Dear Catholic Exchange,
My son, Daniel (almost 9), would like to know why the archangels (St. Michael, St. Raphael, St. Gabriel) are called “saints.” We thought only people could become saints. Thank you for your help!
The word “saint” derives from the Latin word “sancta,” meaning “holy” one. Thus, by definition all of God’s holy angels are saints. Not all angels are holy, however, as some angels chose to follow Satan instead of God. These bad angels, called demons, seek our ruin and give us cause to ask for the help of God’s angels in spiritual battle.
While all of the heavenly angels are holy, only three have been called “saint”: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. The early Church venerated these angels, i.e., gave them honor, invoked their names, and asked for their intercession. One sign of veneration is the dedication of a church to their care. Another sign is their inclusion in formal prayer. Churches in the East were dedicated to St. Michael as early as the Fourth Century, and he was included in the Church’s liturgy prior to the Ninth Century. St. Gabriel is depicted with a halo in a Fifth-century mosaic of the Annunciation, and he is included in a Seventh-century litany. St. Raphael was venerated later than the other two — a Seventh-century church is dedicated to him. He was not included in the liturgy until the Seventeenth Century. No other angels have been named as saints.
Over time and in practice the three have become recognized as “saints.” They were never formally canonized, and wouldn't have been in need of such, given their status as angelic persons. In modern times Popes have established feasts and recognized their particular patronages. For example, St. Gabriel was declared in 1921 as patron saint of telecommunications.
In addition holy men and women were declared saints without a formal canonization process. They were popularly venerated as saints and the local bishop would grant them honor in his See (diocese). Only when the Bishop of Rome accepted the veneration of the saint did the veneration become universal. It wasn’t until the Seventeenth Century that Pope Urban VIII reserved the formal processes of beatification and canonization to the Holy See.
If you have further questions on this or would like more information about Catholics United for the Faith, please contact us at 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484). Please keep us in your prayers as we endeavor to “support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.”
United in the Faith,
Thomas J. Nash
Senior Information Specialist
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952