Who are the Archangels?


A friend recently asked:

How many Archangels are there? My patron is St. Michael the Archangel …he is God’s Warrior ..I try to live my life as a Warrior for Our Lord also.

First of all, AMEN, SISTER! We should all have the confidence to call on the warriors of God to fight with us. (Onward, Christian Soldiers!) Thank you for all that you do.

Who are the Archangels?

The word “archangel” simply comes from the Greek word meaning “Chief Angel,” but even that definition is a little bit of a cheat: the Greek word “Angel” (angelos) literally means- messenger. Thus, the archangels are the chief messengers of God to mankind– sometimes quite literally as ones who come bearing a message from God, but other times in a more figurative sense when they act as agents of God’s will on earth.

The Catholic Church recognizes three archangels whose names are given in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. In history, this number has varied quite a bit– many Church Fathers (including Pope Saint Gregory the Great) accepted a total of seven archangel names, which were taken from both canonical (accepted) and apocryphal (deemed unauthentic) Biblical sources. Today, many of the Eastern Churches still recognize Uriel as a fourth archangel, because his name appears 2 Esdras (historically referred to as 4 Esdras), a book they accept as part of the canon of scripture but which the Catholic Church does not.

It is important to note that angels can only be referred to by proper names when that name appears in scripture. We cannot make up names for angels and as pious as it may seem, we are not permitted to ‘give’ a name to our guardian angel. This is because we don’t have any sort of dominion over the angels, but also because angelic names must be revealed to us according to their activity given by God, and presumably this contains some aspect of their nature. Thus, the given name of an angel tells you not only what we can call it, but what it does.  Compare this with a human name given by human parents, who have dominion over their children. My name happens to be Christina and by the grace of God I am (or strive to be) what my name says: a follower of Christ. Yet a person can just as easily be named Christina and choose to be an atheist without altering their name. Not so for the angels.

So let’s take a look at the three Archangels and what they do.

Michael- “Who is like God?”

The name of Michael is given in the Old Testament book of the prophet Daniel, where he is named as the chief of Princes and the protector of Israel (10:13 and 10:21). When speaking of the end times, we read:

At that time Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people, shall arise. — Daniel, 12:1

It is not until the New Testament that we hear of Michael as an “archangel” (Jude 1:9) and that he is the defeater of Satan (Revelation 12:7-9). Michael’s name not only challenges his adversaries (“Who is like God? Certainly not YOU! Let me show you His might…”) but also shows us that his role is to act as God’s warrior and agent of justice and protection. Michael, who is like God, will defend us against evil. Archangel_MichaelThus he is also the patron saint of those who protect us here on earth: military, police and other public servants. We rightly cry to him for aid and should commend our care to him as we recite the prayer composed by Pope Leo XIII (a great friend of the Dominican Order):

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do  Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls.  Amen.

Gabriel- “Strength of God” or “Man of God”

Gabriel is also mentioned in the Book of Daniel as the one who interprets prophetic visions (Daniel 8:15-26, 9:21-27). He appears with the voice and the form of  man, but he certainly presents an imposing figure, for Daniel immediately is terrified by the appearance. As the deliverer of prophetic messages, it is Gabriel who announces the birth of Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:26-38), and John the Baptist to Zacharias (Luke 1:11). Though he is not mentioned by name, there are other angelic appearances in the New Testament traditionally attributed to him, including the annunciation of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds (Luke 2:9) and he is also seen as one of the angelic beings at the empty tomb (Luke 24:4– note that like exactly Daniel, the women are terrified and immediately prostrate themselves). You can see that Luke’s Gospel is especially rich in describing the activity of Gabriel, yet there is another reference more powerful than the rest.

In Luke 22:39-46, we read the most vivid description of Jesus’ Agony in the Garden. “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Lk 22:44). In the verse immediately proceeding this one, God the Father sends an agent of His will (an angel) to strengthen Christ. “And to strengthen him and angel of heaven appeared to him.” (Lk 22:43)

painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch

Here we see Gabriel as the one who fortifies even Jesus in his time of need– how much more, then, should we call upon Gabriel to give us the strength of God in our times of struggle? How much did Mary need the Strength of God to carry out her divine mission as the Mother of God? How much did Zacharias need the Strength of God to trust that his barren wife would conceive, and to be patient for the coming of the Messiah? It is not a weakness to admit we need God’s strength– indeed, it is a necessity to admit this if we are to follow Christ, to take up our own cross so that we can one day rejoice in the glory of His resurrection. So if we call on Michael to assist us with divine strength in the sense of “might” or “force,” Gabriel should also be one to assist us in divine strength in the sense of “Fortitude.”

