Today is the feast day of Saint Gabriel, the Archangel. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Gabriel rightly bears the beautiful name, the strength of God, manifesting in every apparition the power and glory of the Eternal. According to some of the Fathers of the Church, it was Saint Gabriel, Angel of the Incarnation, who invited the shepherds of Bethlehem to come to the Crib to adore the newborn God. He was with Jesus in His Agony, no less ready to be the strength of God in the Garden than at Nazareth and Bethlehem. Throughout Christian tradition he is the Angel of the Incarnation, the Angel of consolation, the Angel of mercy. (5)
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
That bright spirit, whom the Almighty charged with the saving message of the Incarnation of the Son of God, is called the Archangel Gabriel. His first embassy was to the prophet, Daniel. Whilst this Saint was communing with God in prayer the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him, and announced to him the epoch in which the long-expected Messiah would come into the world. These are the words of the Heavenly Spirit: “From the beginning of thy prayers, the word came forth: and I am come to show it to thee, because thou art a man of desires: therefore do thou mark the word, and understand the vision. Seventy weeks are shortened upon thy people, and upon thy holy city, that transgressions may be finished, and sins may have an end, and iniquity may be abolished, and everlasting justice may be brought, and vision and prophecy may be fulfilled, and the Saint of saints may be anointed. Know thou, therefore, and take notice, that, from the going forth of the word to build up Jerusalem again, unto Christ, the prince, there shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks; and the street shall be built again, and the walls in straitness of times. And after sixty-two weeks, Christ shall be slain ; and the people, that shall deny him, shall not be His. And a people with their leader that shall come, shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be waste, and after the end of the war the appointed desolation. And he shall confirm the covenant with many, in one week; and in the half of the week the victim and the sacrifice shall fail: and there shall be in the temple the abomination of desolation; and the desolation shall continue even to the consummation of the end ” (Dan. ix.). These are the words of the Archangel; recorded by the prophet. In this vision, Gabriel not only predicted the time of the advent of the Messiah, but also prophesied the circumstances attending His coming, and the fate of the temple and of the Jewish people.
The second message entrusted to the Angel Gabriel, was to the priest Zachary, father of St. John the Baptist. While he was offering up the evening sacrifice in the temple, the angel of the Lord stood on the right of the altar, and said to him: “Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John: and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord: and shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother’s womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, and prepare unto the Lord a perfect people” (Luke i.). Such was the second message of the Archangel, in which he clearly points out the precursor of the Messiah.
The third message, the grandest and most consoling with which the angel was charged, led him to Nazareth to the most Blessed Virgin Mary. He saluted her with these words; “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: Blessed art thou among women” (Luke i.). But observing that the Virgin was troubled at his words, he said to her: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His Father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke i.). Gabriel announced to the Immaculate Virgin that the Holy Ghost would descend upon her, and overshadow her, and he referred to the Omnipotence of God to whom everything is possible. When the Virgin gave her consent with these well known and solemn words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word,” the angel departed to stand again before the throne of the Most Holy Trinity.
From the fact that the Archangel Gabriel was chosen for so sublime a mission, the Holy Fathers infer that he was one of the highest and greatest of the heavenly spirits. For, as earthly sovereigns do not entrust the settlement of important affairs to inferior servants, but the more weighty the matters, the more distinguished are the personages chosen to conduct them; so the Doctors of the Church do not hesitate to affirm, that the Almighty also selected one of the most exalted of the heavenly spirits to announce this greatest of all mysteries! St. Bernard remarks, that the name Gabriel, which signifies in Hebrew, “Strength of God,” “Divine strength,” coincides well with the mission of the angel. He announces Christ, the Son of God, the true Messiah, who is the strength of God, who so wonderfully unites His Divine strength with human weakness. Now, the whole world having had reason to rejoice in the message of the Archangel, it is only meet for us to return thanks to this welcome messenger, and beseech him to obtain for us of the Lord, who entrusted him with this noble and consoling embassy, the grace of fully participating in the fruits of this mystery. (3)
By Father Prosper Gueranger 1870
So far in the Church’s Calendar, we have not met with any Feast in honour of the Holy Angels. Amidst the ineffable joys of Christmas Night, we mingled our timid but glad voices with the Hymns of these heavenly Spirits, who sang around the Crib of our Emmanuel. The very recollection brings joy to our hearts, saddened as they now are by penitential feelings and by the near approach of the mournful anniversary of our Jesus’ Death. Let us, for a moment, interrupt our sadness, and keep the Feast of the Archangel Gabriel. Later on, we shall have Michael, Raphael, and the countless host of the Angel Guardians; but today, it is just that we should honor Gabriel. Yes, a day hence, and we shall see this heavenly Ambassador of the Blessed Trinity coming down to the Virgin of Nazareth; let us, therefore, recommend ourselves to him, and beseech him to teach us how to celebrate, in a becoming manner, the grand Mystery of which he was the Messenger.
