April 01, 2024

Domestic Church Corner

The history of the great prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel comes shrouded in a bit of mystery.  We know the prayer was written by Pope Leo XIII, who reigned as pope from 1878-1903.  During his reign, it is well documented that he re-founded the Vatican astronomical observatory, wrote eleven encyclicals on the rosary, improved Vatican relations with the major powers in Europe, and insisted the clergy study the theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas.  He was also the first pope to be recorded and filmed.  So why don’t we have the details on why Pope Leo XIII composed the Saint Michael prayer?  Most likely because Pope Leo XIII never published what led to writing the prayer.

What we do know comes to us from both recorded facts and a bit of pious legends.    In 1895, Pope Pius IX ordered a series of prayers to be prayed by priests in Italy after the Mass to ward off the negative attacks on the Catholic Church by revolutionary leaders of the time.  These prayers were modified twice by his successor, Pope Leo XIII, once in 1884 and once in 1886, and they became known as the Leonine prayers.  The 1886 version contained what we now know as the St. Michael prayer.  The Leonine prayers were eventually prayed after Mass throughout the world from 1884 – 1964.  

The reason Pope Pius XIII wrote the St. Michael prayer is more recorded legend than recorded fact.  Sometime between 1884 and 1886, Pope Leo XIII was said to have had a vision during the celebration of Mass.  The pope became pale and had a fearful look on his face as the vision was happening.   Some accounts say he even collapsed and had no pulse.  The vision was of demonic, smoke-like spirits who were beginning to gather around Rome.  Other accounts tell of how Pope Leo saw how devils were raving against the Church with seductive powers, but that St Michael showed up to cast Satan and his demons back to hell.  As time went on, this account was elaborated upon to include an actual conversation between Jesus and Satan.  In that conversation, Satan bragged that he could destroy the Church in 75-100 years if Jesus were to just give him that time and a greater power over those who serve Satan.  Jesus then granted those requests to Satan, confident that Satan would not prevail.  This is all very reminiscent of the story of Job.

Back to the facts.  Saint Michael appears in scripture in Daniel, Jude, and Revelation.  Catholic Tradition and Scripture give Michael four offices or jobs:

To fight against Satan.

To rescue the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death.

To be the champion of God's people and the patron of the Church.

To call away men’s souls from their earthly life and bring them to judgment.

Whether Pope Leo XIII’s vision was ever recorded by him or not, it’s a comfort to know that Saint Michael protects us from Satan and His demonic attacks.  Call on him when you are tempted or can see the action of the deceiver and accuser in your life.


St. 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 you, O prince of the heavenly host,

by the power of God,

cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits

who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.


Written by: Birgitt Hacker

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