Raphael- “God Heals”

Raphael’s name is mentioned in the Book of Tobit, a book which belongs to the “deuterocanonical” (second canon) texts and is not included in most Protestant Bibles. In this book, we read of the story of Tobit, who is blinded and sends his son Tobiah to retrieve his fortune from Media before he dies. God provides an alternative plan.

Raphael leads Tobiah to the cure

He sends Raphael to accompany the boy to Media in the guise of a fellow (human) traveling companion. During this journey, Raphael not only gives Tobiah a fish-derived cure for Tobit’s blindness, but he plays match-maker and sets Tobiah up with Sarah, a woman whose seven previous husbands had all tragically died on their wedding night. Thus, through Raphael’s care, Tobit receives a medicinal cure and Sarah receives a “cure” for her seven-fold widowhood (which Raphael attributes to the workings of the devil)–  a spouse with whom she can worship the One True God.

Raphael’s accompaniment of Tobiah should be seen as a testament to how God “walks” with us throughout our own lives, seeking to heal our woundedness in all its different forms. As the one who manifests God’s healing power, Raphael is seen as the patron of physicians, pharmacists, those who are ill (especially the blind) and yes… he’s the patron of lovers.

So there you have them: the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael! Which is your favorite?

Thanks for the question, friend! Keep up the good fight.



On Naming


 ST I, Q. 94, Art. 3, s.c.

On the contrary, Man named the animals (Genesis 2:20). But names should be adapted to the nature of things. Therefore Adam knew the animals’ natures; and in like manner he was possessed of the knowledge of all other things.”

This sed contra appears in the Summa in St. Thomas’ discussion of the prelapsarian knowledge of Adam and Eve.  That really doesn’t matter all that much here, except insofar as it gives us a window into how St. Thomas views certain types of names and the act of naming.  The gist of the above quote is that Adam was capable of properly naming each animal in the Garden of Eden according to his perfect knowledge of that animal’s nature.  So in a perfect state, we would be able to know the nature of all animals and call them such.*

This isn’t unlike God’s perfect knowledge of us. Recall the words of Psalm 139 or the beginning of the book of the Prophet Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-18952G" style="box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;" value="(G)”> I knew you, before you were born<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-18952I" style="box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;" value="(I)”> I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-NIV-18952K" style="box-sizing: border-box; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;" value="(K)”>” (Jer 1:4-5)

  Or think about our Gospel reading from last Sunday on the Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul:

[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Simon Peter said in reply,“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.And so I say to you, you are Peter,and upon this rock I will build my Church.

When Simon [Peter] is able to correctly identify Jesus for WHO HE IS (that is, the Son of the living God), Jesus turns around and responds in kind:  “You are Peter.”  To be the rock of the Church is Simon Peter’s “nature,” so to speak.  It is his vocation and his special role to play in salvation history.  We see this so many times in the Old Testament: Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel.  These names mean something because they tell us about the nature of the person who holds that name.  The name has been given by God in His perfect knowledge of His creatures and therefore should not be taken lightly.

This is why the naming of children is so important– in an imperfect way, we name our children according to what little of their nature we can perceive (‘boy’ or ‘girl’ is a good starting point) and what we desire for them.  When a Catholic gives their daughter the name “Mary,” this isn’t just because we like the name.  Rather, it should signify that we wish Mary to watch over this child, to guide her and in the best case, for that child to imitate the virtues of Mary to the best of their ability.

So what does this have to do with you?

Well, this is how I chose to approach my discernment on choosing a Dominican name (see my previous post if you missed the preliminary discussion!)  I was certain that I would choose “Thomas” as my second name because of my connection with him through prayer and study, but I was still uncertain about a first name (why choose just one if you can have more, right?).  At first, I was entirely set on Cecilia, but after making that decision I still didn’t feel ‘settled’ in the way one wants to with these sorts of decisions. You can read the previous post for more name options, but after a lot of deliberation I finally settled on “Zelie Thomas.”

…But I really didn’t. I submitted the name to my chapter president only to change it because a certain someone kept nagging at me to take her name instead. So I did. Officially.

She’s not a Dominican.
            She’s not a scholar in any technical sense.
                       She doesn’t bear a family name.

 But wow is she awesome. 
Queen Saint Margaret of Scotland!
Reformer of the Scottish Church, 
Mother of eight children, 
Exiled princess of England, 
Devoted reader of the Gospels, 
Friend of the poor and orphans, 
Intercessor for prisoners of war, 
Help of pilgrims,
Skilled craftswoman, 
Clever and just judge, 
Loving wife. 
And so that’s my name: Zelie Margaret. 
I still have a long way to go in terms of understanding what this name means for me, why the Holy Spirit guided me this way (because I do believe that is the case) and what challenges and responsibilities await the new Mrs. Zelie Margaret Valenzuela, OP.  But that’s the fun part, isn’t it? 🙂 
I’ll ask again because it’s fun: what religious name would you choose? 
Or what confirmation name did you choose? Why? 
Which saints have guided you in your life? Have any of them been surprises? 
* Umm, that’s an awesome super-power. 

