Saint Michael in the Catholic Church

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Victory of St. Michael by Raphael, 16th century

Saint Michael the Archangel is referred to in the Old Testament and has been part of Christian teachings since the earliest times.[1] In Catholic writings and traditions he acts as the defender of the Church, and chief opponent of Satan; and assists souls at the hour of death.

A widely used "Prayer to Saint Michael" was brought into official use by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 and was recommended by Pope John Paul II in 1994.

The archangels

Archangel Michael with archangels Raphael and Gabriel, as they accompany Tobias, by Francesco Botticini, 1470

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: "The whole life of the church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of the angels.... From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession."[2] In his 1986 address, "Angels Participate in the History of Salvation", Pope John Paul II emphasized the role of the Archangels and stated that: "the angels who participate in the life of the Trinity in the light of glory are also called to play their part in the history of human salvation, in the moments established by divine Providence".[3]

Roman Catholic tradition calls Michael, Gabriel and Raphael archangels. Michael means "Who is like God?" (a rhetorical question), Gabriel means "Power of God" or "Strong One of God" and Raphael means "God has healed".[4] Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are named in the Bible as angels. (Roman Catholics accept as canonical, the Book of Tobit, in which Raphael is named.) Only Michael is called an archangel in the Bible.

The feast of these angels is celebrated on September 29. An angel of supreme power and the leader of God's army. Within the hierarchy of the angels, at the highest level, St. Michael is a princely seraph.[5] The word archangel comes from the Greek words arche (prince) and angelos (messenger).

Christian art often portrays archangels together. Archangels Michael and Gabriel are jointly depicted on Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a Byzantine icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary that has been the subject of widespread Catholic devotions for centuries.

In scripture

Michael is mentioned by name five times in the Bible

  • Daniel 10:13, Gabriel says, "...but the prince of the kingdom of Persia stood in my way for twenty-one days, until finally Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me."
  • Daniel 10:21, "No one supports me against all these except Michael, your prince, standing as a reinforcement and a bulwark for me"
  • Daniel 12:1, "At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people; It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time."
  • Jude 1:9, "Yet the archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, did not venture to pronounce a reviling judgment 8 upon him but said, 'May the Lord rebuke you!'"
  • Revelation 12:7–9, "Then war broke out in heaven; Michael 8 and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, 9 who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it."

Role and mission

In Roman Catholicism Saint Michael has four distinct roles. First, he is the Enemy of Satan and the fallen angels. He defeated Satan and ejected him from Paradise and will achieve victory at the hour of the final battle with Satan. Secondly, he is the Christian angel of death: at the hour of death, Saint Michael descends and gives each soul the chance to redeem itself before passing. Saint Michael's third role is weighing souls (hence the saint is often depicted holding scales) on Judgment Day. And finally, Saint Michael is the Guardian of the Church.[6]

In the Catholic tradition, Saint Michael symbolizes the victory of good over evil, and he has been widely represented in Catholic art through the ages. Devotions to Saint Michael have a large Catholic following, and a number of churches are dedicated to him worldwide.

Defeat of Satan and the fallen angels

Guido Reni's painting in Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome, 1636 is also reproduced in mosaic at the St. Michael Altar in St. Peter's Basilica, in the Vatican.[7]

In Catholic teachings, Saint Michael is viewed as the leader of the Army of God. From the time of the apostles, he has been invoked and honored as the protector of the Church. Scripture describes him as "one of the chief princes" and the leader of heaven's forces in their triumph over the powers of hell.[8]

Saint Michael defeats Satan twice, first when he ejects Satan from Paradise, and then in the final battle of the end times. Noted hagiographer Alban Butler, defined the role of Saint Michael as follows:[9]

"Who is like God?" was the cry of Archangel Michael when he smote the rebel Lucifer in the conflict of the heavenly hosts. And when Antichrist shall have set up his kingdom on earth, it is St Michael who will unfurl once more the standard of the cross, sound the last trumpet, bind together the false prophet and the beast and hurl them for all eternity into the burning pool.

