Archangel Michael

In Brief

In the Book of Revelation, Michael leads a victorious angelic army against the angelic forces led by Satan. The Catholic church regards Michael as an archangel. In one of two prayers read at the close of Mass in Joyce's time, it invoked him as a defense against evil.

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Chapter 12 of Revelation describes how a "great red dragon" drew away "the third part of the stars of heaven" (3-4), i.e. one third of the angelic host. "And there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, / And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. / And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (7-9).

In Telemachus Stephen imagines "the vigilant angel of the church" disarming and menacing heresiarchs. Later in the same paragraph he indicates which angel he has in mind: "a menace, a disarming and a worsting from those embattled angels of the church, Michael's host, who defend her ever in the hour of conflict with their lances and their shields."

He is probably thinking of a prayer uttered after the Mass. Thornton observes that Pope Leo XIII directed that celebrants should conclude low mass with two prayers recited in the vernacular of each country. Leo's papal directives of 1884 and 1886, Gifford notes, were affirmed in 1903 by Pope Pius X. The first of Leo's prayers looks up to God, while the second entreats Michael to defend humanity from the evil that has been cast down to Hell.

In Lotus Eaters Bloom listens as a priest in St. Andrew's (or "All Hallows") church reads "off a card" the words, "O God, our refuge and our strength..." This is the beginning of the first prayer, whose full text runs as follows:  "O God, our refuge and our strength, look down in mercy on Thy people who cry to Thee; and the intercession of the glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God, of Saint Joseph her spouse, of Thy blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and of all the saints, in mercy and goodness hear our prayers, and for the liberty and exaltation of our holy mother the Church: through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."

Bloom leans forward "to catch the words" and thinks, "I remember slightly." In the internal monologue that follows, he either remembers parts of the prayer, or ponders some of the words that the priest goes on to recite, or both: "Glorious and immaculate virgin. Joseph, her spouse. Peter and Paul."

His thoughts then detour into irreverent but appreciative speculations on the "Wonderful organization" of the Catholic mind-control enterprise, but soon the narrative once again focuses attention on his auditory experience of the service. The priest's second prayer, represented in its entirety in Lotus Eaters, entreats Michael to defend humanity from Satan: "Blessed Michael, archangel, defend us in the hour of conflict. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil (may God restrain him, we humbly pray!): and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust Satan down to hell and with him those other wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls."

The first prayer comes in for some mockery at the end of Oxen of the Sun. One of the libidinous young men who have spilled out of the maternity hospital (most likely it is Stephen, since he is contemplating a trip to the red-light district and is adept at perverting the doctrines of the church) parodies the first phrase of the prayer: "O lust our refuge and our strength."

JH 2018
Oil painting by Guido Reni of the archangel Michael conquering Lucifer/Satan (1636), displayed in Santa Maria della Concezione, Rome. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Photograph by Michael Jaletzke of a statue of the archangel Michael at the University of Bonn. Source: Wikimedia Commons.