Jose Ma J Fernandez
This article on the Archangel Gabriel is timely because this mighty Angel – one of Seven who stand before the Godhead – is one of the three Archangels most mentioned in the Bible. Although not a saint in the strictest sense of the word, since Angels are pure spirits who are totally committed to God, Catholic Tradition has come up with the more familiar Saint Gabriel when referring to the special messenger of God.
Strictly speaking too, the term Angel – which denotes the role of the spirits who make up the lowest choirs in the third hierarchy – refers to their having been appointed as guardians and messengers of God’s Will to humans and creation. The Archangels occupy the next highest choir in this hierarchy. Therefore, the question probably in one’s mind is how and why Archangels like Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael stand before God, which makes them superior to even the spirits who make up the highest hierarchy (the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones).
To understand that, we have to go back to the original Test that the entire angelic host was subject to. According to Tradition, the Angels were first shown a vision of the Second Person of the Trinity become Incarnate, the God-Man. This vision was accepted by the angelic host as a whole, although some of the highest and brightest among them did so with a sense of reluctance, since they probably viewed the human nature of this Second Person (Jesus) as inferior to their own exalted nature. Then, the angelic host was shown the Incarnate God in the arms of His Mother, a human being. The obedient angels immediately accepted and bowed down to this vision and pronounced the word Serviam. The rebellious spirits, led by the highest and brightest of them all, Lucifer (or Light Bearer), could not accept that they would subject themselves to so inferior a person and immediately voiced out their feeling: Non Serviam! I will not serve!
And from the bottom of the angelic host, from the ranks of the Archangels, rang out the battle cry, “Who is like unto God?” We will serve!” The Archangel who loudly proclaimed this was Saint Michael, whose name properly denotes his battle cry. Leading fully two-thirds of the angelic host against the rebellious angels, they drove them out of the place of the Test (said to be like a pre-Heaven), casting them into Hell where they are now known as devils or demons. Lucifer, the Light Bearer, became Satan, the embodiment of Evil and Darkness.
Saint Gabriel is mentioned by name in the Bible four times. The first two times were to the prophet Daniel, at the time when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, where he first prophesied that the empire of the Medes and the Persians would fall to that of the Greeks (Alexander). He appeared a second time to Daniel and predicted the coming of the Messiah down to almost the exact time (70 weeks x 7 = 490 years), and the subsequent fall and destruction of Jerusalem, the temple and the sanctuary, and the obvious diaspora of the Jewish people.
In the New Testament, Saint Gabriel appears to an incredulous Zechariah, a priest of the Temple and descendant of Aaron of the line of Abijah, and tells him that he is to have a son who is to prepare the way of the Lord. Being of advanced age, Zechariah fails to grasp that the Lord can do anything and shows disbelief. As punishment for his lack of faith, he is struck dumb by Saint Gabriel, and is said to remain so until the birth of his son.
The last attributed appearance of Saint Gabriel is also one that is striking in its message and setting. When the time was deemed in Heaven to have been fulfilled, the Trinity entrusted its most momentous message to Saint Gabriel, to be delivered to a pure and holy virgin living in Nazareth. She had been raised in the temple and, according to Tradition, had made a perpetual vow of virginity, one that the Godhead was inclined to accept. This pure and immaculate virgin – born without the stain of mortal sin by decree of the Godhead in anticipation of the Incarnation, and to prepare a sacrosanct womb for the Lord – knew not what Heaven had in store for her. Thus, it was a most touching scene: The Strength of God, Gabriel, was tasked to deliver the message awaited by Heaven and Earth, to a simple young woman. It was a picture of both strength and utter humility.
The Archangel Gabriel had to prepare Mary by gently leading up to the topic, that she was to be the Mother of the Son of God, or the promised and long-awaited Messiah who was to reconcile Man with God. Catholic Tradition and artistic tradition show this powerful being, Archangel Gabriel, kneeling before a human person. This is a sign of respect on the part of Saint Gabriel, who knew he was addressing one who might become the Mother of the Incarnate God, and also because he could see her in her fullness of Grace.
Having made a vow of perpetual virginity, she of course wondered how this was to happen, and Saint Gabriel intimated that the Holy Spirit would cast his shadow over her and she was to become a mother in a most miraculous way. When Mary, ever humble and obedient to the will of God, intoned her fiat: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to thy word…” she became at that instant, the Mother of God (Jesus, the Second Person, who was to take His human nature from her), and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the pure and immaculate virgin, who was said to be “full of Grace” or Gratia Plena, became even more suffused with Grace because of her very special relationship with the Second and Third Persons of the Trinity.
Saint Gabriel is also attributed by Catholic Tradition and shown in early writings, artwork, and in songs, to have been the Angel who told St Joseph to accept Mary as his bride. (They had been betrothed earlier because of a law of Israel governing the need for women to marry and bear children immediately. This was especially important in Mary’s case because of her being the heiress in the line of David.) Later on, Saint Gabriel is also said to have been the one to announce the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds, after which this leader of the angels was surrounded by a large number of the angelic host. When the life of Jesus was threatened by a crazed Herod who feared his downfall to the long-awaited King of the Jews, Saint Gabriel was also said to have been the one who advised Saint Joseph, in a dream, to flee Bethlehem for Egypt. Finally, during the Agony in the Garden, Saint Gabriel took on his role as Angel of Consolation – per Catholic Tradition – to give heavenly succor to the Lord who probably would have already died from having to view the sins of mankind from start to finish.
It is not Catholics alone who revere the Archangel Gabriel. Of course, Saint Gabriel figures prominently in Jewish belief and lore. We already saw him in his encounters with the prophet Daniel. He is said to have been the Angel who destroyed Jerusalem because of its iniquity, and who separated those righteous Jews who were then exiled until the time came for the kingdom to be restored. Saint Gabriel also appears in the Talmud and in numerous other aspects of Jewish Mythology.
Islam also gives prominence to this special messenger of God. According to Islamic belief, Gabriel was the one who revealed the Qur’an to the prophet Muhammad, and sent a message to all the other prophets revealing their obligations. Gabriel also comes out in many other instances in Islamic lore and belief, which is why he occupies a special spot in their pantheon.
Our friends the Mormons believe that Archangel Gabriel lived a mortal life once, as the prophet Noah. Noah is his mortal name and Gabriel his heavenly one. We can understand this more when we see how some religions and groups believe that there is such a thing as “angels in training’, which we humans all are.
Tradition also believes that, at the end of time, Saint Gabriel will be the angel referred to in the Book of Revelation, the one who will sound the horn that will summon the dead for their final appearance before God. We can see from this that Saint Gabriel is truly one amazing being, one worthy of reverence, who will forever be there to watch over us as the Godhead sees fit.
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