tree of life’ (Genesis 3:24), the angel through whom God published the Decalogue to his chosen people, the angel who stood in the way against Balaam (Numbers 22:22), the angel who routed the army of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35)…
Consequently, the Church attributes four offices to St. Michael as the Catholic Encyclopedia next summarizes:
- To fight against Satan.
- To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.
- To be the champion of God’s people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament; therefore, he was the patron of the Church, and of the orders of knights during the Middle Ages.
- To call away from earth and bring men’s souls to judgment
Why Have A Devotion to St. Michael?
The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in a 2006 book published by TAN Books answered this question well:
According to the great St. Alphonsus Liguori, veneration of the holy Angels, and particularly of St. Michael, is an outstanding sign of predestination. St. Lawrence Justinian says: ‘Although we must honor all the Angels, we ought to invoke in a very special manner the glorious St. Michael, as the Prince of all the heavenly spirits, because of his sublime dignity, his pre-eminent office and his invincible power, which he proved in his conflict with Satan, as well as against the combined forces of Hell.’ Again, the same Saint says: ‘Let all acknowledge St. Michael as their protector, and be devoted to him, for he cannot despise those who pray to him . . . But he guards them through life, directs them on their way and conducts them to their eternal home.’
The Two Feasts in Honor of St. Michael
Traditionally in the Liturgy of the Church prior to the year 1960, there were two feasts in honor of St. Michael. Those familiar with the Litany of Saints will also recall that his name is mentioned by name in the Litany. And those who attend the Traditional Latin Mass will be familiar with several references to St. Michael in the course of the Liturgy.
In the 6th century, the angelic St. Michael appeared in southern Italy on a mountain named Gargano. In this apparition, St. Michael asked that the cave in which he appeared would become a shrine to the True God in order to make amends for the pagan worship that once occurred there. The Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano still remains to this day.
St. Michael later appeared with a flaming sword atop the mountain during a storm on the eve of battle for the Lombards. The Lombards attributed their victory in battle on that day, May 8, 663, to St. Michael. And the Church then established a Feast in honor of the Apparition of St. Michael on May 8th, the anniversary of the battle.
This feast is still kept by priests who offer the pre-1955 Liturgy. It’s quite unfortunate that a decree was issued on July 26, 1960, that dropped this feast from the Universal Calendar. While the feastday is not kept even in the 1962 Missal, priests who offer the 1962 Missal may (and arguably should) say a Votive Mass on that day for St. Michael. Since in the 1962 Missal May 8th is a feria, a Votive Mass may be offered on that date (unless May 8th falls on a Sunday or another high-ranking day in the sanctoral cycle like Ascension Thursday).
On September 29th the Feast of the Dedication of St. Michael occurs, allowing us for the second time in the year to honor the Glorious St. Michael. The Feast of the Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel on September 29th is often just called: The Feast of St. Michael the Archangel.
St. Michael’s Day
as A Holy Day of Obligation
The first catalog of Holy Days of Obligation comes from the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX in 1234, which listed 45 Holy Days. In 1642, His Holiness Pope Urban VIII issued the papal bull “Universa Per Orbem” which altered the required Holy Days of Obligation for the Universal Church to consist of 35 such days as well as the principal patrons of one’s locality. St. Michael’s September 29th Feastday is present in both lists. While there was a divergence of holy days with no locality keeping all of them, his feast remained a day of obligation in Rome. His feast ceased being a universal day of obligation in the 18th century. It ceased being a Holy Day in Ireland in 1778.
Fasting in Preparation for Michaelmas
The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross are the Autumnal Ember Days which are also known as the Michaelmas Embertide, since they come near the time of Michaelmas. Those Ember Days were covered in our installment dedicated to the Customs of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
However, in addition to the Ember Days which were established as part of Church Law, there is an informal fasting period known as St. Michael’s Lent which is a Franciscan Tradition. The Little Flowers of St. Francis, a collection of stories about St. Francis of Assisi that was compiled during the 13th century, relates these words of St. Francis to his brothers in reference to St. Michael’s Lent:
My sons, we are drawing nigh to our forty days’ fast of St. Michael the Archangel; and I firmly believe that it is the will of God that we keep this fast in the mountain of Alvernia, the which by Divine dispensation hath been made ready for us, to the end that we may, through penance, merit from Christ the consolation of consecrating that blessed mountain to the honor and glory of God and of His glorious mother, the Virgin Mary, and of the holy angels.
