Tuesday, September 29, 2009

the feast of st. michael

the calendar of the church is a fascinating creation, which i have studied for a long time. one of the first projects i pursued after my ordination was a round of prayers for the church year based on what i could find of the celtic church's calendar. although there was a major publisher interested, i was dissatisfied, and only made some xeroxed, spiral-bound copies for friends. i wish i still had one, i guess.

i have a friend who finds the whole calendar thing just wrong, citing, of course, paul. he insists that each day is like any other, and he celebrates the whole of what our lord has done for us every day. i confess i find his understanding of what the lord has done for us, and his celebration, to be rather wan.

i have another friend who is a practicing hindu, who claims that she received shaktipat when she met her guru. i think that means she got the whole thing in an instant. her life remains one of longing and terror, however.

for slow learners like me, the calendar, or calendars, as the church throughout the world has several variations, is helpful in presenting some view of the pearl of great price nearly every day, with major viewings on the feasts of our lord.

st. michael's day is one of the second level of feasts, important but not so important as feasts of jesus christ himself. often, saints are commemorated on the days of their deaths. st. michael, being immortal, does not fall into that category. another common source of date is the finding (the invention) or the moving (the translation) of a saint's relics. st. michael has no relics. a third is the dedication of a church to the patronage of a saint. this is the source of 29 september as the feast of st. michael, at least for part of the church. but there are twelve different feasts of st.michael scattered throughout the world, based on miracles attributed to the archangel or some dedication. the abyssinian church celebrates michael on the twelvth of each month.

i love the simplicity of the story which led to the founding of the church of st. michael on mount gargano, because it illustrates the close proximity of the world of angels and the world of mortals. the lord of septanto was looking for a lost cow on that mountain, which he saw in a cave. in his anger at the beast for straying, he aimed an arrow at it. the arrow hit instead his own bare foot. he reported the event to his bishop, lorenzo, who investigated the site and was rewarded with a vision of the messenger, who said, "i am michael; i am always in the presence of god. the shrine to the event is pictured above.

the interweaving of the lives of angels and mortals is also reflected in the english church's collect for the day:

"o everlasting god, who hast ordained and constituted the service of angels and men in a wonderful order; mercifully grant that, as thy holy angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may succour and defend us on earth; through jesus christ our lord, who reigns with thee and the holy ghost, one god, through ages of ages. amen."