St. Michael and the Sacred Liturgy
Fr. Scott A. Haynes
We are introduced to St Michael the Archangel in the Old Testament, since the Jews regarded Michael the Archangel as the Prince of the Angels, the guardian of the chosen people, and the emblem of tremendous heavenly support to Israel. His name Mi ka -‘El means “Who is like God?
He appears three times in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Daniel (Dan 10, 13-21; 12, 1) where he is indicated as the defendant of the Hebrews and the supreme head of the heavenly army who defends the weak and the persecuted. The Prophet Daniel says:
“But at that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people: and a time shall come such as never was from the time that nations began even until that time. And at that time shall thy people be saved, every one that shall be found written in the book” (Dan 12, 1).
God has given Saint Michael the title of Archangel, the same title bestowed upon Gabriel (God's strength), and Raphael (God heals). In the New Testament, Saint Michael the Archangel is described as the antagonist of the devil, conqueror of the last fight over Satan and his henchmen.
We get the account of the fight and his triumph in Chapter 12 of the Book of the Apocalypse (Revelation):
"And there was a battle in heaven; Michael and his angels battled with the dragon…and that great dragon was cast down… to the earth and with him his angels….”
Therefore, Christians consider the Archangel Saint Michael as the most powerful defender of God’s people. In eastern and western iconography, Saint Michael is represented as a combatant, with a sword or a lance in his hand, under his feet the dragon Satan, defeated in battle.
The Archangel Michael is also recognized as the guide of souls to Heaven, a position emphasized in the Roman liturgy, particularly at the Offertory of the Requiem Mass:
“O Lord Jesus Christ King of glory deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell; but may the holy standard-bearer Saint Michael, lead them to the holy light; which you promised to Abraham and to his seed of old.”
Saint Michael is also tasked by with weighing souls after death, which is why he is sometimes depicted holding a pair of scales as well as a sword.
Saint Michael was revered as a heavenly cure of man's ills throughout the first years of Christianity, particularly among Byzantine Christians, and was frequently identified with the Angel of the Pool of Bethsaida mentioned in Chapter 5 of Saint John's Gospel:
“Now there is at Jerusalem…a pool called in Hebrew Bethsaida, having five porticoes… For an angel of the Lord used to come down at certain times into the pool, and the water was troubled. And the first to go down into the pool after the troubling of the water was cured of whatever infirmity he had” (Jn 5, 2-4).
Not only is St Michael venerated in the Byzantine Liturgy, but the prayers of the Tridentine Liturgy also invoke his intercession in the recitation of the "Confiteor," as well as in the Offertory prayers at the altar incensation:
“Through the intercession of Saint Michael the Archangel who is at the right-hand side of the altar of incense...deign to accept and bless this offering of incense...”