In 1886, Pope Leo XIII had a prophetic vision of wars and great sorrows of the 20th century. Fearful of the coming events he composed a prayer invoking the protection of St. Michael against Satan and the powers of evil. He ordered the prayer to be said at every conclusion of the Mass. Earlier in 590, Pope St. Gregory the Great led a procession of Christians as an act of penance and atonement of sins to stop the great plague that struck Rome. St. Michael appeared at the tomb of Hadrian near St. Peter’s Basilica with his sword covered indicating the end of the plaque. His name, which means “Who is like God” in Hebrew, was a battle cry in wars. Through his intercession the Lombards of Sipontum (Manfredonia) defeated the Greek Neapolitans in 663 while Christian soldiers crushed the pagan armies of Magyars in Bavaria in 955. These accounts portray St. Michael as the guardian angel of the kingdom of Christ on earth and the heavenly leader who fights all God’s enemies just like he did as a royal champion and Israel’s great support during the 70-year Babylonian captivity. As the prince of all angels, St. Michael is always at the presence of God and has the singular privilege of assisting at the throne of the Divine Majesty. (Gargano Travel, par. 13).
The Holy Bible tells some of the archangel’s intercessory works like in the Book of Daniel where St. Michael comforted Daniel after seeing the Hellenistic vision of wars and promised him to his helper in all things. 1”No one supports me against all these except Michael, your prince, standing as a reinforcement and a bulwark for me”. 2“At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people…” Perhaps the most dramatic Biblical depiction of St. Michael was when he defeated Satan in battle demonstrating his greatest achievement. 3″Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. Although the dragon and his angels fought back, they were overpowered and lost their place in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent who is called the devil and Satan, who leads astray the whole world; was driven out; he was hurdled down to earth and his minions with him”. The early Church Fathers attributed St. Michael as the angel who appeared in the burning bush when Moses spoke to God and the cherubim who guarded the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were expelled. With these scriptural passages, the Catholic tradition accorded St. Michael four principal duties: to continue to wage battle against Satan and the other fallen angels; to save the souls of the faithful from the power of Satan especially at the hour of death; to protect the People of God, both the Jews of the Old Covenant and the Christians of the New Covenant; and finally to lead the souls of the departed from this life and present them to Our Lord for the particular judgment, and at the end of time for the final judgment. (Fr. Saunders, par. 5).
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As such he is considered the protector of the Catholic Church. According to ancient books if Satan is the ruler of hell, St. Michael is the governor of heaven. In the Spring of 1994, the late Pope John Paul II urged Catholics to pray to St. Michael in order to prevent the snares of evil brought about by abortion, pornography, child abuse, euthanasia, terrorism, and other mass killings. In many Roman liturgical rites, St. Michael is called upon for protection against evil. As the custodian and patron, the Catholic Church appeals for defense by the Prince of the heavenly army during the rite of exorcism especially in places that are infested with diabolical spirits; to fight the iniquities of the fallen angels and offer prayers to God for mercy. He guides the souls in purgatory who are going to heaven that is why during the offertory prayer of the Mass for the dead, the church pleads the heavenly Father that He may employ St. Michael in leading the souls of the faithful departed to the holy light. As patron of holy souls, he assists the dying in their final hour to prepare them for their heavenly journey. With this belief thousands of cemetery chapels in Europe were dedicated to him. In addition, many other churches and oratories were named after him wherein he is placed in bell-towers as the guardian of churches against Satan.
Through the ages believers have entrusted themselves under the protection of St. Michael and venerated him for his great role in the Church because he is the adversary of the devil and for many times the archangel came to their rescue. His well known apparitions occurred at Mount Gargano in Apulia, Italy around 494 where he was named as the patron in war. A memorial feast is celebrated in his honor every May 8 by the whole Western Church. He also said to have appeared in Normandy in 708 to St. Aubert Bishop of Avranches at Mont-Saint-Michel which is commemorated every October 18. The Christians in Egypt have placed the Nile River under his protection. After the evangelization of Germany, many chapels of St. Michael were built in mountains to replace the pagan god Wotan.
In art St. Michael is represented as an angelic warrior, fully armed with helmet, sword, and shield (often the shield bears the Latin inscription: Quis ut Deus), standing over the dragon, whom he sometimes pierces with a lance. He also holds a pair of scales in which he weighs the souls of the departed or the book of life, to show that he takes part in the judgment. (Holweck, par. 15). In the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help his Greek initials appear. He is seen holding the lance and spear with the vessel of vinegar and gall of Christ’s passion. This only indicates the important role St. Michael plays as intercessor of the Most High in dispensing graces to the people of God and protecting this people from the lures of evils. His warrior-like image made him the patron saint of soldiers, policemen, and mariners. In the Eastern tradition, the archangel is the patron saint of the sick having been called the great heavenly physician. This devotion originated in the middle of the1st century in Chonae where the archangel said to have split a rock with lightning causing the spring of waters to change its direction because the pagans were trying to destroy the site dedicated to him. He sanctified the waters where all the sick who bathed were cured. Numerous cases of miracle healings have been attributed to the archangel.
Christian legend describes Michael as the Captain-General of the heavenly host and the Protector of the Christian Nation against the devil. God has given Michael many great privileges, it is he who will sound the last trumpet at the final resurrection and conduct the souls to God. (STMAA, par. 2). He has fulfilled his responsibilities through centuries both in heaven and on earth. As a great messenger of God, St. Michael continues to deliver heavenly messages through his numerous apparitions. He has shown himself to some of the saints to help them in their works of saving souls and comfort them in their times of trials like St. Wilfrid, St. Bernard, St. Hubert, St. Francis of Paola, and St. Joan of Arc. While fasting for 40 days in honor of St. Michael, St. Francis of Assisi said to have received the stigmata during his vision of the archangel. Today the Catholic Church honors his feast day every 29th of September. This feast has been celebrated since the 6th century where a basilica on the Salerian Way in Rome was built in his honor. His appearance in Mt. Gargano is celebrated on May 8. This particular apparition became a significant site for medieval pilgrims. The archangel appeared to the shepherds on Mt. Gargano during the reign of Pope Gelasius. As a sign of proof of his appearance, St. Michael left his red cloak. But perhaps the best way to describe the role of the archangel is through the prayer composed by Pope Leo XIII. “St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle! Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into Hell, Satan, and all the other evil spirits who roam about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”