Tuesday, September 29, 2015


There is still so much to digest from the papal visit. It will take time to take it all in - even as churchy attention moves on to the Synod next month and the Year of Mercy soon to follow. Today, however, as the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, I find myself looking inward - looking back almost 60 years to September 22, 1957, the day I took Michael as my confirmation name.

In subsequent decades, the optimal age for confirmation has occasioned some significant and useful debate in the Church. But, in those days, confirmation was more or less whenever there was a Bishop scheduled to come and do it. I was confirmed at the beginning of 5th grade, (Had I not  “skipped” a grade, however, I would have been in the 4th grade at confirmation.)

In any case, for most of us back then (and perhaps still today for many), more or less the biggest thing about confirmation was choosing a new name. As I recall, my mother had had some initial reservations about my choice of Michael, but she eventually gave in to my persistence in this matter. In fact, my father had had a brother named Michael, but he had died young, and I had never known him. I chose the name not because of any relative or family connection but because I really liked the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, which we used to recite in English after all Low Masses in those days. 

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. 

Be our protection against the malice and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly host, by the divine power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits
who wander through the world seeking the ruin and destruction of souls. Amen.

Most of the things I remember about my confirmation day were incidental - like asking to have turkey at the family party afterwards. But I do remember caring about my name. So I can clearly remember carrying the card between my fingers with my confirmation name on it up to the bishop, seated on his faldstool in front of the high altar. I remember a priest taking the card and saying my chosen name to the Bishop (in what I later would learn was the nominative case) and then the Bishop addressing me directly (in what I later would learn was the vocative case): Michaele, Signo te signo crucis; et confirmo te chrismate salutis. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.("Michael, I sign you with the sign of the cross, and I confirm you with the chrism of salvation. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.")

The blandness of that sacramental formula says a lot about how hard it has been to find ways to express the sacrament’s meaning in the centuries since it was detached from the sacrament's initial role in Christian initiation. But, however bland the celebration may have seemed, to me my name (which was what I cared most about) was most certainly not bland at all.

In Michael the heroic archangel who led the angelic army to victory over the Devil, this wimpy, nerdy kid had found himself a suitably macho figure to identify with, in a way which also appropriately affirmed my religious interests and inclinations. Of course, it didn’t occur to me until someone pointed it out to me years later that there could be something problematic in adopting as my model of masculinity someone who by definition had no body and so was only notionally male! But then I was only nine at the time!

Such psychological complications aside, choosing Michael as my confirmation name equipped me with a devotion to the Archangel Michael which I have never abandoned. I still like to pray (privately, of course, now that it is no longer recited after Mass) the prayer to Saint Michael to defend us in battle. and I remain confident in his power to do so!

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