On the one hand, St. Michael the Archangel’s everlasting mission never changes, no matter the tragedy occurring this side of heaven: this great angel exists to help bring souls to heaven. At the offertory in the High Mass of the Extraordinary Form, the priest blesses the incense saying, in Latin, “By the intercession of blessed Michael the Archangel, who standeth at the right hand of the Altar of incense, and of all His Elect, may the Lord deign to bless this incense, and to accept its fragrant sweetness.”
In this way, St. Michael is not some remote, mystic being, but hovering in eager service to God at each Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in order to protect the souls of His people from ruin and into glory.
As the warrior angel and leader of God’s army in the cosmologic battle with Satan, St. Michael is called upon to “be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.” And remember, too, St. Michael in the final moments of earthly life: in addition to invoking both Our Lady to “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death,” and St. Joseph for a happy death, it is said there is St. Michael again, accompanying the soul on its final journey.
On the other hand, as it is becoming increasingly clear in our current crisis, we see the supernatural battle between good and evil spilling into the visible realm. St. Michael’s role becomes ever more urgent for those in this present storm clinging to the barque of Peter, praying for the Lord to calm the waters.
St. Michael—Protector of Vatican City
There is a little remembered event from July 2013: the blessing of a St. Michael statue in the Vatican Gardens, attended by both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Pope Francis spoke to those gathered, acknowledging this monument project of St. Michael was begun under Benedict’s pontificate:
Even if the devil is always trying to scratch the face of the Archangel and the face of man, God is stronger; his is the victory and his salvation is offered to every human being. On the journey and in the trials of life we are not alone, we are accompanied and sustained by the Angels of God, who offer, so to speak, their wings to help us overcome the many dangers, to be able to fly above those realities that can make our lives difficult or drag us down. In consecrating the Vatican City State to St Michael the Archangel, let us ask him to defend us from the Evil One and cast him out.
Across the Tiber from St. Peter’s looms the giant statue of St. Michael above the parapet of the imposing, ancient Castel Sant’Angelo, preparing to sheathe his sword in victory, a striking visual emphasizing St. Michael’s role in our mortal lives and immortal souls.
With such spiritual protection over Rome, how has such moral depravity and corruption wrought by some members of the Mystical Body of Christ, which has caused such devastation for victims and the Church itself, been even allowed to happen?
In his homily at a Mass celebrated for the Gendarmerie Corps, the police force for Vatican City, Pope Francis explained that the war between the angels of God and Satan is a war that “has been waged every day, every day: it is waged in the heart of men and women…It is the war between good and evil.” Later, he encourages Gendarmerie Corps members to:
Pray often so that, with the intercession of St Michael the Archangel, the Lord may safeguard you from giving in to every temptation, from every temptation to corruption for money, for riches, from vanity and arrogance.
St. Michael and the Vision of a Pope
Perhaps to help better understand the present catastrophe engulfing the Church, we can look to an incident from1884, on October 13 in fact, 33 years to the date before the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima. Pope Leo XIII, six years into his pontificate and at the age of 74, was just finishing celebrating Mass in his private chapel in the Vatican when he was befallen at the foot of the altar in a trance-like state, frozen, unmoving, his face terrified. Aides thought he was encountering some kind of paralytic seizure, fearing the pontiff was suffering from epilepsy, the disorder that had taken the life of Leo’s predecessor, Pius IX.
Ten minutes later Leo recovered, but was no less relaxed. It was as if something was bottled inside him and he needed to expunge it. What resulted that night was the composition of the Prayer to St. Michael. The intercession was given such importance it was among the rare non-liturgical elements added to the Mass. Catholics around the world recited the prayer after Mass until the 1960s.
Saint 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 to Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Hosts,
By the power of God, cast into Hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Leo’s private secretary, Monsignor Rinaldo Angeli, later claimed Leo foresaw demonic forces descending upon Rome. But what transfixed Leo at the foot of the altar? He later described hearing two voices, one guttural and one gentle, emanate from the tabernacle area, which he deemed to be one of Satan, and one of Our Lord.
The guttural voice, the voice of Satan, boasting: “I can destroy your Church.”
The gentle voice of Our Lord: “You can? Then go ahead and do so.”
Satan: “To do so, I need more time and more power.”
Our Lord: “How much time? How much power?”
Satan: “75 to 100 years, and a greater power over those who will give themselves over to my service.”
Our Lord: “You have the time, you will have the power. Do with them what you will.”
While it may be interesting to try to calculate the timeframe bequeathed Satan for his feckless goal, the ensuing battle between good and evil, the siege on the city of the spirit in this present war for souls, as Pope Francis reminds us, occurs each day. From the tsunami of horrific reports of demonic crimes against the innocent and against Holy Mother Church herself, Satan is acting like one knowing the clock is running out and he is on the losing side. When faced with such a position, one resorts to desperate measures. In this case, Satan is using every trick to drag as many souls into the netherworld as he can.
Penance! Penance! Penance!
On July 13, 1917, an apparition of Our Lady revealed three “secrets” to the three Portuguese children at the Cova da Iria in Fatima. The eldest child and lone survivor of the Fatima seers, Sr. Lucia, later wrote down the secrets, introducing the third secret this way:
After the two parts which I have already explained, at the left of Our Lady and a little above, we saw an Angel with a flaming sword in his left hand; flashing, it gave out flames that looked as though they would set the world on fire; but they died out in contact with the splendour that Our Lady radiated towards him from her right hand: pointing to the earth with his right hand, the Angel cried out in a loud voice: ‘Penance, Penance, Penance!’.
It is not stated the identity of the angel with the flaming sword. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, postulated in his theological commentary, “The angel with the flaming sword on the left of the Mother of God recalls similar images in the Book of Revelation. This represents the threat of judgement which looms over the world. Today the prospect that the world might be reduced to ashes by a sea of fire no longer seems pure fantasy: man himself, with his inventions, has forged the flaming sword.”
There is one angel mentioned by name in the Book of Revelation, that
of St. Michael the Archangel (cf. Rev. 12:7-9).
Often forgotten are the three apparitions of an angel to the children before the more famous appearances at Fatima. In the first apparition, Sr. Lucia’s account identifies the angel as a “he” and records his first words to the children: “Do not be afraid. I am the angel of peace. Pray with me.” Might God’s warrior angel who vanquished Lucifer, who participates in each Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and strives to safeguard the souls of the faithful also be the angel of peace? That the Fatima apparitions occurred during the turbulence and cataclysmic World War I is not without coincidence—and neither is it that the pope during that time, Benedict XV, vigorously sought a way to negotiate peace among the warring nations.
Almost 90 years later, the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI said, “The very name Benedict, which I chose on the day of my election to the Chair of Peter, is a sign of my personal commitment to peace.”
These are the days of “prayer and penance.” These are the days when we are glimpsing the cosmic battle breaking through into our visible world. Peace can only come from authentic penance. May St. Michael at last slay the snares of the devil plaguing our time, and in turn crush mankind’s own destructive capacity to inflict senseless evil on the good and innocent.