The Bible has many references to angels. This will certainly not be an exhaustive treatment, but we will give some context to what angels are and then discuss the three archangels.
What are Angels?
The word “angel” comes from the Greek word “aggelos” meaning “messenger.” This does not so much refer to what they are as to what they have done visibly to human beings. St. Gregory refers to angel as the “name of the office” which does not refer to the nature of these spiritual beings or their essential function.
The essential function of the angels is to attend to God’s throne in the heavenly court. The prophet Daniel relays a vision of the heavenly court. He says,
“thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened (Daniel 7:9-10).”
There are countless hosts of angels serving Almighty God!
Angels as Messengers to Mankind
Daniel’s vision of the heavenly court is quite rare. There are only occasional times where God has allowed human beings to glimpse the angels. Generally, angels in the Bible appear as God’s messengers. This is why we use the term “angel.” The angels faithfully serve the Lord and make known His perfect will to man.
There is a fantastic entry on “Angels” in the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia where you can read far more about angels.
The Catholic Encyclopedia shows us many of the times that angels appear in the Bible as messengers to mankind:
“… It was an angel who found Agar in the wilderness (Genesis 16); angels drew Lot out of Sodom; an angel announces to Gideon that he is to save his people; an angel foretells the birth of Samson (Judges 13), and the angel Gabriel instructs Daniel (Daniel 8:16), though he is not called an angel in either of these passages, but ‘the man Gabriel’ (9:21). The same heavenly spirit announced the birth of St. John the Baptist and the Incarnation of the Redeemer, while tradition ascribes to him both the message to the shepherds (Luke 2:9), and the most glorious mission of all, that of strengthening the King of Angels in His Agony (Luke 22:43)…”
St. Gabriel Appears to Daniel
First, let us begin with St. Gabriel the Archangel. The name “Gabriel” means “Power of God.” As mentioned in the Encyclopedia entry, St. Gabriel instructs Daniel
“While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision (Daniel 9:20-23).”
Daniel is speaking to God and making a plea for His mercy on behalf of himself and all of Israel. The people of God have turned away from Him to sin and Daniel is standing in the breach asking for clemency. Today, we have the Holy Mass to know and experience God’s mercy communally. Today, we also have the Sacrament of Penance to hear the beautiful words of absolution from our Lord Jesus Christ using the instrument of the ordained priest.
At that time in the Old Covenant, the mediators of God’s will to man were the prophets, including Daniel. And so, Daniel makes his plea and God sends the angel Gabriel to make His will known explicitly. This would not be the last time that an angel appeared to Daniel.
St. Gabriel Appears to Zechariah and the Blessed Mother
St. Gabriel appeared to Zechariah to announce the good news that St. John the Baptist was to be born of his wife Elizabeth, even in her old age. This child would be the Forerunner who would announce the coming of the Messiah. And so, God sent the angel Gabriel to make this great miracle known to Zechariah and announce John’s destiny in God’s plan.
Then, the angel Gabriel appeared to the sinless young girl from Nazareth: Mary. The angel Gabriel in the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 1, verses 26 and following, greets Mary with the words we now know as the first half of the “Hail Mary” prayer. He tells her that her holy Son would be the Son of God and that she would become pregnant virginally and miraculously by the power of the Holy Spirit. This great moment of the Incarnation is marked by the annunciation of such Good News to the Blessed Mother by the angel Gabriel.
The second archangel is Raphael, which means “Medicine of God.” We hear about this angel in the Book of Tobit, which is one of the Deuterocanonical Books of the Bible which is not often included in Protestant Bibles. We hear, “I am Raph′ael, one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One (Tobit 12:15).”
St. Raphael accompanied Tobias and gave him help on his journey. As one of the seven, Raphael is in the inner circle. There are thousands of thousands of angels, but only seven can be called archangels. “Arche” in Greek means “highest” or “chief.” These seven, including Gabriel and Michael, are the closest to God, which shows us that in Heaven, even amongst the angels, there is a hierarchy.
St. Michael in Jude, Daniel, and Revelation
Not all angels chose, at their creation, to serve God for all eternity. One such angel, Lucifer, fell from God’s favor by his own free choice. We now call him “Satan” which means “accuser” or “Devil” which generally means “Deceiver.” In opposition to this chief of the fallen angels, the demons, we see the great Prince of the Heavenly Hosts, Michael:
“But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you (Jude 1:9).’”
We see this chief of the seven angels around the throne of God being referred to by the angel Gabriel when he appears to Daniel again. Notice that Gabriel and Michael are contending with other “princes” or angelic spirits who are demons.
“The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia… But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince (Daniel 10:13, 21).”
This use of the term “prince” is an English translation of a word in Hebrew which is difficult to translate. Remember, angel is not *what* Michael is. He is a leader among the angels. He led the charge against the Enemy and his followers. These princes that Michael and Gabriel are fighting, referred of in Daniel, are real personal beings. We see this in the Book of Revelation:
“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (Revelation 12:7-9).”
Because of his steadfast fidelity to God and his opposition to Satan and the forces of evil, St. Michael is a Universal Protector of the People of God, the Church. As we read in Daniel:
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book (Daniel 12:1).”
Pray for Us
Angels, as spiritual beings, are very misunderstood by human beings. They are, nonetheless, very real and very powerful, as are the fallen angels, the demons. We must understand the words of St. Peter, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world (1 Peter 5:8-9).”
Ask for the assistance of the angels, especially the archangels revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and your own personal guardian angel. Each day, we must allow the angels to help us, fight with us, protect us, and guide us. We have been given such great friends by God, for His glory and our own holiness.
St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael, pray for us!