On a very chilly Sunday in October of 2018, I attended Mass at St. Hedwig’s in Holdingford with my wife. I’ll carry forever with me the image of the last moment when Fr. Gregory Mastey—with neither fanfare nor introduction—suddenly started reciting the Prayer to St. Michael. Fr. Gregory has ended Mass this way ever since, as we did with all the Masses the world over from 1884 to 1965; its quiet discontinuation was one of the many questionable products of the Second Vatican Council. Each time he leads us in this prayer to the Archangel who defends us against a nearly ruined, post-Christian world, I truly feel the gaze of St. Michael on our parishes.
It is not hard to imagine Lucifer when he beheld the gaze of St. Michael on that sad morning, when he proclaimed I will not serve, and was swept from heaven—along with countless other dissenting angels. More than one demon has admitted to exorcists that part of their surprise over the divine rebuke was simple: prior to the Fall, Michael was the tiniest, quietest of all angels. But, then, our Father is a confirmed ironist.
Abraham most likely saw this gentle gaze in the Old Testament when St. Michael took him on a tour of the world just before he died, but Satan probably saw a sterner visage when they had a dispute about what to do with Noah’s body. This is when St. Michael breathes his only line in the entire Bible: The Lord rebuke you.
Let us go sorrowfully to the Garden of Gethsemane, as reported in the Gospel of Luke. The Passion of Our Lord begins; as Jesus is thinking of His sleeping friends, the stars, and the smells of the carpentry shop, a single angel appears to console Him in a flash of light. The angel is given no name, but I believe that in that moment Jesus beheld the face of His beloved friend St. Michael, and I imagine words of fair encouragement were said as they heard Judas leading the mob through the brush.
We can imagine that some years later the gaze of St. Michael was one of the many things St. John beheld when he was on the Island of Patmos, writing the Book of Revelation during the terrible days of Emperor Nero. In it we are told of a great war that broke out in heaven, that Satan and his minions fought back and were utterly trounced, and that Satan then “went off to wage war against… those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (Revelation 12:7). This is the last scriptural reference to the protector of the Catholic Church, but his work was just beginning.
Shrines to St. Michael abound. In 493, he appeared to an Italian bishop, who consecrated a nearby cave that is known to this day as the Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo sul Gargano. He appeared a thousand years later on the same spot, telling another bishop: “I am the Archangel St. Michael. Anyone who uses the stones of this grotto will be liberated.” These stones are available to everyone, and it is a comfort to gaze at mine, which are nestled on my bookshelf.
Our Lady of Fatima beckoned to St. Michael in 1917, and thus he came to play a part in the most extraordinary supernatural event since the Resurrection. On October 13th, while 100,000 people were enthralled by the Miracle of the Sun, St. Michael was among the final dramatic images projected to little Lucia, Jancinta, and Francesco. Though he is not named, it is possible that the children met St. Michael the year before when in a small pasture they were offered their First Communion and the Blood of Christ by an angel with a floating chalice.
Exactly 33 years before this astonishing day, Pope Leo XIII experienced a locution during which he heard Satan bragging to God that he could destroy the Church if he had enough time and enough power. This, of course, is the story of Job writ large, and God, knowing His mercy would trump the worst Satan could ever do, accepts the bet and grants him 100 years. Famously, before he did anything else, Pope Leo XIII went quickly to his study, took up a pen which he knew had the Prayer to St. Michael in it, and then wrote it.
In my heart, I believe that St. Michael’s gaze was on that great pope as he wrote, and that this gaze is available to any parish, or parishioner, who brings this great devotion back as my pastor did.
Image: Saint Michael by Carlo Crivelli