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.