The first was of Saint Gabriel;
On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell;
And as he went upon one knee
He shone with Heavenly Courtesy.
Today would be the feast of the archangel Gabriel, were it not Holy Week. As a matter of fact we perhaps still commemorate him today, though unnamed. For many people think it was he that was sent from heaven to comfort our Lord during the Agony. His name, according to the usual interpretation, means ‘strength of God’. So it would be fitting that he should be sent down to ‘strengthen’ Christ; confortans eum, as the Vulgate puts it. According to the oldest traditions, it was the anniversary, or the eve of the anniversary, of the day on which he had been sent to announce the Incarnation to the blessed Virgin.
St Gabriel has been called ‘the legate of the economy of Christ’. It was he also who was sent to Daniel as he lamented in exile over the state of the holy city, and fasted in sackcloth. “Flying swiftly, he touched me at the time of the evening sacrifice” (Dan. 9:21). He told the prophet that the Christ would appear when 69 weeks of years were past, and would be slain by His people in the midst of the 70th week. And now those words which must have been read and heard so often were coming true at last, and the true Daniel was kneeling in prayer at the time of a greater evening sacrifice. In what manner did the angel strengthen Him? Some say it was by speaking to Him of the great glory that He would render to the Father by His death, and of the innumerable souls that would enter heaven thereby. Or perhaps also it was by an imaginative vision; if Satan were permitted to show Him the kingdoms of the worlds and the glory of them, much more might Gabriel be charged to set before Him the glory of the only true Kingdom, where Christ, as man, had never yet gone.
“And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.” St Bernard says that our Lord wished, as it were, to weep not just with His eyes, but with all His members, so that His whole Body which is the Church might be more efficaciously purged. And others say that the angel represents all contemplative souls, the thought of whom also comforts Christ in His agony. Arise, then, let us go hence, and on into the Garden, where the greatest deeds are done.