11th century prayer to St. Michael; technical meaning of “saint”  

“Therefore I beseech and entreat you, St Michael the Archangel, who knows those of the accepted souls to be received, find my soul worthy when it leaves my body and free it from the power of the enemy, so that it avoids the gates of hell and the ways of shadows and that the lion and dragon who usually receive souls in hell and lead them to eternal torment.” [*]

– from Oxford Bodleian Library MS Douce 296, fol. 122v. Cited in and translated by Kathleen Openshaw, “The Battle between Christ and Satan in the Tiberius Psalter,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 52:14-33. 

ETA: inkysaurus wonders, “Can you shed a little light for us non-Catholics on how St. Michael is both a saint and an archangel?” 

That’s a good question, since we tend to think of saints as formerly living humans who led exemplary lives and performed miracles and now hang out in heaven doing various jobs and interceding for the living who petition them.  I guess that’s how people think of them anyway.  But according to the Roman Catholic church, whose stance is explained at the Catholic Encyclopedia, a saint is basically someone who’s in heaven.  Or, to put it another way, if you’re in heaven you’re a saint. They write,

The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, the souls in purgatory, and the saints in heaven in the organic unity of the same mystical body under Christ its head, and in a constant interchange of supernatural offices. The participants in that solidarity are called saints by reason of their destination and of their partaking of the fruits of the Redemption

And:

St. Thomas teaches (III:8:4) that the angels, though not redeemed, enter the communion of saints because they come under Christ’s power and receive of His gratia capitis. The solidarity itself implies a variety of inter-relations: within the Church Militant, not only the participation in the same faith, sacraments, and government, but also a mutual exchange of examples, prayers, merits, and satisfactions; between the Church on earth on the one hand, and purgatory and heaven on the other, suffrages, invocation, intercession, veneration.

And they summarize Augustine’s take:

In the transcendent view of the Church taken by the latter (Enchiridion 66) the communion of saints, though never so called by him, is a necessity; to the Civitas Dei must needs correspond the unitas caritatis (De unitate eccl., ii), which embraces in an effective union the saints and angels in heaven (Enarration on Psalm 36, nos. 3-4), the just on earth (On Baptism III.17), and in a lower degree, the sinners themselves, the putrida membra of the mystic body; only the declared heretics, schismatics, and apostates are excluded from the society, though not from the prayers, of the saints (Serm. cxxxvii).

The Catholic church characterizes the communion of saints as “that reciprocal action of the saints, that corporate circulation of spiritual blessings through the members of the same family, that domesticity and saintly citizenship…”

So basically, I guess the short answer is that St. Michael can be both a saint and an angel because the Roman Catholic definition of a saint is not the same as the commonly accepted definition of a saint.

(cc) baldur mcqueen, Flickr Creative Commons

[*] “Te ergo supplico et deprecer sancte michael archangele qui ad animas accepiendas accepisti postestatem ut animam meam suscipere digneris quando de corpere meo erit egressa et libera eam de potestate inimici ut pertransive possit portas infernorum et vias tenebrarum ut non se deponat leo vel draco qui conseutus est animas in inferno recipere et ad aeterna tormenta perducere.”

Prayer to one’s guardian angel

I finally finished translating (or near enough to post anyway – it could still use a little finessing), an 11th century prayer to one's guardian angel, for which I posted the Latin a while back.

An Old Irish Prayer to the Archangels by the days of the week

I regret that I have not been writing as many informative or instructional posts lately as I’d like.  If you’ve worked with me fairly closely over the years and/or been reading my blog for a while, you may know that I’m feverishly trying to finish my PhD dissertation and *get the heck out of graduate school* where I have been for far, far too long.  So instructional/informative posts are not likely to be copious over the next few months.

But as part of my research I am working with a lovely Old Irish poem that I thought I’d share for you readers who work with, think about, and enjoy angels – it should be especially interesting for readers into esoteric prayer, working with the Seven Rays of the Archangels or any of the Rosaries of the Seven Rays, or those with a Roman Catholic or folk Catholic background – or, I daresay, an Irish background!  (If you aren’t familiar with the Seven Rays material, see the tags on this post – they’ll take you to other posts for more info.)

