Tag Archives: St. Michael

All Hands on Deck: Of Kids, Confirmation, and Calamity

14 Feb

Many children, through the strength of the Holy Spirit they have received, have bravely fought for Christ even to the shedding of their blood.
~ St. Thomas Aquinas

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Thrust, Cast, Punt

1 Nov

Life is a military endeavour.
~ Pope Francis

I’m a post-Vatican II convert, so I don’t have direct experience of the Leonine Prayers – maybe you do. Introduced by Pope Leo XIII in 1884, they were special prayers for conversion and protection that, while not part of the canon itself, became a required coda following every Low Mass.

The Leonine Prayers were “suppressed” (discontinued) when the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated in 1965, but they lived on as pillars of private devotion – like the Hail Mary and the Salve Regina, already very familiar to those whoMichael_icon_Athens prayed the Rosary.

The Prayer to St. Michael also took its place as a devotional mainstay, although it was a relatively recent innovation authored by Pope Leo himself. What’s more, it was a bit unusual because, unlike other devotional imagery, the St. Michael’s prayer was combative in tone, granting no quarter to “meek and mild” religion. Pope St. John Paul II himself endorsed the prayer as a bulwark against supernatural assault and seemed to regret its detachment from the liturgy:

Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world.

And if there were ever a time to revive something like that, it would be now. These are particularly perilous times, don’t you think? – with unprecedented social upheaval, global violence, and, particularly, widespread Christian persecution. I’m convinced these are the reasons our pastor re-introduced the St. Michael prayer after Mass in our parish: Enlisting that bruiser of an archangel to watch our backs only makes sense these days.

Pope Leo wrote the prayer in Latin, and there’s a wide variety of English translations out there. The version I memorized as a wet-behind-the-ears convert starts like this:

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.

Other versions have “defense” instead of “protection,” while the Irish apparently put the word “safeguard” there (in line with James Joyce’s reference in Ulysses). I prefer “protection” myself, because “defense” sounds repetitious after praying “Jagiellonian_Ms.Germ.Quart.16_(Gladiatoria)_09v_-_Longsword_in_armordefend us” in the first line, and “safeguard” has too many soap connotations. It doesn’t matter, though, because the St. Michael Prayer is now primarily a private devotion, and so there really isn’t an official translation. Besides, the differences I listed are all mere stylistic discrepancies with no real impact on the guts of the prayer: “defense,” “protection;” po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

The same cannot be said, however, of the thrust/cast discrepancy in the prayer’s second stanza. Here’s the clause as I learned it:

And do thou, 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. Amen.

Like I said, there are a lot of variant translations of this prayer, but “cast” in that second clause has a decent modern provenance – Catholic Online, for example, along with Catholic Culture and Calvin College’s CCEL. Plus, somewhere in our home is a weathered old St. Michael holy card that was my source as a young convert, and that’s good enough for me, thank you very much.

But how does “cast” square with the original Latin? Here’s that second clause (with the verb in question highlighted):

Tuque, Princeps militiae Caelestis, satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo, divina virtute in infernum detrude. Amen.

Detrudo is the relevant verb – to “push/thrust/drive/force off,” according to one source. That is consistent with what is the closest thing to an authoritative English interpretation of Leo’s Latin prayer:

And do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits….

So, not only does “thrust” have some heavy defenders in its corner (including EWTN these days), it’s also apparently the outright better translation to boot – we have a winner!

That’s the version we now recite after every Mass in my parish, and I tried saying “thrust” with everybody else the first few times, but I gave up – it went against the grain. Now I just lower my voice and insert “cast” at that point, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. It’s mainly habit, I guess, and I suppose laziness on my part, but I think there’s a subtle distinction between the two verbs that’s worth exploring.

Regardless of how the words have been used in the past, considercastnet_sunset how they’re used today. To begin with, neither “thrust” nor “cast” is in high demand conversationally, and their use tends to be pretty restricted. When’s the last time you used the word “thrust,” for example? Probably it was in reference to swordplay, or wielding a knife or some other weapon. Thus, it is certainly a fitting word for the prayer as it conjures up an image of forcefully repelling something or someone, although there’s an implication that the wielder retains a hold on the object of the force.

“Cast,” on the other hand, has no such implications. It’s also a conversational rarity today – although it experienced a semi-resurgence in recent years as a part of the word “Castaway” of reality-TV fame. Otherwise, its use is almost entirely related to fishing – either casting a line or, better yet, casting a net. I’m no fisherman, but it’s not that hard to figure out that one who casts a net strives to send it as far away from himself as possible; retaining a hold on the net itself is not in question.

This is consistent with the image we have in the Book of Revelation of Michael going about his business:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

That’s the King James version, and so it’s probably what I heard as a young Protestant, and probably why it’s much easier for me to picture Michael casting the devil out of heaven rather than thrusting him out. But the old Douay-Rheims similarly depicts St. Michael hurling Satan and his crew down to the turf, so “cast” has a respectable Catholic lineage as well. It appears to be a common ecumenical heritage: Catholic or Protestant, our forebears all saw the defender of heaven as tossing away the forces of evil as so much rubbish: “Heave-ho, and to hell with you!”

Punt-pictureBack to “cast” and current usage for a minute though. It’s true that casting real nets does involve retaining a line of some kind with which to haul in the catch after an an appropriate time, so the metaphorical advantage over “thrust” is only relative. The caster, like the thruster, is still not entirely free of his metaphorical burden. Consequently, I’d like to suggest a modern alternative: Punt.

We’re talking about the devil here, right? What better image of getting Beelzebub out of your life than booting him into the eternal end zone with no strings attached! Let’s try it – this is all paraphrase now, not even close to a translation:

And do thou, O prince of the heavenly host, punt into the bleachers – no, the parking lot, or how about the next county for that matter – Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world up to no damn good.

That last part was mine as well – no blaming Leo or the Latin. It’s paraphrase all the way, but I think it works – at least for me. It conjures up an image of Michael gleefully letting fly with his angelic foot; you can even hear the grunts and *POP* when he makes contact, sending Satan and his minions into the stratosphere. A punting St. Michael definitely evokes a scene I long to see realized every day.

Maybe I’ll give it a whirl next time I’m at Mass. I doubt anyone would notice below the flurry of thrusts and casts.


A version of this essay appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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