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Thursday 29 September 2022: Saint Michael and All Angels/Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

In the presence of the angels, I will bless you

Genesis 28:10-17/Daniel 7:9-10,13-14, Apocalypse 12:7-12, Psalm 137, John 1:47-51.

By Duncan Macpherson

Features Editor of The Preacher and formerly Principal Lecturer in Theology, St. Mary’s University, Twickenham

Context: a small, mainly elderly, congregation at a weekday morning Mass in a suburban Catholic parish church

Aim: to emphasise that belief in the angels represents God’s loving concern for each of us

Today we are celebrating Angelic beings. The feast, Michaelmas, was once culturally important enough to have both a daisy and an academic term named after it! I had thought that if an angel appeared in our culture most people would assume it was an extra-terrestrial, but when I looked at the statistics I found to my surprise, that more people believe in angels than in aliens. And those who believe in angels are not only Christians and Muslims but include people who have no religion at all!

We may speculate as to whether there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Be that as it may, the Christian tradition, in common with other great religious traditions, points to the reality of invisible spiritual powers that we can only imagine.

THE ANGELS OF GOD ASCENDING AND DESCENDING

The purpose of these angels, or ‘messengers’, however, is not to draw attention to themselves but to the one God revealed in Jesus Christ. In the Gospel, Jesus tells Nathaniel that he will ‘see the heaven laid open, and above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.’

THE HOLY ARCHANGELS

In the Eucharist we join our thanksgiving prayer with spiritual powers whose names reveal aspects of the God that we and they both worship: Michael (‘who is like God’); Gabriel (‘Strength of God’) and Raphael (‘Healing of God’). In the Bible, Michael, the spiritual warrior (referred to by Daniel, Jude, and the Apocalypse) demonstrates God’s power over evil; Gabriel shows God’s entry into history (mentioned in Daniel and Luke) and Raphael (found in the Book of Tobit) illustrates God’s power to heal.

THE ANGELS KEEP THEIR ANCIENT PLACES

So, it is the loving concern that the strong, all powerful, healing God has for each one of us which expresses itself in the belief in the existence of angelic beings. Those who consider such a notion fanciful, sentimental, or naive might reflect on the words of the poet Francis Thompson:

‘The angels keep their ancient places;

turn but a stone and start a wing!

’Tis ye, ‘tis your estrangèd faces,

that miss the many-splendoured thing.’

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