O God, Who assign according to a wondrous order the duties of Angels and men, mercifully grant that our life on earth be guarded by those who continually stand in Your presence and minister to You in heaven.
– From the Collect for the Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel
This Sunday would normally be the 16th Sunday after Pentecost, but this year that celebration is reduced to a commemoration and instead we celebrate the Dedication of St. Michael the Archangel, commonly known as Michaelmas (pronounced “MICK-el-mus”).
Michaelmas was one of the great feasts of the Middle Ages, and many customs and traditions revolved around it, particularly in England and Ireland. It marked the end of the harvest season and it was one of the four English “Quarter Days,” which fell around the changing of the seasons (the others were the Annunciation, the Feast of St. John the Baptist, and Christmas). Michaelmas was a Holy Day of Obligation in the Church until the 18th century. The English traditionally ate goose and carrots on Michaelmas, two foods in abundant supply at that time of the year.
Why did Michaelmas become such a major feast in the Church? It wasn’t simply because it fell near the Fall Equinox. St. Michael is one of the most significant figures in salvation history and well-deserving of the honor given to him in this feast. He is the greatest of the archangels, whose glory it was to cast Satan into hell. The description of his victory in the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) vividly reveals his importance:
And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels: And they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven. And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduceth the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying: Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: because the accuser of our brethren is cast forth, who accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of the testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death. Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you that dwell therein. Woe to the earth, and to the sea, because the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time. (Rev 12:7-12)
However, St. Michael’s role in salvation history is not limited to that one event. He is one of the most powerful intercessors in heaven, as we see in the importance the Church has given to the St. Michael prayer, prayed after every low Mass. In this prayer we ask the victor over Satan to assist us in defeating the demons in our own lives and in the world.
In our battle for holiness, God gives us as much assistance as we need. The Sacraments, Sacramentals, and the example of the Saints all help us to victory. But this battle includes unseen enemies—the fallen angels—and so God also gives us the assistance of the good angels, led by St. Michael, to join us in battle. We cannot overcome these dark forces on our own, but with the intercession of St. Michael and his cohort, we can be victorious.
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications. He is the author of eight books, including Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It.