Michael and All Angels (September 29)
This year Michaelmas falls on a Sunday,
and so we remember, give thanks, and celebrate.
But, for a change, let me share some
of what others say about this remarkable day…
St. Michael the Archangel, icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt. Sinai, 13th century
Sundays and Seasons – A resource for worship from Augsburg Fortress Publishers
Victory Is Hope
It is easy to be caught up in the drama of these readings [for the day]: war breaking out in heaven, a time of great anguish on earth, Michael and the angels battling with Satan. Even Jesus’ disciples—foolish though they may sometimes be—are given authority over demons in the name of Christ. Yet the significance of these readings lies not in the events described but in the power behind them: the death and resurrection of Jesus. The angels are victorious “by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11), and in Daniel’s vision “those who lead many to righteousness” shine “like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). Jesus says it best, however, when he warns the seventy not to rejoice in their power over evil but in the certainty of their salvation.
John August Swanson
In 1977 I visited the City of Coventry. This city had had been rebuilt after having suffered severe aerial bombing during World War II. Many artists had commissions to work in different sections of the new Cathedral. Sir Jacob Epstein was commissioned to create a work for the new Cathedral’s outside wall. I marveled at his grand sculpture of Saint Michael the Archangel battling Satan. The beauty of this monumental sculpture has stayed with me all these thirty years.
The demons depicted in “St. Michael” are primeval; a brute force with heavy thick scales covering them. They emerge from the depths of the unknown spaces with destructive force. They are hidden representing that part of nature that remains with us from our deepest and ancient forms of life. The growth and development of the human race has been to struggle to overcome these forces.
St. Michael, the archangel has an ancient name meaning “who is as God”. References to him are in the Book of Daniel, The Qur’an, the Book of Revelation, the Midrash as well as many other ancient religious texts, traditions and legends. There are shrines and special sites around the world dedicated to St. Michael invoking his assistance and protection.
The archetype or symbolism of the Archangel battling demons has a power that goes deep into our psyche. It helps us see our own efforts to grow as humans in overcoming ignorance, hatred, violence and despair. We see our struggles of life as universal and transcending the personal to apply to every human who has had to decide, choose, begin again, and find peace. This internal struggle connects us to our ancient past, to our ancestors, and the Human Family today. By our own understanding we can grow in compassion and hope; for others and for ourselves. As a child, knowing about angels gave me a sense of being loved and helped me through difficult times. I remember the small holy cards with images of angels watching over children. I would keep one close to my bed.
To many, Saint Michael the Archangel, “Captain of the Heavenly Host,” is best known as that dauntless spirit who vanquished his peer among the angels, Lucifer, once called “the Star of the Morning.” Michael is a star of the love than conquers pride. Sometimes he is pictured as a winged angel in white robes, but oftener as the armed warrior on the errands of God, about his head a halo and under his foot the demon, prone and helpless. He was honored in Jewish tradition, and became the champion of Christian warriors as well, although in early ages he was also given the protection of the sick. Of his early sanctuaries, the best known is Monte Gargano in Italy, where he appeared in the fifth or sixth century to the Lombards and insured their victory over the Greek Neapolitans. In the Middle Ages Michael became in Normandy the patron of mariners. His shrines were built in high places, facing the sea, and Mont-Saint-Michel on its rock is the greatest example of devotion to him, a place of pilgrimage a thousand years ago as it still is today.
In Ireland, Michaelmas was one of the most important feasts of the year, and people prayed especially on this day for protection against sickness. A goose or a sheep or a pig was especially killed and eaten at Michaelmas at a feast of thanksgiving, connected by some with a miracle of Saint Patrick performed with the aid of Michael the Archangel. And the Irish made a Michaelmas Pie into which a ring was placed — its finder was supposed to have an early marriage. In Scotland, Saint Michael’s Bannock was made on his day, as well as a Saint Michael’s Cake, that all guests, together with the family, must eat entirely before the night was over.In Scotland, Saint Michael’s Bannock was made on his day, as well as a Saint Michael’s Cake, that all guests, together with the family, must eat entirely before the night was over.
