By Eric Stoutz | September 17, 2008
A CUF member asks…
Isn’t sainthood for human beings that led extraordinary lives of faith? Then why do we call Michael the Archangel St. Michael the Archangel? He is an angel, a strictly spiritual being.
The word “saint” derives from the Latin “sancta,” which means “holy” one. Thus, by definition all of God’s holy angels are saints. Not all angels are holy, however, as some angels chose to follow Satan instead of God. These bad angels, called demons, seek our ruin, and give us cause to ask for the help of God’s angels in spiritual battle.
While all of the heavenly angels are holy, only three have been called “saint”: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. The early Church venerated these angels–gave them honor, invoked their names, and asked for their intercession. One sign of veneration is the dedication of a church to their care. Another sign is their inclusion in formal prayer. Churches in the East were dedicated to St. Michael as early as the fourth century. He was included in the Church’s liturgy prior to the ninth century. St. Gabriel is depicted with a halo in a fifth century mosaic of the Annunciation. He is included in a seventh-century litany. St. Raphael was venerated later than the other two-a seventh-century church is dedicated to him and he was not included in the liturgy until the 17th century. No other angels have been named as saints.
Over time and in practice the three have become recognized as “saints.” They were never formally canonized, nor would they have need of such, given their status as angelic persons. In modern times, Popes have established feasts and recognized their particular patronages. For example, in 1921 St. Gabriel was proclaimed patron saint of telecommunications.
In addition, holy men and women were once declared saints without a formal canonization process. They were popularly venerated as saints and the local bishop would grant them honor in his See (diocese). Only when the Bishop of Rome accepted the veneration of the saint did the veneration become universal. It wasn’t until the 17th century that Pope Urban VIII reserved the formal processes of beatification and canonization to the Holy See.