In Catholic teachings, Saint Michael will also triumph at the end times when Antichrist will be defeated by him.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, Saint Michael is the angelic model for the virtues of the spiritual warrior, a paradigm extended to other warrior saints. The conflict against evil may at times be viewed as the battle within. The concept of the warrior saint has extended to other Catholic saints, beginning with examples such as Saint George and Saint Theodore of Amasea.[10]

Archangel Michael saving souls from purgatory, by Jacopo Vignali, 17th century

At the hour of death

In Roman Catholic teachings, Saint Michael is one of the angels presumed present at the hour of death. Traditionally, he is charged to assist the dying and accompany their souls to their particular judgment, bring them to purgatory and afterwards, presenting them to God upon their entrance to heaven.[citation needed]

This is the reason for dedicating cemetery chapels to him, and all over Europe thousands of such chapels bear his name, and at times weekly masses are offered in his honor on behalf of the departed.[11]

Weighing souls on Judgment Day

St. Michael weighing souls during the Last Judgement, Antiphonale Cisterciense (15th century), Abbey Bibliotheca, Rein Abbey, Austria

In Catholic tradition, on Judgment Day Saint Michael weighs souls based on their deeds during their life on earth. Saint Michael is often portrayed in art with scales as he weighs souls.[12]

This role of Saint Michael was depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. In this depiction, angels hold up two books: the smaller book held by Saint Michael records the names of the blessed, while the larger book is a list of the damned.[13]

Guardian of the Church

The tradition of Michael as prince-protector of the Jewish people was adopted by the Christian Church.[14] Saint Michael long been recognized as the protector and guardian of the Church itself and the angel of the Blessed Sacrament. Saint Michael is also the guardian angel of the Pope and has been invoked as the patron and guardian angel of many countries as well as specific professions.[15][16]

File:St. Michael's Church in Hammerfest.jpg
St. Michael's church in Hammerfest, Norway, the northernmost Catholic church in the world

The role of Saint Michael as protector and guardian has also led to the design of statues that depict him and the construction of Churches and monasteries at specific locations. Because most monastic islands lie close to land, they were viewed as forts holding demons at a distance against attacks on the Church. Monasteries such as Mont Saint-Michel off the coast of Normandy, France and Skellig Michael, off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland, dedicated to the Archangel are examples of these.[17] Another notable structure is that of St Michael's Mount, located in Mounts Bay, near Penzance, Cornwall - a stunning island castle that resembles Mont Saint-Michel, and can only be reached on foot at low tide.

A large number of Roman Catholic churches around the globe are dedicated to Saint Michael, from Hammerfest, Norway to Oeste Catarinense in Brazil. Saint Michael's feast day of September 29 has been solemnly celebrated in many locations since the fifth century. And many churches that honor Saint Michael are dedicated on the 29th of September, e.g., Pope Boniface IV dedicated Saint Michael's Church in Rome, on that day in 610.[18]


Legends include a number of reported appearances of Saint Michael, where sanctuaries or churches were later built or dedicated to him. These include Monte Gargano in Italy early in the 6th century, where the Sanctuary of Monte Sant'Angelo, the oldest shrine in Western Europe is dedicated to Saint Michael.

Early in the 8th century, Saint Michael reportedly appeared three times to Saint Aubert, the bishop of Avranches in Normandy, France and instructed him to build a church on the small island now known as Mont Saint-Michel. Several healings were reported when the church was being built and Mont Saint-Michel still remains a Catholic pilgrimage site.[19][20]

Some Catholic authors have concluded that the angel with the flaming sword referred to within the Fatima messages is Saint Michael who defeats Satan.[21][22][23] Author Timothy Robertson takes the position that the Consecration of Russia by popes Pius XII and John Paul II was a step in the eventual defeat of Satan by Michael.[24]

Views of the saints and the popes

Michael the Archangel by Jaime Huguet, 1456

St. Bernard of Clairvaux recommended the invocation of Saint Michael at the time of temptation and sorrow: "Whenever any grievous temptation or vehement sorrow oppresses thee, invoke thy guardian, thy leader, cry out to him, and say, 'Lord, save us, lest we perish!'"[9]

St. Francis of Assisi was specially devoted to Saint Michael and would fast for about forty days from the feast of the Assumption (August 15) to Saint Michael's feast day on September 29.[25] Some Franciscan communities continue to observe the period from August 15 to September 29 as "St. Michael's Lent", a time of fasting and prayer.

