A Pope, A Vision, A Prayer

Pope Leo XIII

Pope Leo XIII

We started That Man Is You! two weeks ago at my parish.  This session started out with the program’s founder, Steve Bollman, telling a compelling story regarding the authoring of the famous prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel.  This piqued my interest, as I have held a special affinity toward Saint Michael and I had never heard the origin of this prayer before.

A Pope, A Vision, A Prayer

The story centers around Pope Leo XIII, who was said to have witnessed a prophetic vision of a conversation between the Lord and Satan regarding the future of the Church.  There are several retellings of this story (more on this later) but I found a synopsis on Wikipedia that approximates Steve Bollman’s retelling, so I will use it here:

Pope Leo XIII was climbing the steps to the altar when he suddenly stopped, stared fixedly at something in the air and with a terrible look on his face, collapsed to the floor (some accounts say he fell shrieking). The Pope was carried off by those around him to another room where he came around. As one rendition of the story tells it:

“When asked what had happened, he explained that, as he was about to leave the foot of the altar, he suddenly heard voices – two voices, one kind and gentle, the other guttural and harsh. They seemed to come from near the tabernacle. As he listened, he heard the following conversation:

The guttural voice, the voice of Satan in his pride, boasted to Our Lord: “I can destroy your Church.”
The gentle voice of Our Lord: “You can? Then go ahead and do so.”
Satan: “To do so, I need more time and more power.”
Our Lord: “How much time? How much power?”
Satan: “75 to 100 years, and a greater power over those who will give themselves over to my service.”
Our Lord: “You have the time, you will have the power. Do with them what you will.”

A powerful story, no doubt… and fascinating.  I wanted to find out more.

Some Confusing Research

After I got home from work that night, I began doing some digging and found some peculiar results.  It seems the Saint Michael prayer is the source of some controversy in Traditionalist circles, who claim that the “original” version of the prayer was shortened without explanation in 1934.  This interested me even further, and I wanted to read the text of the original version of this prayer in it’s entirety… ideally from a Vatican-approved source.  (It is, after all, good practice to verify one’s source when investigating something.)

I found out that Pope Leo instituted his Leonine prayers to be added after every Low Mass in 1884.  Citations indicate that the Saint Michael prayer was first added in 1886 [note: I have not located a copy of Acta Sanctae Sedis or Irish Ecclesiastical Review 7 in English that is referenced, therefore this is unverified until such a time as an antique book dealer contacts me].  Many websites cited a source from the Raccolta, an official collection of indulgenced prayers that was published and revised often up until 1957.  It seems that a longer prayer to Saint Michael started to appear in the 1888 edition of this book, and continued until the aforementioned shorter version usurped it in 1934.  You can see a copy of this longer prayer, and a citation to a motu proprio letter from September 23, 1888 in this digital copy of the 1910 edition of the Raccolta.  I can’t find even a single copy of the text of the referenced motu proprio letter… but there is a significant chance that I just don’t know where to find such a thing.  The fact that it is referenced by the 1910 Raccolta will do for my curiosity level.

Regardless… these dates don’t seem to make sense.  The Traditionalist claim that the “original” Saint Michael prayer is the same one I linked above from the Raccolta.  So what prayer were people saying between 1886 and 1888?

I found my answer in two excellent articles by Rev. Anthony Cekada (article 1 and article 2) that confirmed my hunch.  We’re actually looking at two prayers here, the original shorter one that we all know and love (in the original Latin via Irish Ecclesiastical Review 7) and the longer version from 1888.

Saint Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel

Back to that vision

In his second article, Father Cekada goes on to outline the different accounts of Pope Leo’s vision.  Some were undated, some accounts referred to 1880, 1884, and 1888.  Some have Pope Leo collapsing at the foot of the altar, some after a conference with the bishops, one account has him attending the Mass and not celebrating the Mass.  These accounts are deftly captured in the article I linked before, if you’re interested in reading them please take a few minutes to see them there.  It seems the accounts vary and the story has grown over the years as it was passed around.

Does this cast doubt on the exciting tale of Pope Leo’s vision?  Perhaps, but this is the precise reason why you don’t have the Church ruling too often on the value of private revelations.  The fact that Pope Leo XIII did not recount this story on his own does nothing to confirm or deny the fact that this actually happened.  One theory I particularly enjoy is that the vision did happen, and the longer Saint Michael prayer is a result of that sobering experience.

Why none of this matters

All stories, accounts, conspiracies, and citations aside… none of this matters much to me.  Why?  Because these prayers (both the short and the long) are still profound, beautiful, and act as strong tools in one’s spiritual arsenal.  The shorter prayer can be easily memorized, and even the first two lines are a perfectly fine exhortation against evil and plea for protection: Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!

