March 26 – Archangel Gabriel; Maddalena Caterina Morano

The Archangel Gabriel (birthdate unknown), is most famous as the archangel who brought the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. The name “Gabriel” means either “God is my strength” or “man of God” or “mighty one,” for reasons which I remember from Hebrew class, but won’t bore you with.

It is important not to confuse the Archangel with rock musician Peter Gabriel, so please remember: Peter Gabriel is in Genesis. The Archangel Gabriel is in Luke and Daniel.

In addition to the Annunciation (Mar 25), Gabriel appears in Luke to have a word with Zachariah, father of John the Baptist. Unlike the Theotokos, Zachariah doubted the angel, and as a result he (Zachariah, not Gabriel) was mute until John was born. In that episode Gabriel lets fall a little information about himself. (I use “him” but who knows what gender to assign to angels? All we can go on is the grammatical gender in the Greek, but we all know what that’s worth.) (For those who don’t know what that’s worth: not a lot. Now you do.) He says, “I stand in the presence of God.” Sadly my sources don’t explain exactly what that means. Is he just saying he spends the majority of his days in God’s presence? Or that he’s not allowed to sit down? Or something else? I can’t say.

Tradition fleshes out the picture a little (if you can use the “flesh out” metaphor when speaking of the bodiless hosts). The church teaches that Gabriel inspired Moses to write the Pentateuch, appeared to Daniel, appeared to St. Anna to herald the birth of the Theotokos, and appeared to Joseph the Betrothed of Mary to explain the pregnancy thing and then again to warn about Herod. Tradition further states that it was Gabriel who strengthened our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane after his prayerful struggle. And finally (at least in my source), Gabriel was the angel sitting upon the stone who told the myrrh-bearing women at the break of dawn that Jesus was not there, but had risen.

But what about the horn? I hear you cry. Well, ever having your best interests at heart, I will tell you. As anybody who loves Handel’s Messiah can tell you, when our Lord returns, the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. As far back as 1455, the bugler of the parousia has been identified as Gabriel. This idea is echoed in Milton, and gets a good deal of mileage in African-American spirituals, and songs that stand in that tradition. In mathematics, “Gabriel’s Horn” refers to a specific (trumpet-shaped) geometric figure with finite volume but infinite surface area. At which point we are so far afield from our subject that we might as well go on to the next saint.

Blessed Maddalena Caterina Morano (1847–1908) lost her father and older sister when she was eight (they died), so she went to work to support her family, while continuing her schooling (Cue: “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”). At nineteen she graduated and became an elementary school teacher. She worked for twelve more years, at which point her siblings were out of the house and her mother was able to live without her assistance. She then joined the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, a (then) new order. Within three years the founder (John Bosco) sent her to head an institute in Sicily. There she set up new houses, instituted after-school activities and sewing classes, trained teachers, and taught catechism classes. And that was with her left hand. She was also a local and regional superior, and coordinator and trainer of catechesis teachers for 18 parishes. (Feeling like an underachiever yet?) She was beatified in 1994 by Pope John Paul II.