Gabriel is one of the first of the Angelic Kingdom. He tells Zachary, that he stands before the face of God (St. Luke, i. 19.). He is the Angel of the Incarnation, because it is in this Mystery, which apparently is so humble, that the power of God is principally manifested: and Gabriel signifies the strength of God. We find the Archangel preparing for his sublime office, even in the Old Testament. First of all, he appears to Daniel, after this Prophet had had the vision of the Persian and Grecian Empires; and such was the majesty of his person that Daniel fell on his face trembling (Dan. vii.17). Shortly afterwards, he appears again to the same Prophet, telling him the exact time of the coming of the Messias: Know thou and take notice: that from the going forth of the word to build up Jerusalem again, unto Christ the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (Ibid. ix. 25), that is, sixty-nine weeks of years.
When the fulness of time had come, and Heaven was about to send the last of the Prophets, he, who after preaching to men the approach of the Messias, is to show him to the people, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, Gabriel descends from heaven to the temple of Jerusalem, and prophesies to Zachary the birth of John the Baptist (St. Luke, i. 13), which was to be followed by that of Jesus Himself.
Six months later on, the holy Archangel again appears on the earth; and this time it is Nazareth that he visits. He brings the great message from heaven. Angel as he is, he reveres the humble Maid, whose name is Mary; he has been sent to her by the Most High God, to offer her the immense honour of becoming the Mother of the Eternal Word. It is Gabriel that receives the great Fiat, the consent of Mary; and when he quits this earth, he leaves it in possession of Him, for whom it had so long prayed in those words of Isaias: Drop down Dew, O ye Heavens (Is. xlv. 8.)!
The hour at length came, when the Mother of the Emmanuel was to bring forth the Blessed Fruit of her virginal Womb. Jesus was born amidst poverty; but Heaven willed that his Crib should be surrounded by fervent adorers. An Angel appeared to some Shepherds, inviting them to go to the Stable near Bethlehem. He is accompanied by a multitude of the heavenly army, sweetly singing their hymn: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will! Who is this Angel that speaks to the Shepherds, and seems as the chief of the other blessed Spirits that are with him? In the opinion of several learned writers, it is the Archangel Gabriel, who is keeping up his ministry as Messenger of the Good Tidings (St. Luke, ii. 10).
Lastly, when Jesus is suffering His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani, an Angel appears to Him, not merely as a witness of His suffering, but that He might strengthen Him under the fear his Human Nature felt at the thought of the Chalice of the Passion He was about to drink (Ibid. xxii. 42, 43.). Who is this Angel? It is Gabriel, as we learn not only from the writings of several holy and learned authors, but also from a Hymn which the Holy See has permitted to be used in the Liturgy, and which we give below.
These are the claims of the great Archangel to our veneration and love; these are the proofs he gives of his deserving his beautiful name, the Strength of God. God has employed him in each stage of the great work, in which he has chiefly manifested his power, for Jesus, even on his Cross, is the Power of God (1 Cor. i. 21.), as the Apostle tells us. Gabriel prepares the way for Jesus. He foretells the precise time of his Coming; he announces the birth of his Precursor; he is present at the solemn moment when the Word is made Flesh; he invites the Shepherds of Bethlehem to come to the Crib, and adore the Divine Babe; and when Jesus, in his Agony, is to receive Strength from one of His own creatures, Gabriel is found ready in the Garden of Gethsemani, as he had been at Nazareth and Bethlehem. (1,3)
“Fortitudo Dei”, one of the three archangels mentioned in the Bible. Only four appearances of Gabriel are recorded:
- In Dan., viii, he explains the vision of the horned ram as portending the destruction of the Persian Empire by the Macedonian Alexander the Great, after whose death the kingdom will be divided up among his generals, from one of whom will spring Antiochus Epiphanes.
- In chapter ix, after Daniel had prayed for Israel, we read that “the man Gabriel . . . . flying swiftly touched me” and he communicated to him the mysterious prophecy of the “seventy weeks” of years which should elapse before the coming of Christ. In chapter x, it is not clear whether the angel is Gabriel or not, but at any rate we may apply to him the marvellous description in verses 5 and 6.
- In N.T. he foretells to Zachary the birth of the Precursor, and
- to Mary that of the Saviour. (6)
Image: The Annunciation, Artist: Pintoricchio, circa: 1501. (8)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff