The Feast of the Dedication of the Archangel St. Michael
Today’s festival is called in the breviary of the Church, the Dedication of the Holy Archangel St. Michael. To understand this, it is necessary to know an event which took place at the time of Pope Gelasius I. in the latter part of the fifth Century. In Apulia, there is a mountain formerly called Gargano, now Monte St. Angelo, or Angel’s mountain. Near this mountain, a herdsman was keeping his cattle. A steer strayed away from his herd and went into the woods on the mountain, to the entrance of a cave which was concealed by bushes. The herdsman, to drive the animal out of the cave back to the herd, shot an arrow at it. The arrow, however, turned and flew with great force back to him. The herdsman and those who were present were terrified at this and none dared to go nearer to the cave. They went to the bishop, who was at Siponto, a neighboring city, and informed him of what had occurred. The bishop, not doubting that a divine mystery was concealed under it, ordered his congregation to fast and pray three days, in order that God might graciously reveal it to them. At the expiration of the three days, St. Michael, the Archangel, appeared to the bishop and announced to him that the place whither the steer had fled was under his especial protection, and that he desired that they should dedicate the spot to the honor of God, and to the memory of St. Michael and all the Angels.
The bishop, greatly rejoiced, called the clergy and the people together, and having informed them of the revelation, formed a large procession and ascended the mountain. They found a large cave which was like a Church hewn out of the rock. Above the entrance was an opening by which the whole interior received light. To offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass in it, only the altar was wanting; but it was speedily erected by the pious bishop. The Church itself was soon after dedicated with great solemnity to St. Michael and all holy Angels. The fame of this event spread in a short time all around and drew a great many pilgrims to the Church, while the many miracles that took place there, were a visible sign that the veneration and invocation of St. Michael and the other holy angels must be very agreeable to the Most High. Today’s festival was instituted to commemorate the dedication of the Church on Mount Gargano, hence it is called the dedication of St. Michael, as he is especially venerated in that Church. The commemoration of the apparition of this holy Archangel on Mount Gargano is celebrated on May 8th.
Besides this, other apparitions of St. Michael are recorded, which gave occasion, at different times, to the erection of splendid Churches in his honor, at Constantinople, at Rome and in France, as is to be read in the history of the Church. Experience has taught that this considerably increased the veneration of this great prince of heaven, and in truth we have most important reasons to show him especial honor; for, he is the head, or, as the Church expresses it, the prince of the heavenly legions. He is the first of those happy spirits who are continually in the presence of God, standing before His throne. It was he who, at the first moment of his existence, turned to the Almighty and submitted to Him in perfect obedience. It was he, who, so to say, first took up arms against the proud Lucifer, who would not be subject, but equal to the Most High. His humility, obedience and zeal for the honor of God raised him above all in heaven; as pride, disobedience and perfidy abased the proud Lucifer and precipitated him into hell.
St. Michael has been chosen by the Almighty as the protector of the Church of Christ, as in the old Covenant he was the protector of the Synagogue. He was, in olden times, solicitous for the welfare of the true believers in the Synagogue, as is evident from the words spoken by the holy Archangel, St. Gabriel, to the prophet Daniel: “Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me” (Daniel, x.). The angel, under whose protection the Persians were placed, desired that the Israelites should remain longer in Persia, as many Persians came to the knowledge of the true God by associating with the chosen people. The holy Archangel Gabriel, however, desired that the Israelites should be released out of Persia, because he feared that too great intimacy with the Persians might induce them to become faithless to the true God. St. Michael united his prayers with those of St. Gabriel, and thus evinced his care for the true believers.
Not less watchful is he now for the faithful of the New Testament and for the entire Church. He comes to help her, prays for her and protects her against her enemies. At the end of the world, he will manifest his protection of her, especially against the Antichrist, the greatest enemy of the Christians, as St. Gabriel revealed to the holy prophet Daniel, saying: “But at that time, Michael shall rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people” (Daniel, xii.). This holy Archangel is also appointed to bring the souls of men to the throne of the Most High, that they may receive their judgment; and that their sentence may be favorable, he strongly assists them in the last combat, which, at the end of their days, they have usually to fight with the Evil one. The devil, at that moment, uses all his powers to overcome man and make him unhappy for all eternity. St. Michael, appointed by God to assist and to strengthen our souls in this dangerous combat, helps us to conquer, Hence the holy Church addresses him in the name of all the faithful in the prayers for the dying, as follows: “Holy Archangel Michael, protect us in our fight, that we may not go to perdition on the day of Judgment.” She teaches us also to invoke this holy Archangel before all other heavenly spirits, in the litany of all Saints.