Gail Ramshaw, Sundays and Seasons
IMAGES IN THE READINGS
In the several centuries before Christ, Judaism had been influenced especially by Zoroastrianism, which speculated about many types of supernatural beings. In Jewish angelology, God had four primary angelic assistants, who, according to some of the pseudepigraphal writings, held up the throne of God: Gabriel, who was to announce the end of the world; Michael, who was the conqueror of Satan and protector of Israel; Raphael, who healed the sick and protected travelers; and Uriel, who punished evildoers. Christian story-telling retained the first three archangels but dropped Uriel. Many medieval artists depicted the archangel Michael as victorious over the monster Satan. Identified with warfare, Michael was popular in Christian imagination.In Jewish apocalyptic literature, the origins of evil get backdated before Adam and Eve to a similar story before the human creation: God had created all things good, including the hierarchical ranks of angels. One archangel, Lucifer, which means “bearer of light,” wanted to be like God and so lead a rebellion in heaven against divine authority.
The archangel Michael led the forces of good, and in the battle Satan, which means “the adversary,” was thrown out of heaven and down into the depths. Thus Satan-Lucifer now resides below, in a place identified later as Hades, and still later as hell. This story gives a cosmic background to that of a human couple in a garden. The story of Lucifer’s fall from grace provides one response to the perennial inquiry as to whether God created evil. According to this story, the angels, like humans, have free will, either to obey or to resist the will of God.
Ben Johnson, Editor, Historic-UK.com
Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on the 29th of September every year. As it falls near the equinox, the day is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days; in England, it is one of the “quarter days”.There are traditionally four “quarter days” in a year (Lady Day[, or The Annunciation] (25th March), Midsummer[, or St. John the Baptist] (24th June), Michaelmas (29th Spetember) and Christmas (25th December)). They are spaced three months apart, on religious festivals, usually close to the solstices or equinoxes. They were the four dates on which servants were hired, rents due or leases begun. It used to be said that harvest had to be completed by Michaelmas, almost like the marking of the end of the productive season and the beginning of the new cycle of farming. It was the time at which new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid. This is how it came to be for Michaelmas to be the time for electing magistrates and also the beginning of legal and university terms.St Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, protector against the dark of the night and the Archangel who fought against Satan and his evil angels. As Michaelmas is the time that the darker nights and colder days begin – the edge into winter – the celebration of Michaelmas is associated with encouraging protection during these dark months.
The Michaelmas Daisy, which flowers late in the growing season between late August and early October, provides colour and warmth to gardens at a time when the majority of flowers are coming to an end. As suggested by the saying below, the daisy is probably associated with this celebration because, as mentioned previously, St Michael is celebrated as a protector from darkness and evil, just as the daisy fights against the advancing gloom of Autumn and Winter.
“The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,
Bloom for St Michael’s valorous deeds.
And seems the last of flowers that stood,
Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.” (28 Oct.)
Sundays and Seasons, 29 September 2013
(Miriam Therese Winter, SCMM, in Homilies for the Christian People, 567)
Forget the vain pursuit of halo and harp. Enough of those larger than life, militant seraphim who support our propensity for war. Put aside the hierarchical, patriarchal imagery. Angels have something important to teach us about ourselves and God. Angels remind us that our material world is influenced by the world of the spirit, and that we are intrinsically capable of inhabiting both worlds with equal ease. Humanity may rank a little lower than the angels because we are flesh as well as spirit, yet through Jesus who is God’s own Word made flesh, we can rise above the angels to share in the very life of God. Look closely, and you will see that angels reveal God’s secrets, guard and protect the vulnerable, are witness to miracles, are called to unending praise. Today we celebrate not only their achievements, but also that potential in ourselves to be and do the same.
PNJ: And more… Thanks be to God!