March 24 – St Gabriel, The Archangel
So far in the Church’s calendar, we have not met with any feast in honor 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, the eve of the Annunciation, it is just that we should honor Gabriel. Tomorrow 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. 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 this sublime office, even in the old Testament. First of all, he appeared 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. Shortly afterwards, he appeared 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,” that is, sixty-nine weeks of years.
When the fullness of time had come, and heaven was about to send the last of the prophets, 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, 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 honor 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 been so long prayed in those words of Isaias: Drop down Dew, O ye heavens!
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 accompanies 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 continuing his ministry as messenger of the good tidings.
Lastly, when Jesus is suffering His agony in the garden of Gethsemani, an angel appears to Him, not merely as a witness of His sufferings, but that he might strengthen Him under the fear His human felt at the thought of the chalice of the Passion He was about to drink. 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, 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.
Let us, then, honor the angel of the Incarnation. For this purpose, let us recite in his praise some of the pieces which liturgical piety has composed for his feast. The two following hymns are from the old Franciscan breviary:
|Mentibus lætis jubilemus omnes,
Plectra tangentes fidibus canoris,
Inclytus quando Gabriel ab alto
|Let us all exult with joyous hearts, and strike the tuneful lyre; ’tis the great Gabriel that comes in all his brightness from the high heavens.|
|Virginis summæ Paranymphus adest
Hodie nobis, simul Angelorum,
Plurimus Christum venerans triumphis,
|This is the feast of the glorious Virgin’s messenger, and with him comes the whole host of angels, singing in varied hymns the praise of Christ.|
|Principis laudes Gabrielis ergo
Concinat noster chorus, ipse quando est
Unus ex septem, Domino qui adstant
|Let our choir, therefore, sing the praises of Gabriel the prince, for he is one of the seven that stand before the Lord and do his biddings.|
|Nuntius cœli, mediator idem,
Exstat a summis Gabriel ubique
Lætus, et mundo reserat secreta
|Gabriel cheerfully descends whithersoever God wills, for he is the messenger of heaven, nay the mediator that reveals to the world the secret decrees of the omnipotent God.|
|Nuntia nobis, Gabriel, precamur,
Pacis æternæ speciale nunus,
Quo poli tandem teneamus aulam
|Be thou, O Gabriel, we beseech thee, messenger to us of the special gift of eternal peace, wherewith we may finally reach heaven, and everlastingly rejoice.|
|Præstet hoc nobis Deitas beata
Patris, ac Nati, pariterque sancti
Spiritus cujus resonat per omnem
|May the Godhead ever blessed of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, whose glory is proclaimed through the whole world, grant us this our prayer.|
|En noctis medium: surgite propere,
Cantemus Domino jam nova cantica;
Hac hora Gabriel nam fuit omnibus
Vitæ nuntius optimus.
|’Tis the midnight hour: quickly rise, and sing your new canticles to the Lord; for it is at this hour that was sent the most welcome messenger of life to the world.|
|Hac hora Dominum Virgineus alvus
Humano generi protulit; insuper
Devictis pariter funditus hostibus,
Victor surgit ab inferis.
|It is at this hour that the Virgin’s womb brought forth our Lord, for the salvation of mankind: and at the same, that he arose from the grave, having defeated his enemies.|
|Surgentes igitur mitibus invicem
Oremus precibus cœlica Numina:
Præsertim Dominum, qui dedit angelum
Curam qui gerit hominum.
|Let us, then, arise, and in our humble choral prayers, make supplication to the heavenly spirits; let us pray especially to the God who gave us an angel to guard us.|
|Quæ virtus hominis promere sufficit,
Quæ mundo Gabriel munera conferat?
Sanctas hic animas visere Dominum
Præsto ducit in æthera.
|What tongue of man could tell the blessings brought by Gabriel to the world? He it is that leads holy souls to heaven, there to contemplate our Lord.|
|Te, princeps igitur inclyte, quæsumus,
Pro nobis miseris poscito gratiam;
Fac et propitium, qui valet omnia,
Nobis ut veniam afferat.
|We beseech thee, therefore, great prince, pray for us miserable sinners. Propitiate him that can do all things, and obtain for us his pardon.|
The Dominican breviary contains this beautiful hymn in honor of the holy Archangel:
|O Robur Domini, lucide Gabriel!