This is a prayer to the archangels giving one for each day of the week. 

A Prayer to Seven Archangels

Gabriel lim i nDomhnaighibh | is cumhachta ríg neime.
Gabriél lim hi comnaidi, | nachamthí bét na bini.

Michél dia Luain labraimsea; | focheird mo menma airi.
ni re nech nosamlaimsea | acht ré hIosu mac Maire.

Mad Mairtt, Raphiél radimsea, co tí in crich, dom chobuir;
in sechtmadh fer alimsea, | céin uér ar tuár in domhuin.

Uriél lim i cCétáinib, | int abb co n-uaisli ardi,
ar guin ocus ar gábudh, ar threthan gaithi gairgi.

Sáriel Dardain labraimsea | ar thonnuibh mera in mara,
ar cech nolc thic re duine, | ar cech ngalar nodgobha.

Dia na haíne didíni | Rumiél–rath reill–rocharus.
ní abbair acht fírinne, | maith in cara rogabus.

Panchel i sSatharnaib lim, | céin beó arin mbith mbuide
. . . . . . . . .  [*]

In Trinoid dom anacul. | in Trinoid dom shnádud.
in Trinoitt dom shæradh. | ar chach nguin, ar gach ngabud.

————————————————————————————————-

* [second half of verse missing in manuscript]

Modern English:

May Gabriel be with me on Sundays, and the power of the King of Heaven.
May Gabriel be with me always that evil may not come to me nor injury.

Michael on Monday I speak of, my mind is set on him,
Not with anyone do I compare him but with Jesus, the son of Mary.

If it be Tuesday, Raphael I mention, until the end comes, for my help.
One of the seven whom I beseech, as long as I am on the field of the world.

May Uriel be with me on Wednesdays, the abbot with high nobility,
Against wound and against danger, against the sea of rough wind.

Sariel on Thursday I speak of, against the swift waves of the sea,
Against every evil that comes to a man, against every disease that seizes him.

On the day of the second fast, Rumiel–a clear blessing–I have loved,
I say only the truth, good the friend I have taken.

May Panchel be with me on Saturdays, as long as I am on the yellow world
. . . . . . . .

May the Trinity protect me! may the Trinity defend me!
May the Trinity save me from every hurt, from every danger!

———————————————————————————————–

[translation is by Thomas O’Nowlan / Tomas Ua Nuallain, “A Prayer to the Archangels for Each Day of the Week,” in Ériu vol. 2, pp 92-94, which you can also consult for manuscript info if you have an academic interest in this piece]

As you may notice, this is one of many extant traditions about the names of the “seven archangels” – the number varies too, of course!  But this is one Celtic tradition for the seven archangels to which we have early attestation (this poem dates from the 800s).  A different batch of archangels is listed in the Saltair na Rann lines 793-804:

Gabriel, Michél, maith an-greim, Raphiel, Panachel oebind, Babichél, Raguel roclos, Mirachel, Rumel rigdos. / Fafigial, Sumsagial slán, Sarmichiel, Sarachel saergd, Uriel, Hermichel maith mass, Sarachel, Barachel bladbras. / Lihigiel, Darachél cenchol, Segiel, laSariel sairdron, Lonachel, Arachél tan, Stichiel, Gallichiel gleglan.

I don’t read Irish, never mind Old or Middle Irish, [**] and don’t have time to learn it any time soon, and if these lines have been translated into modern English, I haven’t run across the translation yet.  But if anybody knows where I can find one so I can learn what the context of this list is, I’d appreciate the tip!

** [The manuscript of the Saltair na Rann is in Bodleian MS Rawl. B 502; its handwriting dates to the 12th century, so this is Middle Irish, I suppose, or maybe “early Middle Irish” more properly?] 

