Q. This week we celebrate the Feast of the Archangels: St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael (September 29). I recently read a reference to St. Uriel as an additional archangel. Who is this angel?
A. The archangel names Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael all appear in Scripture, but Uriel (as an archangel) does not. The name means in Hebrew “God is my light,” and it comes down to us from ancient rabbinical tradition that developed after the Jews returned from their long exile in Babylon.
Uriel appears in several ancient apocryphal books (books of the late Jewish and early Christian tradition that were not included in the canon of divinely inspired Scripture). The Book of Enoch — a pre-Christian Jewish text quoted in the biblical book of Jude (1:14–15) which a few of the early Church Fathers considered canonical — features this angel, as does the apocryphal Second Book of Esdras. Uriel is also noted by St. Gregory the Great (c. 540–604) and in The Celestial Hierarchy, an influential work about the angels by the author now known as Pseudo-Dionysius (late 5th–early 6th century).
In early Christian apocryphal books, various roles are attributed to Uriel: He rescues St. John the Baptist from Herod’s massacre of the innocents, carrying John and his mother Elizabeth to Egypt to join the Holy Family in exile there. He’s the angel who stands at the gate of Eden with a fiery sword; he “watched over thunder and terror”; he is the “angel of repentance”; he is one of the angels who buried Adam and Abel in Eden.
In medieval Jewish mystical traditions, Uriel is the angel of Sunday. He destroyed the Assyrian armies of Sennacherib, who threatened the Jewish nation. He was the angel who checked the doors of the homes in Egypt to look for the blood of the first Passover lambs. He led Abraham west to Canaan.
At the Council of Rome in 745, Pope St. Zachary sought to clarify the Church’s teaching about the angels and restrain certain excesses in their veneration that tended toward idolatry. The synod restricted the archangels to be venerated to those named in Scripture: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. In the Eastern Christians traditions, however (Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic), Uriel is commemorated along with other archangels and angels with a feast day called the “Sunaxis of the Archangel Michael and Other Bodiless Powers” on November 8. In the Christian East he is also recognized as the patron of the arts and sciences.