The entire history of humankind and consequently the history of salvation are marked with the presence and the destructive influence of Satan and the other wicked spirits, who were created in justice and holiness, but by their own will and decision, had fallen away from communion with God. Already the first pages of Holy Scripture tell us that God established the radical and not reconciliatory enmity between Himself and Satan, between Christ and Satan, between the Virgin Mary Mother of God and Satan, between the Church the Mystical Body of Christ – which is here on earth the Roman Catholic Church – and Satan, between the truth and the error, all revealed truths of God and the heresies, between the good and the evil, the commandments of God and the sins, between the social kingdom of Christ and the pagan and religiously neutral earthly society, which is ultimately the kingdom of the prince of this world:
I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel (Gen 3, 15).
In the very historical beginnings of the Church the first Christians were reminded of this truth in a very impressive manner in the Book of the Apocalypse in which more than half of the text speaks about the battle between the Holy Angels and Satan and his followers. This great battle started in the beginning of their creation in heaven and continues throughout history here on earth. God, however, reveals to us that Satan and all the wicked spirits are already defeated and conquered by the Divine power which He Himself bestowed upon His faithful servants, the Holy Angels, and in the first place upon that of Saint Michael the Archangel:
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short” (Apoc. 12, 7-12)!
At the threshold of the 20th century, a century of unheard militant atheism and anti-human monstrous political regimes, Pope Leo XIII gave to the Church the famous prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel, which he ordered to be recited worldwide by each priest and the faithful after a non-chanted Mass. The same Pope gave a very powerful prayer of a general exorcism against the infestations of Satan and the evil spirits. This exorcism could be recited by priests with the permission of his Ordinary. Pope Leo XIII himself recited this exorcism several times during the day.
In his book "Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael," Mr. Kevin Symonds presents a very careful and competent historical research about the origin and the circumstances of the publication of the prayer to St. Michael and the above mentioned exorcism formula. Furthermore he gives also a rich spiritual reflection on the Divine truth about the Holy Angels, the fallen angels and the reality and necessity of the spiritual battle. Mr. Symonds’ book is indeed very relevant for our times. May this book become widespread and raise to many Catholics—especially the clergy—a new awareness of the necessity to use the spiritual means which God and His Church have given us in order to fight against the infiltration and attacks of the evil spirits. Such well-proven spiritual means are the prayer to St. Michael and the general exorcism against Satan and his machinations. It would be very helpful to start a worldwide petition that the Holy See may prescribe again the recitation of the prayer to St. Michael after the Holy Mass in all Catholic churches. Furthermore, all priests and bishops should be encouraged to recite often the general exorcism against Satan according to the formula of Pope Leo XIII. The general restoration of the minor order of exorcist would also be a clear witness to the truth that the Church on earth is the Church Militant and that every true Christian has to be a soldier of Christ (miles Christi). The Church is the Church of Christ the invincible King of kings, and the true victory over the world is the Catholic faith (1 John 5, 4). St. Michael and the Holy Angels are our brothers and fellows in the worship, the fight and the victory of the Lord of the heavenly army and heaven and earth are full of His glory.
The Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel was part of a series of prayers that were said after Low (or “recited”) Mass from 1886 to 1964. The journal Ephemerides liturgicae published an article in 1955 by an author identified only as “I.P.” which relates the reason for the Prayers’ creation. The article notes that the Prayers actually originated with Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-1878).
Pius was very concerned about the times in which he lived, as there was considerable social upheaval throughout Europe. In response, he ordered a series of prayers for peace to be recited after private Masses in 1859. Priests, while kneeling, were to say three times with the people the Ave Maria, then the antiphon Salve Regina followed by a prayer composed of four different orations taken from different Masses.
Pius’ immediate successor, Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903), twice modified the prayers. The first modification was mandated on January 6, 1884 when Leo issued the Decree Iam inde through the Sacred Congregation of Rites. Part of the modification replaced the four ending orations with one:
From the year 1859 Pope Pius IX, of holy memory, prescribed that in all the churches of the Papal States, certain prayers, to which he added indulgences, should be recited after the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in order to obtain the help of God needful in times of such difficulty and trial. And as the Catholic Church, surrounded by evils that are always grave (and which threaten imminently to become yet more grave) has so great a need of the special protection of God, our most holy Lord Pope Leo XIII has thought fit that these prayers, slightly altered in parts, should be recited throughout the whole world. That the prayer, in common of united Christendom, may implore from God that which concerns the good in common of Christianity, and that by an increase in the number of petitioners, the benefits of the Divine Mercy may be more easily obtained. Wherefore, by this present Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, his Holiness has commanded that for the future, in all churches of the City and of the Catholic world, the prayers that follow below, enriched with an indulgence of 300 days, shall be recited, kneeling, at the end of each Mass without music.
According to Pizzoni, the Holy Father did this because of “the fear of more troublesome evils which [his] predecessor had busied himself to drive back.”
Notes on Chapter One: