Thursday, 29 September 2011

St Michael the Archangel


Four times is the name of St Michael recorded in Scripture:

(1) Daniel 10: 13 sqq., Gabriel says to Daniel, when he asks God to permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem: "The Angel [D.V. prince] of the kingdom of the Persians resisted me . . . and, behold Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me . . . and none is my helper in all these things, but Michael your prince."

(2) Daniel 12, the Angel speaking of the end of the world and the Antichrist says: "At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people."

(3) In the Catholic Epistle of St Jude: "When Michael the Archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses" etc. St Jude alludes to an ancient Jewish tradition of a dispute between Michael and Satan over the body of Moses, an account of which is also found in the apocryphal book on the assumption of Moses (Origen, De Principiis III.2.2). St Michael concealed the tomb of Moses; Satan, however, by disclosing it, tried to seduce the Jewish people to the sin of hero-worship. St Michael also guards the body of Eve, according to the "Revelation of Moses" ("Apocryphal Gospels" etc., ed. A. Walker, Edinburgh, p. 647).

(4) Apocalypse 12: 7: "And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon." St John speaks of the great conflict at the end of time, which reflects also the battle in heaven at the beginning of time. According to the Fathers there is often question of St Michael in Scripture where his name is not mentioned. They say he was the cherub who stood at the gate of paradise, "to keep the way of the tree of life" (Genesis 3:24), the angel through whom God published the Decalogue to his chosen people, the angel who stood in the way against Balaam (Numbers 22: 22 sqq.), the angel who routed the army of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19: 35). Following these Scriptural passages, Christian tradition gives to St Michael four offices:

To fight against Satan.

To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.

To be the champion of God's people, the Jews in the Old Law, the Christians in the New Testament; therefore he was the patron of the Church, and of the orders of knights during the Middle Ages.

To call away from earth and bring men's souls to judgment ("signifer S. Michael repraesentet eas in lucam sanctam", Offert. Miss Defunct. "Constituit eum principem super animas suscipiendas", Antiph. off. Cf. The Shepherd of Hermas, Book III, Similitude 8, Chapter 3).

In the Roman Catholic calendar of saints, Anglican calendar of saints, and the Lutheran calendar of saints, his feast day, once widely known as Michaelmas, is celebrated September 29th.

There is a legend in Cornwall that in the 5th century, the Archangel appeared to fishermen on St Michael's Mount.

Also a Portuguese Carmelite nun, Antónia d'Astónaco, had reported an apparition and private revelation of the Archangel Michael who had told to this devoted Servant of God, in 1751, that he would like to be honored, and God glorified, by the praying of nine special invocations. These nine invocations correspond to invocations to the nine choirs of angels and origins the famous Chaplet of Saint Michael. This private revelation and prayers were approved by Pope Pius IX in 1851.

During the years 1961 to 1965, four young schoolgirls had reported several apparitions of Saint Michael the Archangel in the small village of San Sebastian de Garabandal, in Cantabria, north Spain. At Garabandal, the apparitions of the Archangel Michael were mainly reported as announcing the arrivals of the Virgin Mary. The Catholic Church has never condemned Garabandal apparitions, and the Vatican has never made an official pronouncement.

The name of this Archangel means "who is like unto God?" In the Old Covenant he is made known to us as the "great prince," the protector of the children of Israel (Dan. 12, 1). Through the New Testament the Church continues this patronage of Michael (Apoc. 12, 7) and has always venerated him as the guardian angel of the kingdom of Christ on earth, as the heavenly leader in the fight against all enemies of God.

His feast, originally combined with the remembrance of all angels, had been celebrated in Rome from the early centuries on September 29th. The Synod of Mainz (813) introduced it into all the countries of the Carolingian Empire and prescribed its celebration as a public holiday. All through medieval times Saint Michael’s Day was kept as a great religious feast (in France even up to the last century) and one of the annual holiday seasons as well. The churches of the Greek Rite keep the feast on November 8th, and a second festival on September 6th. In France the apparition of the Archangel at Mont-Saint-Michel is commemorated on October 16th. Another apparition, on Mount Gargano in Apulia, Italy, is honoured by a memorial feast in the whole Western Church on May 8th.

The great Archangel is not only protector of the Christians on earth but of those in purgatory as well. He assists the dying, accompanies the souls to their private judgment, brings them to purgatory, and afterward presents them to God at their entrance into Heaven. Thus he is the actual patron of the holy souls. As Satan is "ruler" in hell so Michael is the "governor" of Heaven (Praepositus Paradisi) according to ancient books. The Church expresses this patronage in her liturgy. In the Offertory prayer of the Requiem Masses she prays:

Sed signifer sanctus Michael repraesentet eas in lucem sanctam, quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini eius.

Saint Michael, the banner bearer, may conduct them into the holy light which Thou hast promised to Abraham and his seed.