Pope St. Gregory I the Great also reported visions of Saint Michael early in the 7th century and to honor the occasion, Castel Sant'Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) in Rome was named after him.[26][27]

In a 2007 address Pope Benedict XVI urged the bishops he was ordaining to take Michael as a model in making room in the world for God, countering denials of him and thus defending man's greatness, and in acting as "true guardian angels" of the Church.[28]

Mentions in the Tridentine liturgy

In editions of the Roman Missal before 1970, Saint Michael was mentioned in the Confiteor as recited by the priest and again in altar server's response at Mass. He was mentioned also in celebrations of Solemn Mass when the priest put incense in the thurible, reciting the prayer: Per intercessionem beati Michaelis Archangeli, stantis a dextris altaris incensi, et omnium electorum suorum, incensum istud dignetur Dominus benedicere, et in odorem suavitatis accipere. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen (Through the intercession of Blessed Michael the Archangel, standing at the right hand of the altar of incense, and of all his elect, may the Lord kindly bless this incense and accept it as a savour of sweetness).[29]

Until Pope John XXIII revised it in 1960, the General Roman Calendar had not one but two feasts of Saint Michael, one on 29 September, the other on 8 May.[29]


Roman Catholic devotions to Saint Michael have been expressed in a variety of forms, including a chaplet and scapular.[30] A number of prayers, novenas and hymns are directed to him.

Prayers and novenas

Pope Leo XIII added a Prayer to Saint Michael to the Leonine Prayers in 1886.[31] Although these prayers are no longer recited after Mass, as they were until 1964, Pope John Paul II encouraged the Catholic faithful to continue to pray it, saying: "I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness."[32]

While Pope Leo XIII's Prayer to Saint Michael, on the left below, is well known in the Catholic tradition, there are other prayers to Saint Michael such as the one on the right:

The Novenas to Saint Michael are prayed on nine consecutive days, as any other novena.


The Chaplet of Saint Michael is a chaplet attributed to a private revelation by Saint Michael to the Portuguese Carmelite nun Antónia d'Astónaco in 1751. This chaplet was approved by Pope Pius IX in 1851.[33][34]


The Scapular of St. Michael the Archangel is a Roman Catholic devotional scapular associated with Saint Michael. Pope Pius IX gave to this scapular his blessing, but it was first formally approved under Pope Leo XIII who sanctioned the Archconfraternity of the Scapular of Saint Michael.[35]

St. Michael defeating Satan by Carlo Crivelli, 15th century


A prayer to Saint Michael is included in the Rite of Exorcism in the Roman Ritual, and was retained, in edited form, in the 1999 revision of the rite. It was also at the Benedictine Metten Abbey dedicated to Saint Michael that the exorcism formula Vade Retro Satana was discovered in the 17th century.[36][37]


Through the centuries, Catholic devotions to Saint Michael have resulted in a number of poems and hymns. [38][39][40]

An example is the "Hymn to Archangel Michael":

O angel! Bear, O Michael of great miracles, To the Lord my plaint.
Hearest thou? Ask of forgiving God Forgiveness of all my vast evil.
Delay not! Carry my fervent prayer To the King, the great King!
To my soul Bring help, bring comfort At the hour of its leaving earth.
Stoutly To meet my expectant soul Come with many thousand angels!
O Soldier! Against the crooked, wicked, militant world Come to my help in earnest!
Do not Disdain what I say! As long as I live do not desert me!
Thee I choose, That thou mayst save my soul, My mind, my sense, my body.
O thou of goodly counsels, Victorious, triumphant one, Angelic slayer of Antichrist!

The hymn "Te Splendor" to Saint Michael (which derives its name from the fact that in Latin it begins with Te splendor et virtus Patris) is published in the Raccolta collection of prayers with indulgences.[41]

Art and architecture


For a larger gallery of paintings and statues, please see: Saint Michael paintings gallery.

Depictions of Saint Michael often portray the scene where Satan, or the fallen angels, are helpless below the sword or spear of a triumphant Saint Michael.[42] In some depictions, the Latin phrase Quis ut Deus? can be seen on the shield of Saint Michael. The phrase means "Who is like God?" and Saint Michael asks it scornfully as he slays Satan, represented as a dragon, or a man-like figure, at times with wings.[26][43]

The original meaning of the name Michael gave rise to the Latin phrase Quis ut Deus? which can be seen on his artistic portrayals of Michael defeating Satan.[35]


For a larger gallery of icons, please see: Saint Michael icons gallery.


For a larger gallery of paintings and statues, please see: Saint Michael statues gallery.


For a list of churches dedicated to Saint Michael, please see: St. Michael's Church (disambiguation) and St. Michael's Cathedral (disambiguation).
For a larger gallery of church images, please see: Saint Michael church gallery.


