MICHAELMAS--CELEBRATING THE FEAST OF THE ANGELS
THE SEA GREW TURBULENT AND THE EARTH TREMBLED WHEN MICHAEL THE ARCHANGEL CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN. (Liturgy of the Hours, Roman Breviary).
Skellig Michael (pictured above right) and Little Skellig, represent the Celtic belief in the power of angels. The Christianized Celts loved St. Michael and pictured him riding on the seas on his white horse. The island is named for him and was the site of a monastery for over five hundred years. One can almost imagine the great angel, mighty fists rising from the sea, as he rises to defend the land and people.
On this day, the ancient, and not so ancient, Celts made the circuit around the church and graveyard overlooking the sea. All were on horseback including the priest. The dead were remembered, St. Michael was invoked, a special bread baked from the fruits of the field was baked. After the worship, folks retired to the beach for horse racing, feasting and fun. The harvest festival of Michaelmas is the Christianization of the old pagan celebrations.
Interestingly, my parish of St. Patrick, Irish Grove, here in Northern Illinois kept up the circuit until at least 1875. Another day for doing this was St. Patrick's day and on that day the men of the parish would mount horses, ride the seven miles into town, pick up the pastor, come back to church, make the rounds of the cemetery, have Mass, and feast. Amazing how long that lasted. Too bad we have forgotten the mystery of this time of year.
Anyone who has been to the Skelligs can tell you that mystery still breathes there. What a Godly place, a thin place where the Divine can still be easily sensed. But, after all, that is what St. Michael does--leads us into the presence of the Lord.