But if we desire to secure his intercession, and enjoy his assistance in our last combat, it is necessary that we endeavor to imitate his example and fight bravely against the evil spirit, whom, at the end of our lives, we desire to conquer with St. Michael’s assistance. Among different representations of St. Michael there is one in which he has a shield in his hand, upon which are the words: “Who is like unto God?” The word ” Michael ” means in Hebrew, ” Who is like God?” St. Michael used this as a weapon, so to say, against the proud Lucifer who desired to be equal to the Lord. “Who is like God?” “Who is equal to God?” With these words, he conquered and precipitated Lucifer and his followers into hell. The same weapons, the same shield we also should use in all temptations. “Who is like God?” Who is so mighty, so wise, so beautiful, so amiable as God.” Who is so much to be feared as God? Who can recompense my service as God? Who can do so much good or so much harm to me as God? Whom have I reason to serve and obey as God? Whose grace have I to seek more than the grace of God? Whose disfavor have I to fear more than the disfavor of God?
Whosoever uses these and other wholesome thoughts as spiritual weapons against the spirit of hell, fights after the example of St. Michael, and will always conquer Satan. And those who accustom themselves now to combat thus, have reason to hope that they will vanquish Satan in the last fight, and that the holy Archangel will surely assist them at that important moment.
In conclusion, I will add the beautiful words of St. Lawrence Justinian, by which he admonishes all Christians to venerate the holy Archangel. “It is our duty,” says he, “to give honor to the prince of the heavenly legions. We ought to praise him especially on account of the elevated state of grace in which he is; and because God has distinguished him by bestowing so high a dignity upon him; for his invincible strength, for the Almighty’s favor to him and his heroic constancy in combats; but in all these, we must honor him only in God, who has created him and us, He is very powerful with the Most High. The glorious victory is well known to us, which he won in heaven, soon after the Creation, over the rebellious angels. Not without reason does our Mother, the holy Church, endeavor to honor him especially, because she knows that the divine Majesty has given him to her as protector, mediator and receiver of all elect souls. Hence all should recognize St. Michael as their protector, and duly praising him, honor him with devout prayers, commend their cares to him and rejoice him by reforming their lives, as his love is so great, that he cannot refuse our prayers, nor reject our confidence, nor disregard our love; as he protects the humble, loves the chaste, guides the innocent, guards the pious in this temporal life, and leads them to their heavenly home.”
I. St. Michael remained true to God when thousands of other angels became faithless to Him. He followed not their example. You also should not follow the bad example of others, but fulfil God’s commandments. Remain faithful to the Lord though thousands of others leave Him. St. Michael was zealous in honoring God and opposed those who would not be obedient to the Creator. You can also do this. When others speak against the true faith in your presence, against the ceremonies and commandments of the true Church, against purity, against the honor of your neighbor; when you see that they transgress the laws of God and of the Church, you should defend the honor of the Almighty and prevent all the evil you can. If you are so situated that you cannot say or do much, show, by your silence, by your seriousness, that you are displeased by such offences against the Majesty of the Most High. St. Michael fought valiantly against Lucifer and his adherents. Therefore God placed him above all the heavenly spirits. Lucifer, with his adherents, endeavors to induce you to leave God, to become faithless to Him. Fight bravely against him and you, too, will be exalted. Say to him: “Who is like God? Who is so kind, so mighty, so amiable as God?” And that you may fight vigorously, as well in life as in death, call often and fervently on St. Michael: “Help us here to fight and to conquer the enemy, O St. Michael!”
II. St. Michael is exalted for his fidelity and for defending the honor of the Almighty. But what was the fate of Lucifer and his adherents? They were precipitated into hell, which God had created for the rebels, and for all those who would follow them in disobedience. Behold, this is the end of those who are disobedient to the Creator, and offend Him. Consider this point carefully. Lucifer and almost numberless heavenly spirits have been cast into everlasting fire on account of sin, of only one and the first sin. God spared not one of so many noble spirits, nor gave them one single moment to repent; but cast them all immediately into hell. A single sin is punished with eternal damnation, and this a sin only in thought. Do you then at last comprehend how great the wickedness of one single sin must be? Can you still flatter yourself that thoughts are free, or that you cannot commit great sin with them? Can you still believe those who say to you that God does not much regard sins; that He pardons them very easily? Truly you must either say that God is unjust, or that the wickedness of sin is very great. The first you dare not say, because it would be blasphemy; hence you say the second: the just God punishes a single sin with hell; but He punishes it not more severely than it deserves. Thus, a single mortal sin deserves to be punished during all eternity in hell; hence the wickedness of a mortal sin must be exceedingly great. What have you to object to it? Certainly if the example of Lucifer and the just punishment which God made him and his adherents suffer, have not opened your eyes to recognize the wickedness of sin, and if this is not sufficient to induce you to avoid all sin, you are lost. Consider further, the words of St. Peter, who said, that God, by chastising the sinful angels, shows all sinners how He will punish them. If God did not spare such noble spirits, how can you imagine that He will spare you? Make then this day, the resolution to fear sin, to fear it more than all the evils on earth, more even than hell itself ; for, it is truely a greater evil than hell itself. “Many consider hell the greatest evil,” says St. Chrysostom; “I think that sin is a greater evil.”
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.