ETA: A reader dropped a link to a different prayer to the archangels by days of the week, to the website of a London chruch. That page is now long defunct, but here’s the prayer, and all the citation they gave was “9th century Irish,” so who knows where they got it or who translated it:

A Prayer to the archangels
for every day of the week

May Gabriel be with me on Sundays, and the power  of the King of Heaven
May Gabriel be with me always that evil may not come to me, nor injury.
Michael on Monday I speak of, my mind is set on him,
Not with anyone do I compare him but with Jesus, Mary’s son.
If it be Tuesday, Raphael I mention, until the end comes, for my help.
One of the seven whom I beseech, as long as I am on the field of the world.
May Uriel be with me on Wednesdays, the abbot with high nobility,
Against wound and against danger, against the sea of rough wind.
Sariel on Thursday I speak of, against the swift waves of the sea,
Against every evil that comes to a man, against every disease that seizes him.
On the day of the second fast, Rumiel – a clear blessing – I have loved,
I say only the truth, good the friend I have taken.
May Panchel be with me on Saturdays, as long as I am in the yellow-coloured world,
May sweet Mary, together with her friend, deliver me from strangers.
May the Trinity protect me! May the Trinity defend me!
May the Trinity save me from every hurt, from every danger.

C9th Irish

medieval prayer to St. Michael; on petitioning saints; books of hours

I’ve translated a prayer to St. Michael from a mid-15th century Book of Hours, and I thought I’d share it in between typing light setting reports.

Books of Hours were very popular in medieval Europe.  While few laypeople would be able to own, never mind read, a Bible for much of the Middle Ages in much of Europe, a lot of people owned Books of Hours (comparatively speaking).  They are so named because they are built around the hours of the day – not the 24 hour setup we know, but the monastic and ecclesiastical hours that the day of a monk or nun or priest was divided into.  These “hours” (sometimes called “offices” today) are Matins (basically the first chunk of prayers, at rising or dawn or however you have your day sorted), Lauds or Prime (about 6 am), Terce (about 9 am), Sext (noon), Nones (about 3 pm), Vespers (evening, about 6 pm or at sunset, depending), and Compline (night, about 9 pm or before retiring).  Some monasteries had a midnight office (if it has a name, it is escaping me right now), and there were variations depending on where you were and where in the liturgical calendar you were in terms of season/time of year.  The prayers would vary, as well, depending on the larger church calendar, the day of the week, etc.

When laypeople began performing these monastic prayers themselves around the 13th century, Books of Hours were introduced as an abbreviated form of the prayer collection called a breviary that was used in monasteries.  So this is less a system by which one tells time, basically, or expects everyone else to be in sync with; rather, it’s a way of ordering your day around prayer-times according to the liturgical hours of the day.

calendar pages from Hours of Catherine of Cleve

This kind of prayer I have reproduced below is technically called a “suffrage,” and can be seen in its original context here.  A suffrage is a short intercessory prayer  – ie, a prayer said to seek the intercession of a saint.  In case you’re not familiar with the concept, orthodox Catholics do not actually worship saints or petition them directly for favors, exactly; you don’t actually pray for St. Expedite to do something like bring you enough rent money by Friday (not if you’re an orthodox Catholic).  Technically, what you do when you petition a saint is ask for that saint’s intercession, i.e. ask that the saint intercede with God for you, to communicate on your behalf to God.  It is God who answers prayers, not saints, and God in and through whom all things are possible.

So you might honor a saint, but when you are thanking a saint, you’re thanking them for their intercession, not for their direct action.  For example, if you get the rent money by Friday, God has granted your prayer through the intercession of St. Expedite, who also prayed for you, and who by his superior grace and holiness and proximity to God made your own prayers more effective.  Thus it does not mean that without the saint, God would not know about your prayers, nor does it mean technically that the saint carries your prayers to God. It’s more like the saint sort of adds some oomph to your own prayers by virtue of his or her own personal holy qualities and residence in heaven.

The Council of Trent in the mid 16th century articulated the parameters of this practice and the belief system it implies: saints in heaven pray for us, the living, just as we the living pray for the souls of those in purgatory.  We, too, can be intercessors, in other words, and there are active, continuing relationships between and among saints, angels, living, dead in purgatory, God, the Virgin Mary, and Christ.  (The practice and the belief system that supports this predated Trent by ages, though – Thomas Aquinas had discussed it in the 13th century, and Jerome had written about it in the 4th-5th centuries.)