This fasting period begins on the Assumption (August 15) and ends on the feast of St. Michael (September 29). It excludes Assumption Day itself and all Sundays, which are never days of fasting although they may be days of abstinence if one so chooses to keep them as such. For those interested in reviving this forgotten period of penance in preparation for Michaelmas, there are several resources available on A Catholic Life.
Michaelmas as an English Quarter Day
Also forgotten is how Michaelmas served as an important milestone in the English legal system. Michaelmas is one of the four English “Quarter Days,” days which fall around the Equinoxes or Solstices and mark the beginnings of new natural seasons (i.e., Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall) and which were used in medieval times to mark “quarters” for legal purposes, such as settling debts. The other days like this are Lady Day (the Feast of the Annunciation) on March 25, the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist on June 24, and Christmas on December 25. Debt collection was forbidden certain times of the year such as during the Octave of Christmas. We would do well to ensure all of our debts are paid to all rightful parties at this time.
The Foods of Michaelmas
Like at Martinmas, Michaelmas would often feature goose as one of the dinner’s key meals (assuming Michaelmas did not fall on a day of abstinence). Roast goose with apples, St. Michael’s Bannock, and Blackberry crumble were all eaten in various places for Michaelmas. In Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, Michaelmas has been observed since 1786 as Goose Day. Recipes for these may be found at Fish Eaters.
Dr. Foley describes these customs in more detail in the aforementioned piece:
Michaelmas was also known as ‘Devil’s Spit Day.’ When Lucifer was cast out of Heaven, he is said to have fallen on a blackberry bush and angrily spat on it. Consequently, one can eat blackberries on but not after either Michaelmas Day (September 29) or Old Michaelmas Day (October 4 or 11 in those parts of England that unofficially held on to the Julian calendar).
Of course, Michaelmas revelers need something to wash down all that food. Michelsminne or ‘Michael’s Love’ was the name given in parts of northern Europe to any wine consumed on Michaelmas. The custom was especially popular in Denmark.
the Victory of St. Michael over the Devil
Dorothy Gladys Spicer describes a Bavarian custom in The Festivals of Western Europe published in 1958:
On September 29, Saint Michael’s Day, the city of Augsburg holds an annual autumn fair to which hundreds of peasants from far and near come for trade and pleasure. Chief among the day’s attractions is the hourly appearance of figures representing the Archangel and the Devil. The figures are built in the foundation of Perlach Turm, or Tower, called Tura in local dialect. This slender structure, which rises to a height of two-hundred-and-twenty-five-feet and stands next to the Peter’s Kirche, north of the Rathaus, originally was a watch tower. In 1615 the watch tower was heightened and converted into a belfry.
Almost a hundred years earlier the group depicting the saint and the devil had been installed in the tower’s understructure. Annually on his feast day the archangel’s armor-clad figure, holding a pointed spear, appeared whenever the tower bell struck, and stabbed at the devil writhing at his feet.
During World War II the historic figures—the delight of generations of fair-goers—were destroyed. Since then a new group has been made and installed. Today, as for over four centuries, spectators continue to gather about the Tura and to watch breathlessly the symbolic drama of Michael, head of the Church Triumphant, dealing death blows to the dragon which brings evil and destruction to the world of men.
The Blue Mass
St. Michael remains the heavenly patron of police officers in addition to knights, soldiers, paramedics, ambulance drivers, and anyone at danger at sea, amongst others. His connection with police officers is the basis for the Blue Mass custom that originated in the early 20th century.
The Blue Mass dates to September 29, 1934, when Father Thomas Dade started the service as part of his duties with the Catholic Police and Fireman’s Society. The first Mass was held at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Washington, D.C. and has grown to a nationwide celebration on September 29th.
Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel
In 1751 AD, the Archangel Michael appeared to the Portuguese Carmelite nun, Servant of God Antónia d’Astónaco. In this apparition, St. Michael said that God wished to be glorified through a series of nine invocations in honor of the nine choirs of angels. Thus, the Chaplet of St. Michael was born. It was approved by Pope Pius IX in 1851 and was granted indulgences. See here to learn more and see the prayers.
The Leonine Prayers
& the Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel
Anyone who has assisted at a Tridentine Low Mass will be familiar with the Leonine prayers which are said immediately after the Last Gospel and the conclusion of Mass. The Leonine Prayers are so named as they were mandated by Pope Leo XIII in 1884.
