Ascending and Descending with the Archangels, September 29, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
September 29, 2017
Rev 12:7-12, Ps 138, Jn 1:47-51


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In the Gospel today, Jesus describes for us the two-fold activity of angels: “ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” They “ascend” in order to serve the Lord and “descend” in order to serve us on behalf of God. This double service was also alluded to in the Opening Prayer as we turned to God and asked that he “graciously grant that our life on earth may be defended by those who watch over us [descending] as they minister perpetually to you in heaven [ascending].” As we ponder today their double work, we are also called to let them help us to learn how to ascend and descend with them in praise of God and service of others.
  • The Archangel’s first and most important activity is to praise God. “Praise him, all you angels,” the Psalms say (Ps 148:2). They want to help us to learn how to praise God with them. We prayed together in today’s Responsorial Psalm, “In the sight of the angels, I will sing your praises, Lord!” Under their watchful gaze, they want to help us to be able to say, both in this world and forever, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth; in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise; I will worship at your holy temple and give thanks to your name.” They help us to do that obviously in the Mass, which features two great angelic hymns, the one that that derives from what the angels chanted on Christmas morning, the “Glory to God in the Highest,” and the one that comes from what the Prophet Isaiah saw in an angelic vision, the “Holy, Holy, Holy.” Today is a day in which we recognize that we’re not praying alone, but that the angels are helping us to praise and thank God with all our being.
  • Their second activity is to descend upon us to bring us God’s assistance. The Archangel Gabriel brought Mary God’s word, Raphael brought Tobias God’s accompaniment, Michael has brought the Church protection. Their names say a lot about how they seek to serve us. Gabriel means God’s strength and he seeks to strengthen us, like he strengthened the sinless Virgin Mary, not to be afraid of responding to God’s call. Raphael means “God’s medicine” and he strives to heal us not of physical cataracts like he did Tobit/Raguel but rather everything that hinders our seeing God. Michael means “He is who like God” and he strives to defends us from all evil that renders us dissimilar to God who is holy, holy, holy. Their presence accompanies us in a particular way throughout every daily Mass. We invoke Gabriel before every Mass as we pray the Angelus at 6 am and ponder the Good News of the Incarnation that never becomes old news. We invoke St. Michael at the end of Mass asking us to defend us together with Jesus whom we now bear inside. And St. Raphael seeks to help us to live the Mass, the medicine of God, the medicine of immortality, through the day into eternity.
  • I’d like to ponder together a little the prayer to St. Michael that we say together to conclude every Mass. This prayer was decreed by the erudite Pope Leo XIII in 1886 because he saw the work that the devil was trying to do in the Church and in the world. He wanted everyone in the Church to grasp this reality and receive protection. We need to be far more worried about these spiritual assassins than we do about ISIS or Al-Qaeda, but few of us are. The prayer to St. Michael was said after every Catholic Mass until 1964, when it was made optional. Many of us, seeing what has happened in the last five-plus decades, have been bringing it back after Mass. By praying this prayer, we acknowledge publicly that not only do the good angels exist but also Satan and the evil ones. In the Book of Revelation that was our first reading today, we saw what St. Michael has already done, throwing  Satan and his angels “down to earth.” We pray together that he do some further: to throw them down from earth to hell. “St. Michael the Archangel,” we pray, “defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust down to hell Satan and all his evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.” And we pray this prayer in a special way for all those who are being attacked by the devil to distrust God and choose against God and his blessings.
  • The way for us to respond to St. Michael’s protection is given to us immediately after by the “loud voice” that resonated in heaven. “Salvation and power have come” with the casting out of the “Accuser” who “night and day accused [us] before God.” As we saw in the Book of Job earlier this week, the devil is always accusing us before God and accusing God before us. But he was defeated by God through Michael in a special three fold way: “They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death.” Three things:
    • The blood of the Lamb — This points not only to Christ’s triumph on the Cross but our sharing it through receiving his body and blood in the Eucharist, being washed by it in baptism, by being repeatedly bathed in it through confession. St. Michael wants to defend us and lead us to victory by uniting us to the blood of Jesus. We do this in a special way during this Jubilee of Mercy as we offer the eternal Father his dearly Beloved Son’s body, blood, soul and divinity, in expiation for all the times we and others have cooperated with the devil.
    • The word of their testimony — This is first the word of God that the Angels have announced to us that, secondly, those who triumph had heard, received, treasured, enfleshed, lived and in turn proclaimed through white and red martyrdom or witness. St. Michael and all the angels want to lead us to God’s word. Jesus defeated the devil’s temptations in the desert precisely by his knowledge of God’s word, so that he would not be vulnerable to the devil’s manipulation of the word by half-truths. St. Michael wants to defend us by the same shield of the word of God and to make us witnesses cooperating with him in shielding others from the devil’s lies by the truth God has given to us.
    • Death instead of “love for life” — Jesus is clear to us that in order to save our life we must be willing to lose it, that unless we become like a grain of wheat falling to the ground and dying, we will bear no fruit. The greatest weapon in Satan’s arsenal is our love for this-worldly life. If we’re too afraid to suffer or die for Christ who suffered and died for us, the devil will have found our price and sooner or later he’ll seek to make a Judas. It’s only when we, like the martyrs, are willing to give all that we can be protected from his wiles, whether we face martyrdom or not.
  • The greatest way Michael, Gabriel and Raphael help us to enter into their victory is here at Mass, when we hear God’s word in testimony, where we call out them and all the angels to “pray for us to the Lord our God” for mercy in the Confiteor, where we receive Jesus’ blood shed for us in remission of sins, in remission of all our complicity with the devil, in which we respond to God’s help to decrease so that Christ in his risen life will increase within us, giving fruit to our life after we’ve fallen to the ground and died like a grain of wheat, and finally in strengthening us to go as Gabriel’s announcing the word, accompanied by Raphael, and defended by Michael. This is where we receive God’s strength, his medicine, and his protection, to help us to do our own double service, ascending to God and descending to serve others, as they do for us.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
rv 12:7-12ab

War broke out in heaven;
Michael 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,
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.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed.
For the accuser of our brothers is cast out,
who accuses them before our God day and night.
They conquered him by the Blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
love for life did not deter them from death.
Therefore, rejoice, you heavens,
and you who dwell in them.”

Responsorial Psalm
ps 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 4-5

R. (1) In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.
R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
Because of your kindness and your truth;
for you have made great above all things
your name and your promise.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
All the kings of the earth shall give thanks to you, O LORD
when they hear the words of your mouth;
And they shall sing of the ways of the LORD
“Great is the glory of the LORD
R. In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.

jn 1:47-51

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him,
“Here is a true child of Israel.
There is no duplicity in him.”
Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael answered him,
“Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“Do you believe
because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than this.”
And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened
and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”