Monday, September 29, 2014

The Archangels

Today is the feast day of the archangels, St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael. While I support a feast day of the archangels, it bought something to my attention that I hadn’t really thought about before: the archangels are saints. My understanding of saints is they are those souls in heaven. Angels are in heaven, but do they actually have souls? Or are saints any creature in heaven?

Saint means “holy one,” so apparently, it can mean any creature in heaven. The archangels are in heaven, and we can call for their intersession, so they are “holy ones.” Still, when I think of saints, I think of the people who strove for God during their life. I think of Peter and Lucy and Francis de Sales. I think I have to accept that my definition of saint is very narrow. It’s not that I’ve limited saint to people who have been formally canonized. I certainly believe there are many, many people in heaven that don’t have formal recognition. Yet, I do tend to limit my definition to people. When I talk about saints, I’m talking about humans in heaven. Even in the Mass, we list angels and saints separately (in the Penitential Act and in the prayer right before the Sanctus). But perhaps that is just the human-centric language that pervades our understanding of God. 

As a side note, if saints are not singularly humans in heaven, but all creatures in heaven, then if there is intelligent alien life, and if that life has souls, and if those souls are in union with God, then there are alien saints in heaven as well. Which brings on tons of other speculative questions, like are they present at our masses (I’d guess yes), and are there cross-species intercessions?

But back to the archangels. Unlike guardian angels, archangels look over groups of people and deliver direct messages from God. Angels are spiritual persons without bodies. They are created by God and infused with knowledge. They are difficult for me to relate to for these obvious reasons. But I’m trying to at least understand who they are.

Michael is the archangel in special service of the Father. His name means “who is like unto God.” He is in charge of the heavenly hosts. Gabriel is the archangel in special service of the Son. His name means “man of God.” He made all those big announcements about the Incarnation (Annunciation to Mary, message to Joseph, message to the shepherds).  Raphael is the archangel in special service of the Spirit. His name means “God heals.” He intercedes for the healing of Tobit. This Trinitarian understanding of the archangels’ jobs helps me ground them a bit. Like my familiar human saints, angel saints have particular skills and patronages too.

I’m still a far bit from talking to angels (sorry, guardian angel). I’m just beginning to get comfortable with the human saints. And I think a lot of angel lore is speculative, seeing at it mostly involves the realm of heaven (occasional missions to earth notwithstanding). Yet I don’t mind a feast day for the archangels. And with a broader understanding of sainthood, I don’t mind calling them saints.

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