When the subject of angels arises, it’s often greeted with a mix of fascination and mystery. For many, these heavenly beings are simply symbolic or poetic expressions of divine will. But for Catholics, angels—and more specifically, archangels—have a much richer and more nuanced role. Let’s dig into some things you probably didn’t know about archangels, based on the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Who are Archangels?
First, it’s crucial to understand what the Catholic Church means by “archangels.” Archangels are part of the angelic hierarchy, celestial beings created by God to serve as messengers and helpers. They possess intellect and will, and are purely spiritual creatures without a body. They’re a bit like God’s special envoys or messengers for specific tasks.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness” (CCC 330). This quote from the Catechism sets the theological stage for understanding what angels, and by extension archangels, are in essence.
1. Only Three Archangels are Named in the Bible
You may be surprised to learn that only three archangels are mentioned by name in the canonical books of the Bible: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.
Michael: The Warrior Angel
Michael is perhaps the most famous of the archangels, often depicted in art and literature as a warrior. He is mentioned in the Book of Daniel (Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1), as well as in the New Testament in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 12:7), where he leads the heavenly army against the forces of evil: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels.”
Gabriel: The Messenger
Gabriel is the messenger archangel who appears to Daniel, Zechariah, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is Gabriel who announces the coming of John the Baptist to Zechariah and the birth of Jesus to Mary. The annunciation to Mary is one of the most famous biblical scenes: “And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28).
Raphael: The Healing Angel
Raphael appears in the Book of Tobit, a part of the Catholic Old Testament but considered deuterocanonical by Protestants. Raphael aids Tobit and his son Tobias on their journey, ultimately revealing his angelic nature and the purpose of his mission, which involves healing and guidance (Tobit 12:15).
2. Archangels Have Specific Roles
As we’ve seen from their biblical accounts, each archangel has a specialized function or role.
- Michael: Primarily seen as a protector and warrior, particularly against evil forces.
- Gabriel: Acts as a messenger, especially of divine revelations and important announcements.
- Raphael: Focuses on healing, guidance, and companionship during journeys.
3. They Are Not to Be Worshipped
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While archangels are powerful and glorious beings, they are creations of God and not to be worshipped. The Catechism states that “the worship of the one God sets man free from turning in on himself, from the slavery of sin and the idolatry of the world” (CCC 2097). Angels, including archangels, are to be respected but never worshipped. Worship is due to God alone.
4. They Can Intercede for Us
Catholics believe in the Communion of Saints, which includes not just humans who have reached Heaven but also angels. They can act as intercessors, praying for us and aiding us in our spiritual journey. The Catechism affirms the practice of invoking the angels: “From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession” (CCC 336).
5. They Exist in a Hierarchical Order
Christian tradition, drawing upon works like St. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, identifies a hierarchy among the angels, broken down into three “choirs” with three orders each. Archangels belong to the last choir, along with angels and principalities. They serve as messengers to humans and fulfill other roles involving our world and the larger cosmos.
Archangels hold a special place in the spiritual cosmology of the Catholic Church. While only three are named in the Bible—Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael—each plays a distinct role as a messenger and servant of God’s will. Importantly, while these archangels are revered, they are not objects of worship. Their purpose is to serve God and assist us, acting as intercessors and protectors in our own spiritual journeys. The understanding of archangels offers a rich tapestry of faith, blending Scripture, Tradition, and Church teaching to reveal a fuller picture of these fascinating celestial beings.
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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.