The longer prayer isn’t exactly a candidate for memorization (at least, not if you’re me!) but I am certain it is useful if you are struggling with a particularly thorny spiritual battle and needed the grace of such an intense, forceful, and evocative prayer.

As with any prayer, the most important thing is that you pray and that Saint Michael’s intercession brings you closer to Christ.  Saint Michael acts as a mirror for the ultimate defense and the ultimate spiritual power that is our faith in Christ Jesus.

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,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

The text of the longer prayer to Saint Michael can be found here.


Living Lent

We’re just a few short hours from the beginning of the Lenten Season, which runs from Ash Wednesday (tomorrow) until Holy Thursday.  It is a season of prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial in preparation for the great celebration of Easter.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are fasting days, which restrict the eating of meat and snacking between meals.  All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence from eating meat but fish and shellfish are permitted.

Isn’t fish meat?

Yes.  But it’s permitted because of the words used in Canon Law.  The word “meat” in English is written in Canon Law using the Latin word carne which means meat from mammals or fowl.  The observances for fasting have changed over time, but here are the current portions of Canon Law:

Can. 1249 All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe.

Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Can. 1253 The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

Note Canon 1253, which mentions the substitution of other forms of penance or works of charity and piety… it has been encouraged by the Church to go beyond the letter of Canon Law and deepen your faith in a more significant way during Lent, and over the past few years I have been doing a little more.

What’s in store for this year?

Here’s what I have planned for this Lenten Season:

  • Give up soda, including my beloved Diet Coke.  Thankfully, my wife Tasha is doing the same thing so it will be easier but I am NOT looking forward to the withdrawal headaches that I always get.
  • Read Summa Theologica by Saint Thomas Aquinas.  I have only barely started and this is going to be a challenge.  Saint Thomas was a very deep thinker and it’s going to be a battle for every one of those 550 pages.
  • Follow the Discerning the Will of God  Lenten Journey by Steve Bollman (from That Man Is You!) to the best of my ability.  It involves the following each day: morning and evening prayer, an activity or observance, Scripture reading and a rosary.
  • If I get through all that I will continue reading Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth series.

If you’re doing something special for Lent this year, let’s hear about it in the comments.  I enjoy hearing what others find important to sacrifice or observe during this important season.


That Man Is You!

In my first article, I mentioned that my wife and I began regularly attending Mass around the time we began thinking about having children.  After several months of this, many big questions began to dawn on me about aspects of my life where I was falling short – partly from ignorance and partly because I foolishly thought I had things figured out.  After Mass one day, a man named Tom came to give some announcements about a new program they were starting at the parish: That Man Is You!

He explained that the program was a men’s fellowship, which focused on helping men to become better husbands, fathers, and men after God’s Own Heart.  He closed his speech by saying that he was going to be in the back answering questions, and that he was looking for help to coordinate the program.  Sitting in the pew, I felt a strong sense that this was going to help me answer some of those tough questions and might equip me better to know the faith.  I leaned over to my wife and said that I wanted to find out more about the program.

I found out that the program’s founder, Steve Bollman, presents a different class each week focusing on a different aspect of the faith.  After the 30-45 minute DVD session is over, the men are encouraged to break up into small group sessions to discuss the topic, share their experiences, and dive a little deeper into each topic.  The topics covered in the first year ranged from a discussion about a man’s role in the family and how he can practice his faith in a more meaningful way.  The lessons were all framed by looking more closely at Scripture, Biblical examples (and counterexamples), and modern examples of authentic leadership in action today.

Quickly thereafter, I had volunteered to help Tom coordinate the program largely because I had the necessary skills of knowing how to operate a DVD player.  I mused to the priest that I had never volunteered to actually do anything outside of normal Mass attendance before.  He remarked that it was the Holy Spirit that urges us to get up and participate, and that many people ignore that nudge.  He praised me for being willing to help out.  More than a year later, I’m very glad that I did.

The best parts about the program for me is the discussion groups that form after the DVD lesson completes.  It was there that I got to sit and listen to life-lessons from men in their 70’s and 80’s, different perspectives from men in their 40’s and 50’s, and I gained some friends in the process.  It helped me to get to know some of the people within our parish much closer, and again… this was something that I never really got to experience before.  In my past, the people I knew at Church were my family members and maybe a few Catholic friends that I went to high school with.  It was (and is) refreshing to have that situation change.

The That Man Is You! program started our second year’s worth of classes last month.  I am pleased to report that things are going very well, and we have started a second session on a weeknight so more men can participate.  If you are interested in how to participate, you can search for a parish near you running this important program.

Also, I want to take a second to thank my friend Tom for allowing me to help him coordinate and run That Man Is You! at our parish.  It has been a great blessing to my family!