One expects that after having restored Friday abstinence and holy days of obligation, the bishops of England and Wales may look favourably upon requests to resume the Prayer to St Michael the Archangel, recited after “Low Mass” from the time of Pope Leo XIII to the reforms of Blessed Paul VI.

St Michael’s feast falls this Friday, hence the English custom of referring to autumn schooldays as the “Michaelmas term”. As we mark the centenary of the Fatima apparitions, there are suggestive links between Leo XIII, the St Michael prayer and Fatima for those who are anniversary-minded.

We do not have a definitive historical account of what exactly happened to Pope Leo XIII, but there is a consensus on what roughly took place in the 1880s. After offering the Holy Mass one morning, Pope Leo was making his thanksgiving by attending another Mass, the custom for high-ranking prelates at the time. At some point those observing Leo noticed that he seemed transfixed, as if seeing a vision. Visibly troubled, he made his way from the chapel to his private office, his alarmed aides following with concern.

He emerged from his office a short while later, having composed the prayer to St Michael. It was added in 1886 to the other “Leonine prayers” which the Holy Father had mandated be recited after Low Mass in 1884.

What moved Pope Leo to write the prayer? Accounts vary in the details, but the general gist is that he had a vision akin to the scene at the beginning of the Book of Job. The Devil challenged the Lord Jesus that he “could destroy the Church” if he had more time and more power. Jesus, again like the Lord God in the Book of Job, grants the Devil his request, a century in which his power will be greater. Some accounts have Pope Leo actually hearing the conversation between voices divine and diabolical.

Pope Leo, intuiting then that dreadful terrors would soon descend upon the Church and the world, wrote the prayer beseeching the protection of St Michael and mandated that it be universally recited, countless times each day in every part of the world.

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