There is an icon of an angel in the daily Mass chapel at Our Lady of Pompeii Church (East Haven, CT) but it is so high that no one can really see the details of the icon, even trying to make out the Greek is difficult for young eyes. The pastor, Father John, promised a gift to the one who identifies the icon at Mass this morning which opened a door for inquiry. Piqued with wonder several, including yours truly, set out to determine the angel’s identity. At first glance I thought it was the Archangel Raphael. But closer examination showed me that it was really Gabriel. In the meantime, I asked one of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart, a curious creature and holy woman, how many archangels are there.
An “angel” denotes a function, not a nature; they are messengers. The archangels are leaders of the other angels, hence they are called the princes of the angels. As you know Western Christians venerate three archangels: Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. But, few know that there is a fourth named archangel (plus three other un-named archangels), one who is little known and not liturgically commemorated in the Latin Liturgy, but the venerated by Christians of Eritrea (related to the Coptic Church), the Anglican Communion, and Judaism. His name, Uriel, meaning “God is my light.”
Archangel Uriel’s feast day is July 11.
Archangel Uriel, according to pious legend (and I am not being dismissive by using these words because legend isn’t used as fiction), indicates that Uriel is known as the angel of wisdom as he illumines the heart and mind to know God’s truth. He is “The Light or Fire of God.” You might say he’s the archangel of discernment. Perhaps this is the angel who assisted Saint Ignatius of Loyola in writing the principles of Discernment in his Spiritual Exercises! As this Orthodox prayer says,
Oh holy Saint Uriel, come to our aid with your legion of angels! Intercede for us that our hearts may burn with the fire of God. Obtain for us the grace to use the sword of
truth to fight against all that is not in conformity to the most adorable will of God in our lives.
The apocryphal texts of the biblical tradition in question are the little known Book of Enoch and Esdras. What we learn is that Uriel is one of seven archangels who preside over the world; that Uriel reveals that rebellious and fallen angels will be judged by God and that Uriel warns the prophet Noah about the flood.
Moreover, in 2 Esdras, God sends Uriel to answer a series of questions that the prophet Ezra about recognizing the signs of good and evil at work in the world.
In Jewish tradition, it is the Archangel Uriel who sent to checks the doors of homes throughout Egypt for lamb’s blood according to prescription so that it can be discerned about the striking of the first-born children. Have you ever wonder who the angel at the Passover narrative was?
In some way my question to Sister was a trick question because in the Latin Church our liturgical anamnesis only admits the big and holy Three. But as I mentioned the Eritrean Christians and the Anglicans honor Uriel. Perhaps there is a Roman prayer text that has yet to be found! Yet, in another way, it was a serious question because there are some things of the biblical, liturgical and dogmatic tradition of the Church that has yet to be appreciated for its fullness of revealed and magisterial Truth. In the Christian Church, hence, there is a fourth archangel, one, who though only named in the Jewish and Christian apocryphal texts, ought to be acknowledged. The extra-biblical texts do give some insight into true belief in the life of the Divine Majesty; how else do we know about Jesus’ grandparents, for example, if not by a text not in the canon of the bible? The Gospels of the apocryphal type tell us that it was Uriel who saved Saint John the Baptist from Herod’s slaughter of the innocents and that he led John and his mother Elizabeth to Egypt.
Again according to pious legend, the Archangel Uriel appeared in Rome before a 16th century Sicilian monk and priest, Father Antonio del Duca, telling him to build a church in what is today known as the Termini (the location of the Roman bus and train station). Pope Pius VI who asked Michelangelo to design the church. It is called the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs (Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri); it’s dedicated to the unknown and known angels and Christian martyrs. This is the titular church of Cardinal William Keeler, the emeritus archbishop of Baltimore.
Therefore, we have (the names denote service to God, a ministry):
Saint Michael – Who is like God
Saint Gabriel – God’s strength
Saint Raphael – God’s remedy
Saint Uriel – God’s my light.
But, there is a tradition that has between 7 and 12 archangels. The Jews have in the list in addition to Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel: Raguel, Remial and Saraqael. A Coptic tradition in addition the three mentioned, Suriel, Zadakiel, Raguel and Aniel. There are variations to the list.
The work of the archangels is:
- To lead the fight against Satan, and evil;
- To save each soul from Satan’s grip, and notably at death’s hour;
- To lead each person to his personal judgement before God;
- To guide the people of God, both Christians and Jews.