(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
I’d forgotten it’s Michaelmas, the feast of the Archangels, in the Western Church today. I’m so busy learning about Eastern feasts, sometimes things slip.
It’s hard to write about Saint Michael. He’s always been around, so ubiquitous everywhere I’ve gone that I don’t know how to pick him out of the background half the time.
Back on the Planet Charismatic, my mother used to carry around a holy card of Saint Michael in case of demons. She taped it to the mirror when we stayed in hotels. Sometimes she carried a rinsed-out Windex bottle of holy water with holy card cutouts pasted on it, to spray in the corners; Saint Michael was on that too. Of all the odd ideas I grew up with, that one strikes me as fun– I keep thinking I should get a Saint Michael Windex bottle and fill it with blessed water myself.
We also had a candle with Saint Michael on it, one of those votive candles in a glass jar you can buy in the Mexican section of grocery stores. There was a picture of an oddly Caucasian Saint Michael with curly blond hair, impaling a coal-black and sulky demon over the fiery waste of hell on one side; on the other was a prayer. We lit the candle when we prayed evening devotions. Such sacramentals can be a comforting thing, but that particular one made me nervous at the time. I didn’t want to get on the wrong end of Saint Michael’s spear. I wanted to be especially careful not to disrespect him. It was only years later that I accepted I didn’t need to fear– the spear is like the rod and the staff that bring comfort in David’s psalm. It’s for impaling the enemy, never the children. For us it’s a sign of safety.
I received my first Holy Communion at Saint Michael’s Church in the second grade. We posed around the Saint Michael statue afterward for a picture– a dozen girls in miniature wedding dresses and veils, a dozen boys in suits, and in the middle a milk-white plaster statue of an androgynous being in form-fitting armor, impaling a sulky demon on a spear. A perfectly commonplace photo, for a Roman Catholic, but I sometimes wonder how odd it would look to someone who didn’t know anything about Catholicism.
Around the time of my First Holy Communion, the whole class learned a song with hand motions and performed it for our parents in a recital. It was a song about Saint Michael, of course, and like most songs composed to teach catechism to second graders it was a horrible one. I still cringe with embarrassment at the line about “When the angels made a fuss, he through the bad ones OUT!” and the sweeping over-the-shoulder thumb gesture by which we pantomimed throwing demons OUT, as if the demons had struck out playing baseball. The song ended with “Great Saint Michael, give us help today!” The music teacher stressed that we ought to draw out the syllable “day” and let it fade instead of bellowing “DAY.” I applied myself to that very carefully, drawing out the last note for longer than anyone else and letting it fade dramatically into silence.