The glorious Archangel Michael appears today at the head of the heavenly army—There was a great battle in Heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought with his angels (Apoc. 12: 7). This festival has been kept with great solemnity on the 29th of September ever since the fifth century, and was certainly celebrated in Apulia in 493, especially after the Apparition of St. Michael on Mount Gargano and the subsequent dedication of the Church of St. Michael built there in honor of this great Archangel. This dedication gave occasion to the institution of this Feast in the West, which is hence called in the Martyrologies of St. Jerome, the Venerable Bede, and others, The Dedication of St. Michael. The dedication of St. Michael's Church in Rome, upon Adrian's Mole by Pope Boniface IV in 610, and that of several other churches in the West in honor of this Archangel, which were performed on this same day, increased the celebrity of this day, which had however been long before consecrated by Rome to the memory of all the heavenly Virtues.
Churches were likewise erected in the East, in honor of St. Michael and other holy Angels, from the time when the Christian worship was publicly established by the conversion of Constantine, doubtless upon the model of little oratories and churches, which had been formerly raised in the intervals of the general persecutions, in which storms they were again thrown down. Sozomen informs us, that Constantine the Great built a famous church in honor of this glorious Archangel, called Michaelion, and that in it the sick were often cured, and other wonders wrought through the intercession of St. Michael. This historian assures us, that he had often experienced such relief there himself; and he mentions the miraculous cures of Aquilin, an eminent lawyer, and of Probian, a celebrated physician, wrought in the same place. This church stood about four miles from Constantinople; a monastery was afterwards built contiguous to it. Four churches in honor of St. Michael stood in the city of Constantinople itself; their number was afterwards increased to fifteen, which were built by several emperors. The East also commem-orates on the sixth of September an apparition of the victorious Archangel at Chone (the ancient Colossae) in Phrygia; while the eighth of November is their solemnity of the Angels, corresponding to our Feast of today, and bearing the title Synaxis of St. Michael Prince of the Heavenly Host and of the other Spiritual Powers. Although the term synaxis is usually applied only to religious assemblies here on earth, we are informed that in this instance it also particularly signifies the gathering of the faithful Angels at the cry of their Chief, and their union eternally sealed by their victory.
It was enacted in the ecclesiastical laws of King Ethelred in England, in the year 1014, "That every Christian who is of age, fast three days on bread and water, and raw herbs, before the feast of St. Michael, and let every man go to confession and to church barefoot.—Let every priest with his people go in procession three days barefoot, and let every one's commons for three days be prepared without anything of flesh, as if they themselves were to eat it, both in meat and drink, and let all this be distributed to the poor. Let every servant be excused from labor these three days, that he may the better perform his fast, or let him work what he will for himself. These are the three days, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, next before the feast of St. Michael. If any servant break his fast, let him make satisfaction with his hide, (bodily stripes,) let the poor freeman pay thirty pence, the king's thane a hundred and thirty shillings; and let the money be divided to the poor."
The Breviary Lessons for this Feast include a Homily of St. Gregory the Great on the Angels:
We speak of nine choirs of Angels because we know, by the testimony of the Holy Word, that there are to wit: Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Thrones, Cherubim, and Seraphim. For nearly every page of Sacred Scripture speaks of Angels and Archangels. And the Books of the Prophets, as is well known, often mention the Cherubim and Seraphim. The Apostle Paul in the Ephesians also enumerates the names of four orders, saying: "Above every Principality, and Power, and Virtue, and Domination." Again, in writing to the Colossians, he says: "Whether Thrones, or Dominations, or Principalities, or Powers." Now, therefore, to those four choirs, whom he named to the Ephesians, if the Thrones are added, there are five choirs: and when we join to these the Angels, Archangels, Cherubim, and Seraphim, it is quite clear that there are nine choirs of Angels.
We must know however that the word Angel is the name of the office, not of the nature. For those holy Spirits of the heavenly fatherland are indeed always Spirits, but can by no means always be called Angels; for they are only angels when some message is sent through them. Whence also it is said by the Psalmist: "Who maketh His Spirits Angels:" as if to say clearly: "These whom He always has as Spirits, He also makes, when He will, Angels." And those who announce things of lesser importance, are Angels; those who bring important messages are called Archangels. And thus it is, that to the Virgin Mary was sent, not any ordinary Angel, but the Archangel Gabriel. For it was just that for this supreme ministry of bearing the greatest of tidings, the greatest Angel should be chosen. For that reason also they are designated by individual names, that these words may designate their individual powers. For Michael means: Who is like unto God? Gabriel: Strength of God; Raphael: Medicine of God.
And whenever any work of great power is to be done, Michael is brought forward to be sent; that by that very act, and by his name, we may understand that no one can do what God alone has power to do. Hence that old enemy, who through pride desired to be like unto God saying: "I will ascend into Heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of Heaven, I will be like unto the most High;" when at the end of the world he is left to his own might as a prey to everlasting punishment, is presented to us as being about to enter into combat with Michael the Archangel, as it is said by John: "There was a battle with Michael the Archangel." To Mary, in like manner, Gabriel is sent, who is named Strength of God; for indeed, he came to announce Him, Who deigned to appear as humble, in order completely to vanquish the powers of the air. Raphael, as we have said, is interpreted in like manner Medicine of God; namely, because by touching the eyes of Tobias by way of healing, he dispelled the darkness of his blindness.
The anniversary of the Apparition of St. Michael the Archangel is celebrated on May 8. The history of the Apparition is related in the Breviary Lessons for that day.
Although the Feast of the Dedication of St. Michael was, in former times, a holyday of obligation in many parts of the world, it was not until the 20th century that it, together with the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19), was raised to the rank of Double I Class, by a Decree of Pope Benedict XV, issued on December 12, 1917.
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