So when we invoke or petition a saint, we are (supposed to be) asking that saint to pray to God on our behalf, to throw in their lot with us and help us make our prayers more effective by lending us some of the power of their sanctity. Basically, not to put too fine a point on it, God loves everybody, but he likes some people more than others.  And some people, living or dead, have more prayer mojo than others, in essence.

Now, in the regular day to day scheme of things, even clerics and monks and such would probably not always observe this sort of fine distinction in the Middle Ages, especially not when it came to the wording of ex tempore prayers, or to the acquisition of and desire for relics of saints. The common hoodoo practice of doing something to a statue or image of a saint in order to elicit a response from the saint is very, very old.  People today will sometimes take the baby Jesus out of  St. Anthony’s arms until he grants their petition, usually involving the return of a lost item — if they have a statue with a detachable baby figure, that is. (You can get those and that is what they are for. In fact, you might even be able to find one with a drawer in the base to hold the baby Jesus statue when it’s out of Anthony’s arms. And that’s exactly what it’s for.)

Some people who do not come from this kind of background are shocked about all this and express their certainty that such practices are debased, degraded superstition that dishonors the saint by trying to coerce him and stuff like that.  But this is a very old practice with very deep roots.  These medieval monks who ordered their days around the liturgical hours? They lived with the saints, like neighbors or even roommates, and today’s folk Catholics do the same. A saint with whom you have a relationship is like a member of the family; they have an altar in your home, you talk to them all the time, you give them flowers.  You ask St. Christopher’s blessings on your way out the door, and St. Anthony responds to your prayers when you can’t find your car keys.  These are not distant, dusty figures whom one approaches groveling; they were fallible, living human beings and even in sanctified death, they are still human and have personalities.

It was even more the case in medieval Europe – belief in the intercession of the saints was very real, and belief that the beloved departed were in purgatory and could be helped by prayers and masses was also.  You asked St. Foy’s help like you might ask for your neighbor’s, and the saints had responsibilities to the living, in the community – if the monastery’s patron saint fell down on the job and the monks had no harvest to get through winter, that was bad news and the saint was slacking.  Monks might take a statue off its niche or shelf and set it on the floor in displeasure, telling the saint that he was staying there until the rain came and the fennel grew again. Nuns might bury a medal of St. Joseph on land they needed help in obtaining.

And the saints responded in visible, sometimes tangible, ways.  A knight might petition St. James for healing of his arm, and promise to make a pilgrimage to the saint’s “home,” the property at which his relics resided, as thanks when the arm was mended.  When the knight failed to keep his word, St. James intervened to see to it that his other arm was broken. [*]  These so-called “punitive miracles” were frequent occurrences – saints got involved in all kinds of matters, from mundane farm troubles to rivalries between monasteries to inheritance of property and succession of kings.

So it’s important to understand the worldview in which saints are a part of everyday life, more like members of the family than distant, cold oracles or spirits.  This is a world in which flogging a saint’s statue, or turning a saint’s photo upside down, is not some horrible, sacrilegious thing that clergy would be appalled at – clergy often participated.  It is a worldview which someone from a Protestant Christian background is unlikely to really “get” at first, so that is why I go to the lengths I go to in order to explain some of this stuff.

Was there a council declaring that a saint could be flogged if the monastery suffered bad weather? Of course not.  Strictly speaking, if scholastics and theologians had weighed in on such a thing, it’s easy to imagine them disapproving.  But your average local parish priest was no Thomas Aquinas, and while Aquinas was concerned with the nature of the Trinity and the relationship of soul to matter and body, a local priest had more mundane and pressing matters to consider, and frankly just a different mission in life and vocation.  Same with an abbot or abbess in charge of the religious community and order.  They worried about God and their souls and purgatory, but they also worried about carrots and milking cows and firewood, and they shared their lay neighbors’ concerns about local politics and land disputes.

