a homily on the Gospels by Saint Gregory the Great
The Word Angel Denotes
a Function Rather than a Nature
ou should be aware that
the word angel denotes a function rather than a nature. Those
holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be
called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver
messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages
of supreme importance are called archangels.
And so it was that not merely
an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only
fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all
Some angels are given proper
names to denote the service they are empowered to perform. In that holy city,
where perfect knowledge flows from the vision of almighty God, those who
have no names may easily be known. But personal names are assigned to some,
not because they could not be known without them, but rather to denote their
ministry when they came among us. Thus, Michael means Who is like
God; Gabriel is The Strength of God; and Raphael is
Whenever some act of wondrous
power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name
may make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power.
So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: I
will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven;
I will be like the Most High. He will be allowed to remain in power until
the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then,
he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: A battle
was fought with Michael the archangel.
So too Gabriel, who is called
Gods strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared
as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus Gods strength announced
the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.
Raphael means, as I have said,
Gods remedy, for when he touched Tobits eyes in order to cure
him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal,
he is rightly called Gods remedy.
Saint Gregory the Great,
(Office of Readings, September 29:
Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels)