However you choose to observe Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael and All Angels Sept. 29, the Norbertine priests of St. Michael’s Abbey will possibly be enjoying it more.
Their new Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Silverado, California, completed in June 2021 along with a new abbey built 10 miles away from an area prone to landslides, has a special stained-glass window at the back of the nave.
If the weather cooperates, as it did last year, the window will — as it was designed to do by architect Jean-Louis Pagès — flood the altar with evening sunlight at the beginning of the vespers service at 5:30 p.m. That’s how precisely the church’s location was calculated relative to the autumnal equinox, which always occurs about a week prior to the feast day.
Father Ambrose Criste, director of formation at the abbey, calls it “one of those beautiful ancient things,” and said there were gasps last year as the Magnificat was sung and the sun came through the window right on schedule.
The abbey community has 58 priests and 42 seminarians, most of them teachers in grade and high schools in the area. The abbey’s own school closed in 2020.
The community evolved from a small group of Hungarian priests who fled communist oppression in 1950, at first settling in De Pere, Wisconsin. Los Angeles Cardinal James F. McIntyre invited them to teach at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, in 1957, and they’ve been in Orange County ever since.
Norbertine abbeys, priories and convents are in 23 countries.
Michaelmas is typically celebrated with lavish meals — in Britain, the tradition is to eat a fattened goose — and sometimes school plays to mark St. Michael’s slaying of a dragon in the great cosmic battle recounted in the 12th chapter of the Book of Revelation.
St. Michael’s Abbey holds its feast in the courtyard outside the church, with the added attraction of home-brewed beer, which Father Ambrose notes is “an old, old Catholic tradition.”
The gathering “is an opportunity to get to know members of the religious community in a way people ordinarily don’t,” he told Catholic News Service.
St. Michael is the patron saint of police, warriors and soldiers, with a statue in the center of Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, where he is considered the city’s protector. He’s one of three archangels along with Gabriel and Raphael, but he’s the only one of the three with two feast days in the traditional liturgy; the other one is May 8.
The prayer to St. Michael written by Pope Leo XIII asks him to “be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.”
“And fighting enemies in the great spiritual battle for our souls. So we’re calling on him more these days,” Father Ambrose observed.
A new documentary, “Saint Michael: Meet the Angel,” also was scheduled to be shown in theaters around the country by Fathom Events Sept. 29.