So these finer points of theology and doctrine regarding the precise nature of the intercession of the saints, among other things, have not always been of the utmost concern to the faithful, a thousand years ago or today.  And the potential for abuse or idolatry in the day to day practices of Catholics and in the system outlined by the Council of Trent is one of the major bugs that Protestant reformers got up their bums; they didn’t like the whole praying to saints thing much more than they liked the idea and system of indulgences (which is another hugely misunderstood system which I will also have to write about one day).

And a great many people who are Christian are of the Protestant stripe informed by such thinking (and this category includes the majority of rootworkers, by the way), so there is often misunderstanding and even mistrust of the whole “working with saints” thing.  A lot of my clients don’t really “get” the saints or are very unsure about how to proceed in working with them.

In itself, there is nothing wrong with not knowing and with starting somewhere – I have found that the saints don’t really care whether or not you are strictly in conformance to every decree from Vatican City, and in fact don’t always care if you’re Christian (it depends on the saint).  You are probably not going to piss them off unless you’re an ass with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

But what happens not infrequently, a lot of newcomers to saints’ work, their very first approach to a saint, their very first saint, is buying a bottle of oil and imperiously demanding something from the saint. This is akin to barging up to a total stranger and demanding a favor.  When they don’t get it, they quit working with that saint or with saints altogether (or the really idiotic ones write me emails saying “your saints oil had no energy in it”).

So that’s why I keep beating the “relationships are important” horse so that folks can understand how all of this works.  Work with the saints is *fabulous.*  But it’s work, in the sense that maintaining a relationship is work.  Saints are not vending machines.

Anyway.  Back to Books of Hours and the intercessory prayers they contain.  (One of these days, I am going to make my own Book of Hours.  I have to learn to write properly with a quill on vellum, first, though – so maybe I”ll cheat in the meantime and make an improper and informal Book of Hours that I’ve cherrypicked my favorite prayers for.  I wish I could earn a living making custom Books of Hours for people; I think I would really enjoy doing that work.  For a while, anyway – I might change my tune after I did a few!)

Here is the St. Michael prayer transcribed. I’ve expanded abbreviations in the manuscript, or tried to, and I may have made some errors, so if you have medieval Latin feel free to correct me:

Laudemus dominum quem laudant angeli quem cherubim et seraphim sanctus sanctus sanctus proclamant.

V.  In conspectu* angelorum psallam tibi deus meus.

R. Adorabo ad templum sanctum tuum et confitebor nomini tuo.

[I don’t know/can’t read the word in red, but it has to mean that everybody prays as a group now.]

Deus qui miro ordine angelorum ministeria hominumque dispensas, concede propicius ut a quibus tibi ministrantibus in caelo semper
adsistitur ab his in terra uita nostra muniatur.  Per Christum [?].

Let us praise the Lord whom the angels praise, to whom the Cherubim and Seraphim cry holy, holy, holy.

V: In the sight of the angels I will sing to you, my God.
R: I will worship in your holy temple and confess your name.

God, who in miraculous order arranged the ministry of angels and men, grant, merciful, that by those ministering eternally to you in heaven,
our life may be attended and defended by these on earth.  Through Christ [etc].

The above is fairly literal and so a bit clunky, as I need to make sure I’m reflecting the grammar in the initial translation even where it doesn’t make for pretty English (so if you read medieval Latin and you see where I’ve made an error, let me know? I mangled the ut clause, I think.)

[*This doesn’t look like conspectu to me, but maybe the smudge is hiding a symbol for abbreviation that accounts for the p I can’t see to save the life of me. No other word makes sense here.]

Now all that was a big windup for a teeny little prayer!  I have a stack of reports to type still, and I don’t even want to think about my inbox (I”m not kidding about getting in 70 or more emails every single freakin’ day) so I need to get back to them, but I have a ton more prayers to Michael and some other angels I will post eventually.  In the meantime, here’s a picture I took last summer of a tapestry-stitch and needlepoint piece of St. Michael.  It was stitched in 1955 and is on display in the tower portion of St. Michael’s church in Oxford, England, which has lots of lovely images and statues.


NB: unless noted as mine, like the photograph above, all images are public domain.

[*] Sumption, Jonathan. Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion. London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1975. 240.