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[edit]

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

Angels in general, and archangels in particular, have specific roles within Roman Catholic teachings. 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]

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".[3] 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 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.[4]

The feast of these angels is celebrated on September 29. 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.

Role and mission[edit]

In Roman Catholicism Saint Michael has four distinct roles. First, he is the Enemy of Satan and the fallen angels. He vanquished 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 in his perfectly balanced scales (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 the Adversary and the fallen angels[edit]

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. In his classic book Lives of the Saints, priest and 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.

It was Saint Michael who vanquished Satan and drove him out of heaven. In the Book of Revelation (12:7-9) Saint John wrote of Michael's role in the War in Heaven where he hurls Satan and the fallen angels out of heaven to earth:[10]

"And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down — that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him."

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.[11] 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.[12][13]

In Catholic teachings, Saint Michael will also triumph at the end times when Antichrist will be defeated by him. The Book of Daniel states: "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered."[14]

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.[15]

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

At the hour of death[edit]

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]

St. Francis of Assisi was specially devoted to Saint Michael and often said that the archangel should be specially honored because his duty is presenting souls to God. St. Francis used to say that: "Each person should offer God some special praise or gift in honor of such a great prince" and he would fast for about forty days from the feast of the Assumption (August 15) to Saint Michael's feast day on September 29.[16]

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.[17]

Weighing souls on Judgment Day[edit]

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.[18]

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.[19]

Guardian of the Church[edit]

The Catholic tradition has for long recognized Saint Michael 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.[20][21]

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.[22]

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.[23]

In Catholic teachings, the guarding of the Church and its principles is viewed as an ongoing battle against Satan's deceit, with Saint Michael coming to the aid of the faithful when he is called on. Specific Catholic prayers and novenas to the saint call on him for protection. The role of the guardian and protector of the Church is reflected in Catholic prayers to Saint Michael:[24][need quotation to verify]

Glorious Saint Michael,
guardian and defender of Christ's House,
come to the assistance of His followers,
against whom the powers of hell are unchained.


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. 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.[12][25]

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.[26][27]

Some Catholic authors have concluded that the angel with the flaming sword referred to within the Fatima messages is Saint Michael who defeats Satan.[28][29][30] 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.[31]

Views of the saints and the popes[edit]

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]

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".[32]

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI described part of the role of Saint Michael as follows:[33]

"...defends the cause of God's oneness against the presumption of the dragon, the "ancient serpent", as John calls it. The serpent's continuous effort is to make men believe that God must disappear so that they themselves may become important; that God impedes our freedom and, therefore, that we must rid ourselves of him."

In this 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.

Mentions in the Tridentine liturgy[edit]

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).[34]

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.[34]


Roman Catholic devotions to Saint Michael have been expressed in a variety of forms, including a chaplet and scapular.[35] A number of prayers, novenas and hymns are directed to him.

Prayers and novenas[edit]

Pope Leo XIII added a Prayer to Saint Michael to the Leonine Prayers in 1886.[36] 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."[37]

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.

A Saint Michael Chaplet using beads like a rosary


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.[38][39]

The chaplet consists of nine salutations, one for each choir of angels. An Our Father and three Hail Marys are said on each decade. It concludes with four Our Fathers, honoring Saints Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and the Guardian Angel. The chaplet is begun with an act of contrition and is concluded with a prayer to Saint Michael.


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. Indulgences were approved by the Congregation of Indulgences in 1903. Each member of the confraternity is invested with the scapular.

The form of this scapular is somewhat distinct, in that the two segments of cloth that constitute it have the form of a small shield; one is made of blue and the other of black cloth, and one of the bands likewise is blue and the other black. Both portions of the scapular bear the well-known representation of the Archangel St. Michael slaying the dragon and the inscription "Quis ut Deus?" meaning Who is like God?.[4]

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.[40][41]


Through the centuries, Catholic devotions to Saint Michael have resulted in a number of poems and hymns. [42][43][44]

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. In 1817 Pope Pius VII granted an indulgences for saying the hymn with a contrite heart and devotion, in honor of Saint Michael to obtain his patronage and protection against the assaults of the enemy of man.[45]

Art and architecture[edit]


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


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 and St. Michael's Cathedral.
For a larger gallery of church images, please see: Saint Michael church gallery.



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  2. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church David Bordwell, the Vatican, Continuum International Publishing, 2002 ISBN 0-86012-324-3, p.78, §§334–335
  3. ^ Ball, Anne. Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices OSV Press 2003, ISBN 0-87973-910-X p.42
  4. ^ a b Ball, p.520.
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  13. ^ Elven, John. 1854, The book of family crests Henry Washbourne Publisher, p. 112
  14. ^ Bible Gateway, Daniel 12:1
  15. ^ Starr, Mirabai. Saint Michael: The Archangel, Published by Sounds True, 2007 ISBN 1-59179-627-X p.2
  16. ^ Armstrong, Regis. Francis of Assisi: early documents New City Press, 2000 ISBN 1-56548-112-7 p.374
  17. ^ Ball, pp.42, 425.
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  19. ^ "Sistine Chapel", Vatican
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  23. ^ Butler, Alban. The lives of the fathers, martyrs, and other principal saints, J. Duffy, 1866 p.320
  24. ^ Mirabai Starr, Saint Michael: The Archangel, Published by Sounds True, 2007 ISBN 1-59179-627-X page 81
  25. ^ William Connell, Society and individual in Renaissance University of California Press, 2002 ISBN 0-520-23254-2 page 418
  26. ^ Richard Johnson, Saint Michael the Archangel in medieval English legend Boydell Press, 2005 ISBN 1-84383-128-7 page 42
  27. ^ Angels in the early modern world by Alexandra Walsham, Cambridge University Press, 2006 ISBN 0-521-84332-4 page 2008
  28. ^ Thomas W. Petrisk, 1998, The Fatima Prophecies, St. Andrews Press, ISBN 978-1-891903-30-4 page 4
  29. ^ Thomas Petrisko 2001 Fatima's Third Secret Explained St. Andrews Press, ISBN 978-1-891903-26-7 page 79
  30. ^ Thomas W. Petrisko, Fatima's Third Secret Explained St. Andrews Productions, 2001 ISBN 1-891903-26-8 page 79
  31. ^ Timothy Robertson Fatima, Russia and Pope John Paul II ISBN page 118
  32. ^ Pope John Paul II Angels Participate in the History of Salvation at the Vatican website [1]
  33. ^ Vatican website, address of September 29, 2007
  34. ^ a b 1920 typical edition of the Roman Missal, with feasts updated to the late 1920s
  35. ^ Hilgers, Joseph. "Scapular." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 22 Dec. 2013
  36. ^ Irish Ecclesiastical Review 7 (1886), 1050
  37. ^ John Paul II, Regina Coeli address 24 April 1994.
  38. ^ Ann Ball, 2003 Encyclopedia of Catholic Devotions and Practices ISBN 0-87973-910-X page 123
  39. ^ EWTN The Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel
  40. ^ Michael Kunzler, The Church's Liturgy, Published by LIT Verlag 2001 ISBN 3-8258-4854-X page 317
  41. ^ Order of St. Benedict
  42. ^ George Wither, The hymns and songs of the church Published by J. R. Smith, 1856, page 248
  43. ^ John Henry Newman, Hymns 2008 ISBN 1-4097-1628-7 page 186
  44. ^ Kuno Meyer, Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry 2007 ISBN 1-4086-3323-X page 41
  45. ^ The Raccolta Collection of indulgenced prayers by T. Galli, authorized translation by Ambrose Saint John, Published by Burns and Lambert, London, 1857, page 252.


  • 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