I’ve read elsewhere that St. Michael heads the Heavenly Host and is their commanding general. Can someone tell me his rank in Heaven and whether or not he is the “chief angel?”
Much of our understanding of the angels comes through Jewish oral tradition. According to this tradition, an archangel is only the second rank (out of nine), superseded by ranks such as thrones, principalities, dominions, powers, cherubs, and serephas. In US Army parlance, an archangel is comparable to a corporal, the second-lowest enlisted rank (E-2).
But “rank” among the angels is thought of as an attribute of their nature. A “mere” angel cannot ever become an archangel (whereas an Army private can become a corporal). It is more like the concept of nobility (you are born to your station) than military rank (where you can rise).
The fact that a “mere” archangel can be called the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts may indicate an egalitarian nature of God.
Actually, the nine choirs of angels is a Christian idea. Our modern classification of the nine choirs was essentially devised by a 5th-6th century writer writing in the name of Dionysus the Areopagite (the Athenian convert of St. Paul mentioned in Acts 17:34).
The idea of a hierarchy / rank system among angels is a Jewish one, but I think that during the Second Temple period there was still no single, set classification. Back then angels are usually distinguished and described more by their kind - for example, good angels and bad ones; those made of fire and those made of wind (cf. Psalm 104:4) - or their function (say, warrior angels, punishing angels, guardian angels, angelic scribes, a high angel acting as God’s vizier, etc.)
I think the first guy to really set a ‘standard’ Jewish angelic hierarchy was Maimonides in the Middle Ages, and his system is quite different from the Christian one, being solely based on the OT:
1.) Chayot (the four living creatures; Ezekiel 1, 10)
2.) Ophanim (the wheels with eyes; Ezekiel 1, 10)
3.) Erelim (the ‘valiant’, Isaiah 33:7)
4.) Hashmallim (Ezekiel 1:4; often translated as ‘electrum’ in modern Christian Bibles)
5.) Seraphim (Isaiah 6)
6.) Malakim (‘angels’)
7.) Elohim (the ‘gods’ / godly beings)
8.) Bene Elohim (the ‘sons of God / gods’; cf. Genesis 6, Job 1)
10.) Ishim (‘manlike beings’, Genesis 18:2; Daniel 10:5)
In Second Temple period texts, you have the idea of high-ranking angels privileged enough to stand before God and oversee all the other lesser angels. Depending on the texts, there are either four or seven of them. Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel/Sariel are the four mainstays. (The names of the other three usually vary.) Michael in particular holds a high rank: he’s the guardian angel of Israel, he’s the archistrategos (“chief-general”) of the heavenly army, he’s a/the chief priest in the heavenly temple, he’s the greatest of the angels.
(What’s interesting is that in some Christian texts, the title archistrategos usually applied by default to Michael is also applied to Jesus. So yeah, the Jehovah’s Witnesses idea of Michael and Jesus being one and the same being is not something original to them: there was already a sort of precedent for that in segments of early Christianity, where Jesus is associated with some roles originally associated with the principal angels: Jesus as high priest, Jesus as a heavenly warrior. Some early Christians on the outskirts of orthodoxy even thought that Christ literally was an angel. :shrug:)
I think the reason why the ‘archangel’ is a low rank in Pseudo-Dionysus’ system is because in his system, the ‘lower’ ranks of angels (angels, archangels, principalities) are the ones who are ‘closer’ to humans and concerned more with human affairs; the higher-ranking ones like the seraphim or the cherubim are the ones closer to God; for Pseudo-Dionysus, their main job is to worship God and thus, they do not usually concern themselves with the affairs of people down below. Because Michael and his ilk were thought to have functions which have more bearing on us humans (archangels rule over nations; Michael fights against Satan; Gabriel appeared to Daniel and Mary; Raphael appeared to Tobias, etc.) archangels in Pseudo-Dionysus’ system are ranked second ‘lowest’. That’s just how close they are to us.
[quote=patrick457]Michael in particular holds a high rank: he’s the guardian angel of Israel, he’s the archistrategos (“chief-general”) of the heavenly army, he’s a/the chief priest in the heavenly temple, he’s the greatest of the angels.
By extension, St. Michael the Archangel is now the guardian of the Church on Earth. that is why Pope Leo XIII instituted the Prayer of St. Michael the Archangel in 1886 to be said after all low masses.
This is from Wikipedia:
The ‘Leonine Prayers’ originated in 1884, when Pope Leo XIII ordered certain prayers to be said after Low Mass, in defence of the independence of the Holy See. God’s help was sought for a satisfactory solution to the loss of the Pope’s temporal sovereignty, which deprived him of the evident independence required for effective use of his spiritual authority. The prayer to St Michael described above was added to the Leonine Prayers in 1886.
The Pope’s status as a temporal leader was resolved in 1929 by the creation of the State of Vatican City, and in the following year, Pope Pius XI ordered that the intention for which these prayers should from then on be offered was “to permit tranquillity and freedom to profess the faith to be restored to the afflicted people of Russia”.
The practice of reciting this and the other Leonine prayers after Mass was officially suppressed by the 26 September 1964 Instruction Inter Oecumenici which came into effect on 7 March 1965.
Removing the obligation to recite the prayer after Low Mass did not mean forbidding its use either privately or publicly in other circumstances; indeed, in his Regina Caeli Address on Sunday 24 April 1994, Pope John Paul II recommended its use, saying:
“May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle that the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of: ‘Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might’ (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St Michael the Archangel (cf. Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had this picture in mind when, at the end of the last century, he brought in, throughout the Church, a special prayer to St Michael: ‘Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil…’ Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.”
So as we can see, BOTH of the intentions that the Church prayed for to St. Michael the Archangel were answered positively. Now in this age of infidelity, we are MORE in need of St. Michael’s aid than ever before.
I personally say the prayer as a part of my daily rosary.
Scripturally speaking, we get the teaching that St. Michael is the “leader” or “commander” of the Heavenly Army in Revelation 12:7. This was referenced in the quote AmbroseSJ provided just above, but I’d like to mention it again.
“Fierce war broke out in heaven, where Michael and his angels fought against the dragon.”
Michael is the only angel named in this way, where there is talk of leading the other angels in battle. The other two archangels named in Scripture, Gabriel and Raphael, have other specific duties but are not given the same duties as Michael is described as having in Revelation.