For Maronite Catholics, November 8th is the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel. He’s one of the seven spirits who stand in the presence of God (cf. Tob. 12:15, Rev. 1:4, 4:5, 8:2). The others are Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Remiel (who sadly fell at some point and was replaced by Simiel/Selaphiel) and Saraqael, only the first two of whom are named in the Biblical canon. Pope Saint Gregory I gives us a slightly different listing—Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Simiel, Oriphiel and Raguel—but we shouldn’t take this as a disagreement over the identities of the archangels. Celestial beings are often named according to what divine aspects they reflect, and thus some of them have multiple names. Most of these names are drawn from extra-biblical texts such as the Book of Enoch, which is directly quoted by the New Testament in Jude 1:14-15 and is still viewed as a canonical Old Testament book by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
However, for a long time, the use of the names of all but the first three archangels had been suppressed in the Catholic Church due to concerns about their abuse by occult groups. This prohibition changed when the liturgical practices of the Eastern Christian (Catholic and Orthodox) Churches were reaffirmed as fully legitimate, most recently in Orientalium Ecclesiarum, against people who wished to overthrow the more ancient teachings of our religion out of fear that they might be misunderstood and misused.
The Nature of the Archangels
We learn a lot about the archangels from the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 325-336, 391-395. Like all spirits, they are personal beings with intelligence and free will. Originally, all were created good, but over the course of the ages some have fallen from grace to become demons. Thus, spirits, like men, are not always beyond the grasp of sin and temptation. Unlike men, however, spirits who resist their first temptation will never yield to sin, and from then onward are rightly recognized as saints; spirits who fall into sin only once, on the other hand, will never climb back out again. This strange principle is likely due to the clarity spirits have in grasping the full consequences of their actions.
The Fall of the Angels
Biblical evidence suggests that there have been at least two falls or cataclysmic wars among the angels—one before the creation of human beings, led by the fallen seraph (or cherub according to some accounts, but definitely not an archangel), Lucifer (cf. Isaiah 14, where the King of Babylon is compared to him), and a later much less organized rebellion having to do with sexual sins and other unlawful actions committed against material creatures (cf. Gen. 6:1-4, Jude 1:6-7). However, this second war may also have been instigated by Lucifer; he may have tempted angels who had not yet been exposed to the test of sin. In any case, spirits, like men, do not achieve sanctity without effort.
Duties of the Archangels
Archangels are appointed as the guardians of mortals. For example, Saint Michael is the protector of Israel, the general region of Palestine, and the Catholic Church as a whole (cf. Daniel 10:13-21). The archangels also command lower-ranking angels such as our own personal guardian angels. Because of their nature as protectors, they try to remain impartial if at all possible during violent conflicts among humans. In fact, Saint Michael himself refused to take sides during the Old Testament conquest of Palestine. When Joshua asked him, “Are you for us, or our adversaries?”, the archangel famously replied, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (Jos. 5:14-15). We should imitate Saint Michael’s universal concern for all God’s creatures and his humble recognition that there are no true winners in warfare. He did not even condemn Lucifer when the fallen angel tried to stop him from collecting Moses’ body, but simply said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 1:9). Let us likewise entrust all judgments to God.
Names and Domains
We shall use only the most common name for each of the seven archangels, and after providing an analysis of the meaning of their names, we shall describe their proper domains and patronages.
Saint Michael. His name means, “Who is like God?”, and serves as a battle cry underlining the Lord’s incomparable strength. Michael gained his sanctity during a direct confrontation with Lucifer. That’s why his name is invoked against Satan. Because of the archangel’s valor and enlightened views of warfare, he was given command of the heavenly armies. However, despite his status as the chief of the warrior angels, Saint Michael actually despises conflict and prefers to resolve things peacefully whenever possible. He is known to have a very contemplative, somewhat melancholic nature, which is very much on display in the Bible. Warriors of all sorts are close to Saint Michael’s heart, and he has special concern for the troubles often experienced by battle-weary veterans.
Saint Gabriel. His name means, “God’s strong man,” and his strength is the strength of faith. Gabriel is the heavenly courier and is charged with announcing miraculous events and delivering messages to prophets. He reveals God’s will clearly to all people who seek to know it. He is said to have a childlike, cheery personality and to be in constant awe of the goodness of God. This angel gave us the prayer, “Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee!” If we want to recapture a sense of wonder for God and his creation, Saint Gabriel can certainly help us out.
Saint Raphael. His name means, “God’s healer.” He certainly lives up to this name in the book of Tobit. He is also the patron of travelers and very powerful against demons. His quick wit and humor are notorious, and he loves to masquerade as a human being to test people. That’s why Hebrews 13:2 cautions, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Most icons depict his travels and adventures with the Jewish boy, Tobias, whom he helped find a wife. He also healed the elder Tobit’s eyes with medicine made from a fish. Among the demons, he is most feared by Asmodeus, who loves to target people’s sexuality. Thus, Saint Raphael is especially skilled at helping people overcome sexual difficulties and disorders, and also infertility. He is a great aid to those stuck in troubled marriages.
Saint Uriel. His name means, “God’s light.” He guards those who seek knowledge and is the patron saint of scholars and the Sacrament of Confirmation. He has a fiery, passionate personality. According to the book of Enoch, he played a prominent role in quelling the second rebellion of the angels, and also in warning Noah of the flood. The Anglican use of the Catholic Church incorporates the following intercessory prayer into its liturgical practices: “O holy Saint Uriel, intercede for us that our hearts may burn with the fire of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Assist us in co-operating with the graces of our confirmation that the gifts of the Holy Spirit may bear much fruit in our souls. Obtain for us the grace to use the sword of truth to pare away all that is not in conformity to the most adorable Will of God in our lives, that we may fully participate in the army of the Church. Amen.”
Saint Selaphiel. His name means, “God’s prayer.” He guards mystics and spiritual writers. Selaphiel is usually depicted in icons with his eyes cast downward in humble prayer. He is quiet and reserved, and generally prefers to avoid notice. Perhaps that’s why he’s never explicitly named in the canonical books of the Bible. Selaphiel is a wonderful friend to people having difficulty with prayer. He is always ready to help dispel distractions and focus the mind. If you’re having trouble paying attention at Mass, Selaphiel is your go-to man. He also feels a special concern for the shy and the lonely, and he will gladly attend to their needs if asked politely.
Saint Jegudiel. His name means, “God’s glory.” He oversees all who work for the greater glory of God, all who toil in the vineyard of the Lord. Thus, he is the patron saint of work itself, and he has a special concern for hard workers no matter their field of specialty. His personality is very similar to that of Saint Paul, who wrote, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Cor. 9:24). He is driven and hard-nosed. When you have trouble overcoming the temptation to procrastinate, or a task seems too overwhelming, just call upon Saint Jegudiel to assist you in your labors. He hates being idle, and he is always looking for something else to do. He may be gruff on the outside, but he has a hard of gold and plenty of compassion for those willing to put their hand to the plough.
Saint Barachiel. His name means, “God’s lightning.” He is the captain of our personal guardian angels and also plays a role in overseeing the weather. This latter responsibility may be due to the fact that he is also counted among the seraphim. He may have taken on the job of an archangel who sadly fell from grace. He is the “fill-in” guy and does whatever needs to be done. He finds God’s blessings in everything, and he will help us to find these blessings as well. He is said to have a very regal disposition and bears difficulties patiently. Barachiel knows what it feels like to pick up the slack from somebody else’s failings. His symbol of choice is a white rose, and he has been known to send people white roses as a sign of special favor.