So, it’s after dark, and I’m celebrating (the eve of) St. Michael and All Angels.

And the most useful thing I’ve read today comes from an old sermon of Gregory the Great (in Atwell and Webber’s Celebrating the Saints).  He says:  “You should be aware that the word ‘angel’ denotes a function rather than a nature.  Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits, but they are only called angels when they deliver some divine message.”  I don’t think he was thinking of ordinary people as “angels.”  But I’ve had ordinary people fulfill that function for me (including a daughter).  So I’m focused on the function.  (And I’m even wondering if I might not want to think of prophets as angels, since they also fulfill this function.  Which would make a certain deacon I know fall into this category — though I doubt most people think of her in this fashion!)

Different sources talk about three or four “named” archangels:  Michael (“who is like God” and is seen as a heavenly protector — particularly of departed souls), Gabriel (“the strength of God” who announced the birth of Jesus), Raphael (“the healing of God” because he is depicted in the dueterocanonical Book of Tobit as the one who restores Tobit’s sight) and (sometimes) Uriel (“God is my light” found in Gnostic Christian writings and [often] found the the apocryphal section [the Second Book of Esdras] of some Bibles).  Uriel (or occasionally a different name), when added, seems to be added so that the named archangels can represent the four cardinal directions.  Which is a bit of a disappointment to me.  Since I’d been hoping (only some of my original sources even mention Uriel, and none of them had any explanation for the name) Uriel might be the angel of unknown need (sort of like St. Jude is the saint of “lost’ causes).

In any case, in my mind, the function remains primary.  I find myself with very little interest in the “nature” of angels (what kind of being are they).  I’m really only concerned with being open enough to hear what God might want to tell me.  Which has a resonance, for me, with the opening of Benedict’s Rule (which starts with the Latin word for “listen” in the sense of “hearing and obeying”).  The idea is that if we are paying attention God does communicate with us (and we are called to both hear and obey).  That seems important to me.

Certainly more important, in my life today, the unprovable speculation about the true nature of angelic beings.