Saint Michael’s protection over holy souls is also the reason for dedicating cemetery chapels to him. All over Europe thousands of such chapels bear his name. It was the custom in past centuries to offer a Mass every week in honour of the Archangel and in favor of the departed ones in these mortuary chapels.

Among the Basques in northern Spain, whose national patron is Saint Michael, the feast is kept with great religious and civic celebrations. An image of the Archangel is brought from the national shrine to all churches of Navarre for a short "visit" each year, to be honored and venerated by the faithful in their home towns.
Liturgical Prayer: O God, who dost establish the ministry of angels and men in a wonderful order, graciously grant that Thy holy angels, who ever serve Thee in heaven, may also protect our lives on earth.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

St Matthew


Matthew was originally a tax-gatherer, in the service of the Romans who became one of the twelve Apostles and the author of the first Gospel. He is spoken of five times in the New Testament; first in Matthew 9: 9, when called by Jesus to follow Him, and then four times in the list of the Apostles, where he is mentioned in the seventh (Luke 6: 15, and Mark 3: 18), and again in the eighth place (Matthew 10: 3, and Acts 1: 13). The man designated in Matthew 9: 9, as "sitting in the custom house," and "named Matthew" is the same as Levi, recorded in Mark 2: 14, and Luke 5: 27, as "sitting at the receipt of custom." The account in the three Synoptics is identical, the vocation of Matthew-Levi being alluded to in the same terms. Hence Levi was the original name of the man who was subsequently called Matthew; the Maththaios legomenos of Matthew 9: 9 would indicate this.

The fact of one man having two names is of frequent occurrence among the Jews. It is true that the same person usually bears a Hebrew name such as "Shaoul" and a Greek name, Paulos. However, we have also examples of individuals with two Hebrew names as, for instance, Joseph-Caiaphas, Simon-Cephas etc. It is probable that Mattija, "gift of Iaveh," was the name conferred upon the tax-gatherer by Jesus Christ when He called him to the Apostolate, and by it he was thenceforth known among his Christian brethren, Levi being his original name.

Matthew, the son of Alpheus (Mark 2: 14) was a Galilean, although Eusebius informs us that he was a Syrian. As tax-gatherer at Capharnaum, he collected custom duties for Herod Antipas, and, although a Jew, was despised by the Pharisees, who hated all publicans. When summoned by Jesus, Matthew arose and followed Him and tendered Him a feast in his house, where tax-gatherers and sinners sat at table with Christ and His disciples. This drew forth a protest from the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked in these consoling words: "I came not to call the just, but sinners".

No further allusion is made to Matthew in the Gospels, except in the list of the Apostles. As a disciple and an Apostle he thenceforth followed Christ, accompanying Him up to the time of His Passion and, in Galilee, was one of the witnesses of His Resurrection. He was also amongst the Apostles who were present at the Ascension, and afterwards withdrew to an upper chamber, in Jerusalem, praying in union with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren (Acts 1: 10 and 1: 14).

Of Matthew's subsequent career we have only inaccurate or legendary data. St. Irenæus tells us that Matthew preached the Gospel among the Hebrews, St Clement of Alexandria claiming that he did this for fifteen years, and Eusebius maintains that, before going into other countries, he gave them his Gospel in the mother tongue. Ancient writers are not as one as to the countries evangelized by Matthew, but almost all mention Ethiopia to the south of the Caspian Sea (not Ethiopia in Africa), and some Persia and the kingdom of the Parthians, Macedonia, and Syria.

According to Heracleon, who is quoted by Clement of Alexandria, Matthew did not die a martyr, but this opinion conflicts with all other ancient testimony. The account of his martyrdom in the apocryphal Greek writings entitled "Martyrium S. Matthæi in Ponto" and published by Bonnet, "Acta apostolorum apocrypha" (Leipzig, 1898), is absolutely devoid of historic value. Lipsius holds that this "Martyrium S. Matthæi," which contains traces of Gnosticism, must have been published in the third century.
There is a disagreement as to the place of St Matthew's martyrdom and the kind of torture inflicted on him, therefore it is not known whether he was burned, stoned, or beheaded. The Roman Martyrology simply says: "S. Matthæi, qui in Æthiopia prædicans martyrium passus est."

Various writings that are now considered apocryphal, have been attributed to St Matthew. In the "Evangelia apocrypha" (Leipzig, 1876), Tischendorf reproduced a Latin document entitled: "De Ortu beatæ Mariæ et infantia Salvatoris," supposedly written in Hebrew by St Matthew the Evangelist, and translated into Latin by Jerome, the priest. It is an abridged adaptation of the "Protoevangelium" of St James, which was a Greek apocryphal of the second century. This pseudo-Matthew dates from the middle or the end of the sixth century.

The Latin Church celebrates the feast of St Matthew on September 21st, and the Greek Church on November 16th. St Matthew is represented under the symbol of a winged man, carrying in his hand a lance as a characteristic emblem.