Understanding Saint Gabriel by His High Mission

Understanding Saint Gabriel by His High Mission
Understanding Saint Gabriel by His High Mission

Martyrology says that God sent Saint Gabriel the Archangel to announce the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word.

We can have some notion of who Saint Gabriel is, precisely by the nature of his mission. Since the Angels have a much more elevated nature than ours, their individual tasks are related to their nature, and one cannot distribute tasks among them as arbitrarily as among men.

By nature, some Angels do some things while other Angels do something else. On the other hand, we cannot say that a man is a typist by nature or an ambassador by nature. At a time of difficulty, an ambassador is also a typist; and in a pinch, a typist with great personal talents winds up becoming a good ambassador.

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So this, which is not as clear-cut among us, is more precise in the angelic nature. We are not dealing here with tasks exactly like the Annunciation. They are tasks of another kind, of the Angels’ position and function in Heaven before God.

But there is a more important reason why the mission given to this Archangel of the Annunciation corresponds to his nature. And so, by the mission given to him we can deduce something about the glory, virtues and splendor of this heavenly prince.

By the Grandeur of Saint Gabriel, We Can Deduce His High-ranking Nature

What can we say about this mission? First, it is the highest, key mission in the whole history of mankind as this Angel was put in charge of announcing to Our Lady that the fullness of time had come, the reign of the devil was coming to an end, the kingdom of evil would be trampled underfoot, humanity would be redeemed, and the gates of Heaven would open for mankind. He was the Angel in charge of asking Our Lady’s consent for this proposal, the Angel in charge of announcing to Our Lady the Mystery of Virginal Maternity. This Angel carried the most important message ever to have existed in the history of humanity. This is something of enormous importance.

Understanding Saint Gabriel by His High Mission in the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary
God sent Saint Gabriel the Archangel to announce the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Word.

Imagine the following. You know that, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, the stars are moved by the Angels, for the glory of God. Let us imagine the grandeur of an Angel who keeps moving, for example, the whole Milky Way: what importance, what a function such an Angel must have!

Now then, what is it to move a spec of star dust such as the Milky Way, in comparison with moving the soul of Our Lady, acting upon the soul of Our Lady, being the carrier of that message and obtaining her adhesion?

You understand it has no comparison with anything. Hence you understand the excellence of this Angel’s mission.

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On the other hand, a messenger’s importance is gauged not only by the nature of the message but by the importance of the one who sent it and that of its recipient. A king, having a very important message to send, does it through a nobleman of his court. A message of little importance to a common person is sent by an employee or housemaid with return receipt signature requested. Now then, Our Lady was the Queen of Heaven and Earth, the masterpiece of God, destined to be His Mother.

You understand how only a most high Angel would be chosen for that mission, and through this we can see his grandeur.

Two Pillars of the Counter-Revolution in Saint Gabriel’s Psychology: An Elevated Sense of Hierarchy and Chastity

We could deduce something about this Angel’s psychology from two very important notes very much present in Fra Angelico’s paintings of the Annunciation: first, a very curious sense of hierarchy.

When the Angel spoke to Our Lady, she was still not the Mother of God. She became so from the moment she accepted the communication and the Holy Spirit acted in her. And the Angel, who was superior to her by nature, was addressing a person inferior to him and inviting her to become his Queen.

Saint Gabriel the Archangel
Saint Gabriel the Archangel

On the other hand, the message he was taking showed such a predilection of God for Our Lady, that it was not at all proportional to him.

So then, Fra Angelico paints the Angel showing such respect and veneration for Our Lady, as if taking the superiority of his own nature and lowering it before the grandeur of Our Lady’s mission. And—something extraordinary—Our Lady also speaks to the Angel with her head inclined and with all respect, because she is receiving a message from God and because, as a person, she is inferior to the Angel. Note the mutual superiorities, in which Our Lady’s end up being much greater than the Angel’s.

But this scene shows a world of mutual respect between Our Lady and the Angel, which indicates quite well the sense of hierarchy shown on the occasion; a sense of hierarchy which is the opposite of Satan’s non serviam.

Many say that the devil refused to serve because he did not want to recognize the Incarnate Word as the object of his adoration or to recognize a mere human creature as his Queen. This appears to have been a point that polarized his whole rebellion against God, motivated by pride.

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Saint Gabriel did the opposite. He went to take a message which, from a certain standpoint, placed the Angelic kingdom below the human kingdom, and that elevated above him, something that was below him; and he took the message filled with veneration and love. Placed before his new Queen, so inferior to him by nature, he bowed to her as the most respectful and venerating subject. You perceive the high sense of discipline, the high sense of hierarchy that the painting shows, a very marked sense of counter-revolution.

The Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation
The Blessed Virgin Mary

You can add yet another aspect. He who is about to address the Virgin of Virgins to tell her that she will be Mother and continue to be a Virgin makes such a glorification of virginity that it is a kind of masterpiece of purity to show that Our Lord, facing this immense fact of the Incarnation, decided to violate all the rules of nature to save Our Lady’s perfect virginity and give mankind a new glory by making her the Spouse of the Holy Ghost, so her Son would be Son of no man.

This message is one of the greatest glorifications of chastity, and you understand that an Angel like this has a special link with purity.

Now then, humility and love of purity are the two pillars of the Counter-Revolution.

Pride and love of sensuality, on the contrary, are the pillars of the Revolution. You understand how the old, proud and sensual serpent was trampled on that act and how Saint Gabriel thus appears trampling the devil underfoot no less than Saint Michael when he expelled him from Heaven. A painter who at that instant was to paint Saint Gabriel kneeling before Our Lady and stepping on the devil’s head would paint something profoundly real.

We Should Ask Saint Gabriel Especially for the Love of Hierarchy and Chastity

And so you understand how many reasons we have to ask Saint Gabriel to give us these two graces: the grace of the sense of hierarchy, of love of superiority, of liking the fact that others are more than we are, even if the one who is “more than we are” is inferior from several standpoints. And to have an unstained taste for purity, purity as a principle, as a moral value, and not only as a physical thing; a spotless taste for purity that necessarily has some traits of this Archangel’s specific sanctity.

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The Saints and Angels are called to give mankind the things whereby they glorify God the most. Saint Francis gives us the spirit of poverty; Saint Ignatius gives us that sovereign, inflexible and incomparable logic of the Spiritual Exercises; Saint Benedict gives us a genuine taste for liturgy and for true contemplation. That which they have the most, they give the most.

Saint Gabriel reflects these virtues to such a high degree that he is made to obtain these virtues for us. Let us, therefore, ask him for them.

The preceding article is taken from an informal lecture Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira gave on March 24, 1965. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. –Ed.