The feast of the great archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael (Sept. 29) should not go by without recalling the deep devotion Saint Francis had to these heavenly protectors of Christians.
Like most medieval Christians, Francis was very conscious that the journey of faith was a perilous one, with many temptations and dangers that threatened to divert believers from their heavenly goal. Especially he believed Saint Michael was at hand to defend them and was present in a special way at the hour of their passing from this life.
Francis in fact made a pilgrimage to the great shrine of Saint Michael at Monte Gargano in Apulia (as had Saint Clare's mother Ortolana). According to tradition, Francis climbed a dangerous section of rocky steps but did not enter the grotto itself. The chronicles say that he did not feel worthy to stand in the place where the heavenly messenger had stood. But as proof that he had undertaken the pilgrimage, at the entrance to the grotto, he carved his trademark Tau.
The grotto of Saint Michael on Monte Gargano (1965 Photo, Wikimedia Commons)
In the later years of his life, Francis would retreat to make a special Lent in honor of Mary and Saint Michael by fasting the 40 days after the Feast of the Assumption until Sept. 29. He was making such a Lent of Saint Michael on Mount LaVerna when he received the Stigmata in 1224.
We humbly beg the glorious Mother,
Most blessed Mary ever-virgin,
Blessed Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael
and all the blessed choirs of seraphim, cherubim,
thrones, dominions, principalities, powers,
virtues, angels, archangels. . .
And all the saints who were, who will be, and who are
to give You thanks for all things as it pleases you,
The supreme and true God
Eternal and living
With Your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ
And the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete,
World without end.
Amen. Alleluia!—Earlier Rule 23, 6.
Blessed be the Holy Trinity and Undivided Unity.
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!
Main image: The Three Archangels guiding Tobias by Francesco Botticini (c. 1471, Uffizi, Florence)
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.