Quem de princibus signat Emmanuel:
A quo promeruit discere Daniel
Hirci prodigium feri.
|Gabriel, angel of light, and strength of God! whom our Emmanuel selected from the rest of the heavenly princes, that thou shouldst expound unto Daniel the mystery of the savage goat.|
|Tu vatis precibus curris alacriter,
Monstras hebdomadum sacrata tempora:
Quæ nos ætherei germine Princips,
Ditabunt bene gaudiis.
|Thou didst joyfully hasten to the prophet as he prayed, and didst tell him of the sacred weeks, which were to give us the birth of the King of heaven, and enrich us with plenteous joy.|
|Baptistæ pariter mira parentibus
Affers a superis lætaque nuntia,
Quod mater, sterili corpore, pignora
Longævo pariet patri.
|’Tis thou didst bring to the parents of the Baptist the wondrous and gladsome tidings that Elizabeth, though barren, and Zachary, though old, should have a son.|
|Quod vates referunt, mundi ab origine,
Hoc sacræ veniens tu plene Virgini
Longo mysterium pandis ab ordine,
Verum quod pariet Deum.
|What the prophets had foretold from the beginning of the world, this thou didst announce in all the fullness of the mystery to the holy virgin, telling her that she was to be the true Mother of God.|
|Pastores Solymos, inclyte, gaudiis
Implesti, reserans cœlica nuntia:
Et tecum celebrat turba canentium
Nati mysterium Dei.
|Thou, fair spirit, didst fill the Bethlehem shepherds with joy, when thou didst tell them the heavenly tidings; and with thee a host of angels sang the praises of the new-born God.|
|Oranti Domino nocte novissima,
Dum sudor madidum sanguine conficit,
Adstas a superis, ut calicem bibat,
Asensum Patris indicans.
|As Jesus was in prayer on that last night, when a bloody sweat bathed his limbs, thou didst leave heaven to be near him, and offer him the chalice that his Father willed him to drink.|
|Mentes catholicas, inclyta Trinitas,
Confirma fidei munere cœlico:
Da nobis gratiam, nos quoque gloriam
Per cuncta tibi sæcula. Amen.
|O blessed Trinity! strengthen Catholic hearts with the heavenly gift of faith. Give us grace, as we to thee give glory for ever. Amen.|
The whole human race is indebted to thee, O Gabriel! and, on this day, we would fain pay thee the honor and gratitude we owe thee. Thou wast moved to holy compassion on seeing the miseries of the world; for all flesh had corrupted its way, and the forgetfulness of God had increased with each new generation of men. Then did the Most High commission thee to bring to the world the good tidings of its salvation. How beautiful thy steps, O prince of the heavenly court, as thou camest down to this our humble sphere! How tender and fraternal is thy love of man, whose nature, though so inferior to thine own, was to be raised, by the mystery of the Incarnation, to union with God Himself! With what respectful awe didst thou approach the Virgin, who surpassed all the angels in holiness!
Blessed messenger of our redemption, whom God selects as His minister when He would show His power, we beseech thee, offer the homage of our gratitude to Him that thus sent thee. Help us to pay the immense debt we owe to the Father, who so loved the world, as to give it His only-begotten Son; to the Son, who emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant; and to the Holy Ghost, who rested on the Flower that sprang up out of the root of Jesse.
’Tis thou, O Gabriel! that taughtest us the salutation wherewith we should greet Mary full of grace. Thou wast the first to pronounce these sublime words, which thou broughtest from heaven. The children of the Church are now, day and night, repeating these words of thine; pray for us that we may say them in such a manner that our blessed Mother may find them worthy of her acceptance.
Angel of strength, friend of mankind! continue thy ministry of aiding us. We are surrounded by terrible enemies: our weakness makes them bold; come to our assistance, procure us courage. Pray for us during these days of conversion and penance. Obtain for us the knowledge of all we owe to God in consequence of that ineffable mystery of the Incarnation, of which thou wast the first witness. We have forgotten our duties to the Man-God, and we have offended Him: enlighten us, that so, henceforth, we may be faithful to His teachings and examples. Raise up our thoughts to the happy abode where thou dwellest; assist us to merit the places left vacant by the fallen angels, for God has reserved them for His elect among men.
Pray, O Gabriel, for the Church militant, and defend her against the attacks of hell. The times are evil; the spirits of malice are let loose, nor can we make stand against them, unless with God’s help. It is by His holy angels that He gives victory to His bride. Be thou, O strength of God! foremost in the ranks. Drive heresy back, keep schism down, foil the false wisdom of men, frustrate the policy of the world, arouse the well-minded from apathy; that thus the Christ whom thou didst announce may reign over the earth He has redeemed, and that we may sing together with thee and the whole angelic choir: “Glory be to God, peace to men!”
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)