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November 18, 2018: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner

As we come to the end of the liturgical year our readings point to the ultimate realities of life: death, judgement, hell, and heaven.  In contemplating these realities, the Scripture points to different characters who give us insight into the spiritual battle around us. Primary among these characters is St. Michael the Archangel.  In the first reading, the prophet Daniel has a vision which includes the advent of St. Michael: “At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people; it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time. At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written in the book.” Recently, in speaking of the “spiritual turbulence” in the Church, Pope Francis prescribed praying the traditional Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. St. Michael’s mission, he noted, is “to protect the Church from the devil, who always aims to divide us from God and among ourselves.”

The instinct to pray to God through the patronage of St. Michael is rooted deeply in the most ancient sources of biblical religion. Not only is St. Michael mentioned in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament book of Revelation.  There, St. Michael appears as the leader of God’s forces in the great cosmic war against Satan: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon.”  Flowing from the Bible, the ancient rabbis believed that he had been involved in the history of the Chosen People since the time of Abraham’s calling and early rabbinic Judaism invokes St. Michael as Israel’s great defender. In fact, the Jewish sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls (around the first century) expected St. Michael to appear as their leader during an impending world war. The early Christians eagerly took up the devotion to St. Michael and looked to him as their defender in times of persecution. Soon after the faith was legalized in 313 A.D., the Emperor Constantine raised a great church in honor of the archangel in his capital city. This devotion has continued through the centuries.  One of my favorite examples is in 2005, archaeologists in Sudan unearthed the mummified remains of a young woman who died in the seventh or eighth century.  Etched in her arm was a unique expression of love for St. Michael — a tattoo of his name ornately imprinted. 

Perhaps the most familiar and popular devotion to St. Michael comes via the traditional prayer that was offered at the end of every Low Mass from 1886 to the mid 1960s. They were called the Leonine Prayers because they were decreed, at least in their final form, by Pope Leo XIII. He and his predecessor, Blessed Pius IX, added the prayers in order to call down heaven’s help for the resolution of worsening divisions in the Church and in society — the divisions that made the pope a “prisoner of the Vatican” and diminished his peacemaking influence as Europe hurtled toward a series of bloody wars. The Prayer to St. Michael was Leo’s particular contribution. The story is commonly told that he composed the prayer immediately after seeing a vision of the evils that would be unloosed in the coming century. He mandated its use at the end of low Mass, and he published other mid-sized prayers to the archangel as well. Pope Francis’ renewed appeal for Church to pray this traditional prayer is clarion call to invoke St Michael to “defend us in our daily battles” and “to be our protection” as we journey to our heavenly home.

Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

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