Choosing a Third Order Dominican Name


Naming children is really fun. But it’s also super difficult.
This post is not about how we named our daughters (maybe more on that later), but rather about choosing a name for oneself, which seems to me an even more difficult task.

When I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, I chose St. Joan of Arc as my patroness.  My middle name is a variant of Joan, so it seemed fitting. Also, I was so pathetically unaware of the great multitude of saints, that choosing someone I had heard of and knew at least a basic biographical sketch of seemed a smart move.


Since that day, I have constantly been puzzled by my decision.  I believe that God led me to choose her and that she watches over me in a very special way, but sometimes I wonder why/how.  I wait to see what she and God have in store for me. 🙂

Now, I have before me another great opportunity: choosing a religious name.

I don’t know how it works with other groups, but the Lay Dominicans allow a novice to select a religious name.  Though our group doesn’t commonly use “Sister X” or “Brother X” during meetings, I have seen a few newsletter writings or other references that suggest some Dominicans actively use religious names for any business pertaining to the order. Neat, right?

However, I’m a little stuck. I find myself slightly paralyzed by the thought of such a great gift.  Taking someone’s name means asking for their patronage and prayers in a very meaningful, deep way.  It means choosing someone whose life you intend to emulate to a certain degree. It means committing to a name– and even though I do have to submit names for approval by my superiors, it is my desire that eventually I will be fully received into the order and so I feel that I must operate as if this decision is final.

So guess what? You all get to hear about it, because I’ve been praying and I keep getting confusing answers. Maybe I just need to get the thoughts out; or perhaps one of you will be moved by the Holy Spirit to say something seemingly random that helps me! So here goes:

I thought I had decided on Cecilia.

This is a very fitting name for me for multiple reasons. First, I am a singer and a musician. So are a lot of my friends. I don’t think I could even count the number of kids named “Cecilia” from our group of college friends. I also love Cecilia, though, because my first encounter with real, flesh and blood Dominicans were the Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville. I don’t need to go on and on about how great they are, because if you are reading this, the chances are that you already know. The short end of a long love story with them is that I had health issues at the time I made formal inquiries about joining, so I was turned away. Curious that since marrying my husband, many of these issues have gone away…
Finally, I love the idea of Cecilia because Bl. Cecilia Cesarini was the first woman to receive the Dominican habit and she received it from the hands of Dominic himself.  She was a dear friend of his and bequeathed to us a series of recollections about him and the impact he had on her life. Her closeness to Dominic is something I desire, for I feel that I have much to learn about him and the charism he let loose on the world through his Order of Preachers. 
Competing with Cecilia, though, is a woman whose state of life is closer to my own. Though she is rightly associated with the Carmelite Order, Bl. Zelie Martin has grabbed my attention over the past couple of years and she has been a constant prayer companion of mine for various reasons.  
Image Source

First of all, “Sister Zelie” just sounds soooooo cool. It’s a total hipster name, no? Not to mention, she had a lot of daughters and all of them were blessed with religious vocations. Plus, it seems like she’s kind of nagging me…in a loving, motherly sort of way.

Finally, I’ve been wondering about Rose. My grandmother passed away recently and with her funeral came the unexpected revelations that I knew so very little about her amazing life, but also that I had absorbed some valuable lessons by her example that I never thought much about before.  The connection? Her middle name was Rose. My great-grandmother (her mother) was also named Rose, and many of my cousins share the family name.  Recently, my younger girl has latched on to a beautiful image of Rose of Lima in her saints book– a saint who happened to be a Third Order Dominican. 


How can I not think of “Rose” when dear little E keeps running around the house with her book yelling, “Ros-a-lima pay uh us!!!”

Of course there is also Catherine, which links two great saints with Dominican ties: Catherine of Alexandria (patroness of scholars and visitor to saint Dominic in a mystical vision) and Catherine of Siena (a Third Order Dominican and Doctor of the Church). 
Catherine of Alexandria, Lotto
Catherine of Siena
Catherine of Alexandria (I am tempted to say “coincidentally,” but I know better than that) was also one of the counsellors to.. Saint Joan of Arc. Hmmmmmmmm.
Plus, there’s always Thomas Aquinas. If I were to take his name I think it’d be in conjunction with a female name; e.g. Rose Thomas, Zelie Thomas, Cecilia Zelie Thomas Rose… you know. 
So what do you think? But even more fun: 
If you were to choose a religious name, what would you pick???
How would you choose?