Previously in 1859, Pope Pius IX ordered that all Masses offered in the Papal States were to be concluded with three Hail Marys, the Hail Holy Queen, and a Collect for the temporal sovereignty of the Church. But it was not until January 6, 1884, that Pope Leo XIII ordered the prayers to be recited throughout the world after the anti-clerical Kingdom of Italy was created, which absorbed the sovereignty of the Papal States. Two years later, in 1886, he added to them the St. Michael the Archangel prayer, after the extraordinary vision God permitted him to see. The Leonine Prayers were modified by Pope St. Pius X, who inserted at the end of these series of prayers the three-fold recitation of “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.”
The Forgotten Full Length St. Michael Prayer
The story of the vision is as follows. One day after Mass and in a Conference with the Cardinals in 1866, Pope Leo XIII fell down and received a vision of hell. Physicians ran to him to find no pulse; they feared that he had died. Yet, he opened his eyes only a few minutes later and screamed, “Oh what a horrible picture I was permitted to see!” In his visions, legions of devils flew from the depths of hell to cause destruction to the Church and damn souls. Suddenly St. Michael the Archangel appeared and fought the devils back into the abyss of hell. Following this, Pope Leo XIII created a prayer in honor of St. Michael. In addition to the short prayer which Catholics are most familiar, there is a full-length version which was listed in the Raccolta. That full length version can be found here.
Concerning who may say the full length prayer, the Angelus Press Daily Missal notes:
The Holy Father (Pope Leo XIII) exhorts priests to say this prayer as often as possible, as a simple exorcism to curb the power of the devil and prevent him from doing harm. The faithful (laity) also may say it in their own name, for the same purpose, as any approved prayer. Its use is recommended whenever action of the devil is suspected, causing malice in men, violent temptations and even storms and various calamities. It could be used as a solemn exorcism (an official and public ceremony in Latin) to expel the devil. It would then be said by a priest, in the name of the Church and only with a Bishop’s permission.
In heaven, St. Michael led the good angels against Lucifer and his rebel angels. The fallen angels pursue on earth that same war against the Man-God Christ which they began in heaven. Therefore, holy St. Michael continues to direct the battle against them here on earth.
The presence of St. Michael at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is particularly made clear to those at the Tridentine Mass, as St. Michael is at several times called out by name: As the standard-bearer of the Church, he introduces the departed souls of her children into God’s holy light (Offertory Hymn of Requiem Mass). He also presents our prayers to God (Incensation of the Altar at High Mass), he conquers demons (Prayers after Low Mass), and he pleads for us sinners (Confiteor).
May we worthily invoke his patronage! St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!
 In 1929, when Vatican City was officially established as a sovereign state in a treaty with the Kingdom of Italy, the purpose of the Leonine Prayers was seen by some as being fulfilled. However, others would hold that the real intent of Leo XIII was for the full temporal sovereignty of the Pope over the territory known as the Papal States to be restored. To date, this has yet to happen. The following year, Pope Pius XI ordered that the Leonine Prayers were to continue to be said but were to be offered for the intention “to permit tranquility and freedom to profess the faith to be restored to the afflicted people of Russia.” And they continued to be prayed at the end of Low Mass until they were discontinued in March 1965, following the September 26, 1964, instruction Inter Oecumenici, which decreed: “The Leonine Prayers are suppressed.” However, more than ever before, we see the need to restore these prayers and encourage the faithful to pray them every day – even from home. The Leonine Prayers are not strictly speaking part of the Mass. They occur immediately after Mass and may be said by anyone for the intention of the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and for the restoration of the Catholic Faith in Russia and the end of the schism of the Orthodox. You may print out the Leonine prayers by downloading a PDF of them here. (Some priests we know even specifically pray for the consecration and/or the conversion of Russia at the conclusion of the Leonine prayers.)
Matthew Plese is a Third Order Dominican who resides in Chicago, IL. Matthew is a practicing Certified Public Accountant and Catechist. He is the President of CatechismClass.com, an online based organization whose mission is to make the best in Catholic religious education and Sacramental preparation available for those who need it. Matthew writes a monthly piece on apologetics and catechesis for Catholic Family News and a weekly column for the Fatima Center. He is also the author of Catholic Book Summaries: 54 Traditional and Contemporary Classics; Eschatology: The Catholic Study of the Four Last Things; Understanding the Precepts of the Church, and The Roman Catechism Explained for the Modern World as well as The Definitive Guide to Catholic Fasting & Abstinence. He also blogs at A Catholic Life.