Rethinking Saint Michael

There are many dioceses in the US that are reinstituting the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel that was used for about eighty years at the end of low Masses.

Prayer, in the face of temptations, in the face of the assaults of the Accuser (Satan), are important and essential.

But I wonder if this is the right approach. I think there must first be a re-thinking of Saint Michael.

In many images of Saint Michael he is depicted as a white winged man with a sword, aimed at a dark-skinned devil at this feet. That hit me one day when our pastor, who is dark-skinned presided at Mass in the church of St. Michael in one of the villages of the parish.

san miguel

It makes me reflect on the racism that has plagued this continent (and other parts of the world) where white is holy and black is evil. What do dark-skinned or black people think and feel – consciously or unconsciously – with a white angel of good and a black angel of evil? In a classist and racist society as we have here in Honduras, it could be devastating.

Secondly, Michael often has a sword, about to strike the devil. Does he thus kill him? Does this unconsciously justify killing of enemies, demonizing them and thus making it easier to kill them.


It also can lead to a self-righteousness that forgets the need for self-examination. It sets up two opposing parties, forgetting the wisdom that the Russian writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, discovered while among Stalin’s prisoners, writing in The Gulag Archipelago, that

 “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of hearts, there remains … an un-uprooted small corner of evil.”

In the biblical tradition, Saint Michael is invoked as protector of the people of God.

Megan McKenna, in Angels Unawares, noted how Monseñor Oscar Romero sought the protection of Saint Michael for his beleaguered and persecuted flock in El Salvador in the late 1970s:

Oscar Romero, the bishop of San Salvador, called on Michael the archangel as the defender of his diocese and people in their struggle for life. He proclaimed that San Miguel Archangel fights on their behalf and stands with them. His presence was and is summoned to defend all the sanctuaries, temples, churches and cathedrals of the land and all the people who gather there to praise God in the midst of violence and death. It is Michael, Romero said, who stands at the entrances to the churches and before their altars as guardian and protector of God’s own servants.

“We believe in what is seen and unseen and so rely on the presence of God’s angels to express and live out our faith. It is Michael who, with his great censor of smoking fire, offers to God all the supplications, prayers, works, sufferings and hopes of all the people and who defends us from danger and evil. Michael serves only God and bends to Jesus Christ and all who serve him. He has fought and stays with those who struggle to be faithful until once again all things will be subject to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God whose blood is testimony to our life. We are protected from the dragon and all that would seek to harm us—of this we are assured” (Romero, freely translated).

Maybe we also need to ask what are his weapons in defense of God’s people. What are the weapons of the spirit that will protect us? Truth, love, solidarity, justice, compassion? I hardly believe that we will be defended by attacking or, worse, killing or silencing our adversaries. They might actually be a positive challenge, calling us to conversion.

Thus I am concerned at the militarizing of the life of prayer. Prayer is a battle ground. Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a converted soldier, did use the image of the two standards, but that is, as I understand it, to help us make a decision. Whose standard will we follow? Will it be the standard of the Cross, which to me appears to be a standard of self-giving love, not of violence against another.

Maybe, in place of the old St. Michael’s prayer we should the even older invocations of the St. Michael chaplet, cited in Megan McKenna’s work:

  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of seraphim, may the Lord make us worthy to burn with the fire of perfect charity.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of cherubim, may the Lord vouchsafe to grant us the grace to leave the ways of wickedness and run in the paths of Christian perfection.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of thrones, may the Lord infuse into our hearts a true and sincere spirit of humility.
  • By the intercession of Michael and the celestial choir of dominions, may the Lord give us grace to govern our senses and subdue our unruly passions.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of powers, may the Lord vouchsafe to protect our souls against the snares and temptations of the devil.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of virtues, may the Lord preserve us from evil and suffer us not to fall into temptation.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of principalities, may God fill our souls with a true spirit of obedience.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of archangels, may the Lord give us perseverance in faith and all good works, in order that we gain the glory of paradise.
  • By the intercession of St. Michael and the celestial choir of angels, may the Lord grant us to be protected by them in this mortal life and conducted hereafter to eternal glory. Amen.

This prayer is directed at ourselves, not at others. It might be better, reminding us of the constant call to conversion. After all, Michael means “Who is like God?” Aren’t many of our troubles today in the church and in the world related to our temptation to look upon ourselves as gods, and not as servants of a God who became poor, emptying himself to live among us and handing himself over to be killed on the Cross.

Give me the poor Christ on the Cross instead of the soldier Michael.



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