St Michael and All Angels

Michael has been a popular archangel among both Jews and Christians. According to Revelation 12, he led the heavenly army against Lucifer before the creation of the world, and according to a very old belief, it is Michael who receives the souls of the departed. His festival has its origin in the fifth century, and the day became especially popular in northern Europe and England. In England, Michaelmas still marks the beginning of the autumn term in law courts and the autumn academic terms at Oxford and Cambridge. (From Contemporary Worship 6: The Church Year, Calendar and Lectionary, 1973)

Feasts in honour of angels developed particularly in the East. After the time of Constantine many churches were dedicated in honour of Michael, the only archangel mentioned in Scripture (Daniel and Revelation). Gabriel is the only other angel mentioned by name in Scripture proper, though Raphael and Uriel are named in the Apocrypha. September 29 was the date of the dedication, in the 5th century, of a small basilica on the Via Salaria, 6 miles from Rome, the first church in Italy dedicated in honour of Michael.

The feast which commemorates this event, and in which the Church eventually regarded Michael as representative of all angels, gradually spread throughout the West. The Council of Mainz introduced it in 813 AD and the popularity of the ‘warrior saint’ in Teutonic lands is shown by the large number of churches which bear his name. King Ethelred established the feast in England in 1019 AD. The term ‘all angels’ is an Anglican addition at the time of the Reformation. (From Luther Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, 1960, p.566)

Did you spot the date above? It seems we have a millennial anniversary of this feast in England! Fascinating! (And it might be useful in a pub quiz sometime!)

There is a fascination with angels still today. So many theories, views, and ideas exist about them. In the yearning to experience things, angels – who are essentially messengers – can become something most desired. Centuries of art have given us pictures. How do assess this Church festival?

With God’s Word. And the glimpses we get are that angels exist and have various roles from God. Hebrews 1 makes the point clearly that Jesus is not an angel. It strikes me that the angels are task oriented – and whatever the tasks they have, the outcome desired is to point us to God and not to themselves – and point us particularly to Jesus. I think the last verse of Hebrews 1 – verse 14 – gives us the best picture of angels – they are ‘liturgising spirits’ who wants us to know God and what he has done to rescue us. Thus angels help us worship Jesus. GS