Have a question about the Catholic faith? Don’t know who to ask? St. Michael Catholic Radio is starting a new blog called “Stump the Seminarian”! Submit your question and Joe Heschmeyer, a seminarian in Rome, will answer a few in upcoming blogs.
You can submit your questions over there, if you’d like. I’ll be cross-posting answers here, as well. I’ve gotten a few questions already, and I’ve picked out one that I’ve never heard asked before. It’s about the archangel Uriel. Read on:
Why does the Catholic Church only recognize St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael as Archangels? Why do we not recognize Uriel the Archangel, as well as others? Is it against Catholic teaching to pray to these archangels?
The Bible tells us that there are seven angels who stand before the Throne of God, interceding on our behalf. We first hear about this in Tobit 12:15, in which the archangel Raphael describes himself as “one of the seven holy angels who present the prayers of the saints and enter into the presence of the glory of the Holy One.”
Tobit is part of the Old Testament Deuterocanon, the set of seven books of Bible accepted by Catholics but rejected by most Protestants. So it’s significant that this account from the Book of Tobit is confirmed in the New Testament book of Revelation, a book rejected by Luther rejected but accepted by virtually all Protestants today. In Revelation 8:2, St. John says:
Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.
Additionally, in the Gospel of Luke, the archangel Gabriel’s introduction closely tracks with Raphaels (Luke 1:19).
But while there are seven of these angels, Scripture only gives us the names of three of them: Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael (Daniel 10:13, 21; Revelation 11:9). Popular Jewish and Christian devotions and legendary accounts gave us the names to the other four, including Uriel, although these names varied. I wouldn’t put any stock in these accounts, particularly because the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety (¶ 217) cautions: “The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture.”
That said, the Directory describes that popular devotion to Holy Angels as “legitimate and good.” ¶ 216 explains that a healthy devotion to the angels should be marked by:
- “devout gratitude to God for having placed these heavenly spirits of great sanctity and dignity at the service of man;” and
- “an attitude of devotion deriving from the knowledge of living constantly in the presence of the Holy Angels of God;- serenity and confidence in facing difficult situations, since the Lord guides and protects the faithful in the way of justice through the ministry of His Holy Angels. Among the prayers to the Guardian Angels the Angele Dei is especially popular, and is often recited by families at morning and evening prayers, or at the recitation of the Angelus.”
So devotion to the angels is good, but the only angelic names that we actually know are the three that we get from Scripture.