St Michael and all angels
One of the members of our congregation asked: “why does St Mary’s not pay more attention to the festival of Michael and all angels?”
This question led me to ask myself: first: who or what is Michael? second: why would the Anglican church have this theme as a festival? And the question about Michael led to further wondering: who or what are the angels and how are we as Anglicans supposed by doctrine (remember the 39 articles?) supposed to think about them?
So: first: let’s look at Michael, is he considered a saint, or an archangel/angel or both at the same time?
Michael is considered one of the archangels, which I would take as manager above the “normal” angels. He is typically also regarded as the greatest of the archangels and as a mighty defender of the church against Satan. Michael is said to be the captain of the heavenly armies, so he is often shown with a sword, in combat with or in triumph over a dragon (like St George, but Michael, in contrast, is always shown with wings) (Rev.12. 7 – 17).
I think that the St comes from the Roman Catholic tradition, and the Anglicans do not use this term or concept very much… (see also article 22 of the doctrine as laid down in the 39 articles).
But The Book of Common Prayer (contrary to their own articles!) firmly sets aside September 29th each year as the feast day of St Michael and All Angels. The Reformers discarded other feasts devoted to angels, but this one they retained. And an ancient celebration it is, going back to the fourth century, beginning in the Eastern Church in the 4th century and spreading to Western Christianity by the 5th century.
During the Middle Ages, Michaelmas was a great religious feast and many popular traditions grew up around the day, which coincided with the harvest in much of western Europe. So I suspect that the feast of “Michael and all angels” was introduced as means to ease the, just Christianised, people eith their going over to Christianity.
In medieval England, Michaelmas marked the ending and beginning of the husbandman's year.
This is a very natural end since then nature starts preparing for winter, and the harvest has been taken in. It is also a beginning, because the new seeds need to be prepared and the earth, after having been used for husbandry, needs to be taken care of.
Michaelmas also is used in the extended sense of ‘autumn’ and so is used as the name of the first term of the academic year, which begins at this time, at various educational institutions in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
The Bible often speak of created intelligences other than humans who worship God in heaven and act as His messengers and agents on earth. The word for a messenger in Hebrew is Mal’ach; in Greek it is Angelos, from which we get our word "angel".
The literal meaning of the word “angel”: messenger, points more toward the function or status of such beings in a cosmic hierarchy. It does not explain anything of the essence (or being) of the angel, let alone archangels. Thus, angels have their significance primarily in what they do rather than in what they are. Whatever essence or inherent nature they possess isto be thought of in terms of their relationship to their source (God) and we do not know from Scripture, not really.
Angels present a difficult concept to our modern mind, based as that mind is mostly upon scientific fact and research. But we still take many things, including the existence of God, on faith and I see therefor much reason to take the existence of angels on faith as well.
I think that, as long as we do not worship angels, and do not inquire about their being in trying to satisfy our modern lust for scientific facts, it is best to focus on the many ways in which God's loving care watches over us, both directly and indirectly, and to give thanks for that care, and in faith accept that the richness and variety of God's creation far exceeds our knowledge of it.
Other sources used in this article
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