Feast Day : September 29
Patronage: clerics; diplomats; messengers; postal workers; radio broadcasters; stamp collectors; telecommunication workers
The angel Gabriel—given the rank of archangel in post-biblical lore—is one of the three principal angels of Christianity, and figures prominently in Judaic, Christian and Islamic angelology. In Christianity, the cult of Gabriel began early in Rome. Gabriel is the angel of revelation, wisdom, mercy, redemption and promise. He sits at the left hand of God. Gabriel is mentioned four times in the Bible, and always in connection with important news. In the Old Testament, he first appears as Daniel’s frequent visitor, bringing prophetic visions of apocalyptic proportion (Daniel 8:16, 9:21). In the New Testament, Gabriel gives his name to Zechariah—“I am Gabriel who stand in God’s presence” —when he announces the coming birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:19). He is cited in the Annunciation to Mary of the coming birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26). It is in his role as annunciator of the coming of the birth of Christ to Mary that Gabriel is best known and best depicted in art. He is the most painted of angels, for the Incarnation is the most common subject in Western art. He is often shown holding one or more lilies, the symbol of purity, or holding a scroll inscribed with the Ave Maria. Luke 1:26–38 describes the encounter between Gabriel and Mary. He appears to her, tells her she has found favor with God, and she will become pregnant with a son who is to be named Jesus. When Mary wonders how this can happen, since she is a virgin, Gabriel tells her the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the child will be holy. When she consents (“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word”) the angel departs. Though the angel who announces the birth of Jesus to the shepherds (Luke 2:8–14) is called only an “angel of the Lord,” Catholic tradition credits this to Gabriel. In Catholic devotion to angels, Gabriel has a prominent place because of his role in the Annunciation. Gabriel’s salutation, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women” is reiterated in the Hail Mary. Because of his role in the Annunciation, other lore about Gabriel holds that he guides the soul from paradise to the womb and there instructs it for the nine months prior to birth. Gabriel also is credited with other major acts of unnamed angels concerning Jesus: as the angel who appears in a dream to Joseph, warning him to take his family and flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s hunt for the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:13); as the angel who appears in the Garden of Gethsemane to provide strength and support to Jesus in his agony (Luke 22:43); and as the “angel of the Lord” who has a countenance as lightning and a raiment as snow, who rolls back the stone from the tomb of Jesus and sits upon it (Matthew 28:2). In addition, Gabriel is said to be the unnamed archangel in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 who sounds the trumpet of judgment and resurrection. Thus, he is shown in art blowing a trumpet. Gabriel’s symbols are a spear and a shield emblazoned with a lily. Devotion to Gabriel and other angels is fostered as a way of becoming closer to God.