September 29: Feast of the Holy Archangels

As we celebrate the Feast of the Archangels today, we remember that the word ‘angel’ comes from the Greek, aggelos, a messenger. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word mal’ak was applied to both human and divine messengers. Certain mighty figures, later known as Archangels, appear in the Book of Daniel. A wide variety of functions and names can be found in the Bible, probably because angels were important in popular devotion. The Archangel Michael was thought to have a special responsibility as the guardian angel of Israel (Dan 12, 1). All the names of the Archangels have meanings, of course: Michael means “one who is like God,” Gabriel means “God is strong,” and Raphael means “God heals.”

In the New Testament, the angel of the Annunciation claims an important and permanent place in our Christian spirituality, but the New Testament tends if anything to put angels in their place, so to speak. So in Hebrews 1, angels are inferior to the Son; in 1 Corinthians 13, 1 the eloquence of angels takes second place to love; and in 1 Peter 1, 12 the angels are seen as envying the Christian believer. None of this is meant to demean God’s angels, they obviously still have a great significance for us.

Have you ever wondered what the “-el” at the end of certain names means? Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Daniel, Ezekiel, and others. Sometimes the “-el” is at the beginning: Elizabeth, Elijah, Elisha. It is short for “Elohim,” a Hebrew name for God. Again, all these names have meanings. As noted above, Michael means “one who is like God,” Gabriel means “God is strong,” Raphael means “God heals,” but Daniel means “God judges,” Elizabeth means “God is fullness,” and Israel means “one who fought God” (as did Jacob), though it has also come to mean “the people of God.”

Take a prayerful moment today to imagine your own name beginning or ending with “-el” (or “of God”). Can you ask for the grace to become more and more “Francis-el,” “Roni-el,” “Julie-el,” or “John-el?”

Let us pray. “Lord God, you have given us Archangels to assist us during our pilgrimage on earth. Saint Michael is our protector, we ask him to come to my aid and protect us from danger. Saint Gabriel is a messenger of the Good News, we ask him to help us clearly hear your voice and to teach us the truth. Saint Raphael is the healing angel, we ask him to take our need for healing and to deliver us back to the gift of recovery. Help us, O Lord, to be grateful for the Archangels and their desire to serve us. Holy angels, pray for us.

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