Today (29 September) is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, also known as Michaelmas. Michael is one of two archangels named in the Bible (the other being Gabriel); the apocryphal literature gives us the names of two more: Raphael and Uriel. Later tradition rounds out the number of Archangels to seven with the addition of Jophiel, Chamuel, and Zadkiel (these names vary depending on which source you read).
All three poems make reference to the traditional nine ranks of angels–from highest to lowest: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, Angels. These rankings were first explored by rabbinical scholars (especially Maimonodes) and later developed by Christian theologians as well. The first poem, by Christina Rossetti, is sung as a hymn and is found in many hymnals. In it you will hear echoes of the Eucharistic Prayer (”therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven . . .”) The second is also quite popular as a hymn, and is probably the text in the English-speaking world that is most associated with the tune “Lasst uns erfreuen” (the exception being in the U.S, where “All Creatures of Our God and King” holds that title).
The metre of the third does not exactly allow it to be sung as a hymn, but it has been set to music as an anthem, most notably by William Henry Harris.
St. Michael and All Angels
“Ye that excel in strength”
Service and strength, God’s Angels and Archangels;
His Seraphs fires, and lamps his Cherubim:
Glory to God from highest and from lowest,
Glory to God in everlasting hymn
From all his creatures.
Princes that serve, and Powers that work his pleasure,
Heights that soar toward him, Depths that sink toward him;
Flames fire out-flaming, chill beside his Essence;
Insight all-probing, save where scant and dim
Toward its Creator.
Sacred and free exultant in God’s pleasure,
His will their solace, thus they wait on him;
And shout their shout of ecstasy eternal,
And trim their splendours that they burn not dim
Toward their Creator.
Wherefore with Angels, wherefore with Archangels,
With lofty Cherubs, loftier Seraphim,
We laud and magnify our God Almighty,
And veil our faces rendering love to him
With all his creatures.
Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
Bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones,
Raise the glad strain, Alleluia!
Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers,
Virtues, archangels, angels? choirs:
O higher than the cherubim,
More glorious than the seraphim,
Lead their praises, Alleluia!
Thou bearer of th?eternal Word,
Most gracious, magnify the Lord.
Respond, ye souls in endless rest,
Ye patriarchs and prophets blest,
Ye holy twelve, ye martyrs strong,
All saints triumphant, raise the song.
O friends, in gladness let us sing,
Supernal anthems echoing,
To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One.
John A. L. Riley
Faire is the Heaven
Faire is the heaven where happy soules have place
In full enjoyment of felicitie;
Whence they do still behold the glorious face
Of the Divine, Eternall Majestie;
Yet farre more faire be those bright Cherubins
Which all with golden wings are overdight.
And those eternall burning Seraphins
Which from their faces dart out fiery light;
Yet fairer than they both and much more bright
Be the Angels and Archangels
Which attend on God’s owne person without rest or end.
These then in faire each other farre excelling
As to the Highest they approach more neare,
Yet is that Highest farre beyond all telling
Fairer than all the rest which there appeare
Though all their beauties joynd together were;
How then can mortal tongue hope to expresse
The image of such endlesse perfectnesse?