Could you explain the St. Michael Prayer? I have a friend who is bothered by the prayer because she feels that it is sending “sinners to hell;” that it’s a very unmerciful prayer. Maybe an explanation about what “all the evil spirits” means?
Thank you for this question. I will address three important elements in regard to this prayer to give greater understanding of why we pray it.
The first element to be addressed is the history of the prayer. On October 13, 1884, Pope Leo XIII is said to have had a vision while concluding Mass, leading him to immediately compose the original prayer to St. Michael - from which today’s version is but a smaller portion. His vision included the sound of two voices, one of which was gentle and the other that was very troubling (and is usually described as “guttural”). The guttural voice (that of Satan) said “I can destroy your Church,” to which the gentle voice (of the Lord) answered: “You can? Then go ahead and do so.” Satan is said to have replied: “To do so, I need more time and more power.” The Lord answered him, “How much time? How much power?” Satan then declared: “75 to 100 years, and a greater power over those who will give themselves over to my service.” The Lord said, “You have the time, and you will have the power. Do with them what you will.” This vision being as it was, whatever one’s acceptance of the truth of this vision may be today, it is not denied that Pope Leo XIII is the source of this prayer and it was his wish at that time to have it prayed at the end of every Low Mass (that is, non-sung Mass), along with other prayers, including the Hail Mary and Hail Holy Queen.
Given the origin and intended usage of the prayer from Pope Leo XIII, might next address a key element of the content of the prayer itself. Once more, in the
alleged vision that Pope Leo XIII was given, what is conveyed is the real war that is waged between God (and His own) and Satan (and those angels in legion with him). In other words, this vision expresses the war being fought in the spiritual realm. This war is the battle for souls, wherein Satan’s end goal is to destroy the communion and friendship of human souls with God, leading them from God to eternal hell. Let’s not be naïve: you and I are within this battle every day – as it is a battle against sin and temptation to sin. When we do falter, God mercifully offers us His forgiveness, inviting us to return. Satan, on the other hand, seeks to tear us from God, filling us with his lies – which are summed up in the primary lie of Satan: that God does not and is not love. Pope Leo XIII’s wise shepherding asked that his composed prayer to St. Michael be prayed as an additional aid to all of us in this spiritual warfare. Thus, such expressions as “cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits” is a reference to casting into hell of Satan and the legions of angels who chose the path of Satan and who are warring against us. It is not a prayer that seeks to condemn human souls. This prayer is prayed that each and every human being would be saved (even and especially those caught up in lives of sin). In no way whatsoever does it condemn any human beings.
Understanding that this prayer is about spiritual warfare against Satan, might I finish by reinforcing the importance of remaining firm in the truth and love of God. While the St. Michael Prayer contains strong language, the praying of this prayer includes the great blessing of calling upon that great archangel who is seen in the Book of Revelation already carrying on this very battle on our behalf. Our conscious praying of this prayer unites us even more to the Lord’s side in this battle, enlisting
St. Michael to defend and protect us. Said another way, when we pray the St. Michael Prayer, we are consciously accepting that God Himself is truth and love, seeking as we are to be defended and protected against all that is wicked and evil. Such prayer has real power to inspire us in trusting that God will aid us in every temptation and that He will come to the aid of all souls, restoring and preserving us from sin and death while inflicting upon Satan and all fallen angels their final defeat – giving victory to those meant for eternal life: that is, the victory over sin and death that is offered to every human being.