See also


  1. Kelly, John Norman. Early Christian Doctrines Continuum Publishing, 2000 ISBN 0-8264-5252-3 p. 7
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church David Bordwell, the Vatican, Continuum International Publishing, 2002 ISBN 0-86012-324-3, p.78, §§334–335
  3. Pope John Paul II Angels Participate in the History of Salvation at the Vatican website [1]
  4. Ball, Anne. Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices OSV Press 2003, ISBN 0-87973-910-X p.42
  5. Stravinskas, Peter M. J., OSV's Catholic Encyclopedia, OSV Publishing, 1998 ISBN 0-87973-669-0 page 100
  6. O'Boyle, Donna-Marie. Catholic Saints Prayer Book OSV Publishing, 2008 ISBN 1-59276-285-9 p.61
  7. Baumgarten, Paul Maria. "Basilica of St. Peter." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 5 Aug. 2014
  8. O'Boyle, p.60.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints, Forgotten Books ISBN 1-60506-312-6 p.372
  10. Starr, Mirabai. Saint Michael: The Archangel, Published by Sounds True, 2007 ISBN 1-59179-627-X p.2
  11. Ball, pp.42, 425.
  12. Mornin, Edward. Saints: A Visual Guide, Frances Lincoln. 2006 ISBN 0-7112-2606-7 p.18
  13. "Sistine Chapel", Vatican
  14. Johnson, Richard Freeman. Saint Michael the Archangel in Medieval English Legend, Boydell Press, 2005, ISBN 9781843831280
  15. Butler, Alban. The lives of the fathers, martyrs, and other principal saints, B. Dornin, 1821, p.117
  16. McGrath, Michael. Patrons and Protectors, Liturgy Training, 2001, ISBN 1-56854-109-0
  17. Johnston, William M., Encyclopedia of Monasticism, Taylor & Francis, 2000, ISBN 1-57958-090-4, p.672
  18. Butler, Alban. The lives of the fathers, martyrs, and other principal saints, J. Duffy, 1866 p.320
  19. Richard Johnson, Saint Michael the Archangel in medieval English legend Boydell Press, 2005 ISBN 1-84383-128-7 page 42
  20. Angels in the early modern world by Alexandra Walsham, Cambridge University Press, 2006 ISBN 0-521-84332-4 page 2008
  21. Thomas W. Petrisk, 1998, The Fatima Prophecies, St. Andrews Press, ISBN 978-1-891903-30-4 page 4
  22. Thomas Petrisko 2001 Fatima's Third Secret Explained St. Andrews Press, ISBN 978-1-891903-26-7 page 79
  23. Thomas W. Petrisko, Fatima's Third Secret Explained St. Andrews Productions, 2001 ISBN 1-891903-26-8 page 79
  24. Timothy Robertson Fatima, Russia and Pope John Paul II ISBN page 118
  25. Armstrong, Regis. Francis of Assisi: early documents New City Press, 2000 ISBN 1-56548-112-7 p.374
  26. 26.0 26.1 Holweck, Frederick. "St. Michael the Archangel." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 22 Dec. 2013
  27. William Connell, Society and individual in Renaissance University of California Press, 2002 ISBN 0-520-23254-2 page 418
  28. Vatican website, address of September 29, 2007
  29. 29.0 29.1 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal, with feasts updated to the late 1920s
  30. Hilgers, Joseph. "Scapular." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 22 Dec. 2013
  31. Irish Ecclesiastical Review 7 (1886), 1050
  32. John Paul II, Regina Coeli address 24 April 1994.
  33. Ann Ball, 2003 Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices ISBN 0-87973-910-X page 123
  34. EWTN The Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel
  35. 35.0 35.1 Ball, p.520.
  36. Michael Kunzler, The Church's Liturgy, Published by LIT Verlag 2001 ISBN 3-8258-4854-X page 317
  37. Order of St. Benedict
  38. George Wither, The hymns and songs of the church Published by J. R. Smith, 1856, page 248
  39. John Henry Newman, Hymns 2008 ISBN 1-4097-1628-7 page 186
  40. Kuno Meyer, Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry 2007 ISBN 1-4086-3323-X page 41
  41. The Raccolta Collection of indulgenced prayers by T. Galli, authorized translation by Ambrose Saint John, Published by Burns and Lambert, London, 1857, page 252.
  42. Solrunn Nes, The mystical language of icons, Eerdmans Publishing, 2005 ISBN 0-8028-2916-3, p.91
  43. Elven, John. 1854, The book of family crests Henry Washbourne Publisher, p. 112


  • Ball, Anne. Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices OSV Press 2003, ISBN 0-87973-910-X
  • O'Boyle, Donna-Marie. Catholic Saints Prayer Book OSV Publishing, 2008 ISBN 1-59276-285-9