ONE STORY that periodically resurfaces in traditionalist circles alleges that the St. Michael Prayer, recited after the traditional Mass in many places as a part of the Leonine Prayers, is a “falsified” version of a longer prayer written by Leo XIII. The longer prayer, the story goes, warned that Judaeo-Masonic infiltrators would achieve their long-time goal of usurping the papal chair; for this reason conspirators “censored” it twice after Leo’s death. (See Gary Giuffré, “Exile of the Pope-Elect, Part VII: Warnings from Heaven Suppressed,” Sangre de Cristo Newsnotes 69–70 , 4–7)
This is the sort of juicy tale that certain types on the traditional Catholic scene really love to promote. It incorporates some familiar elements: private revelations, infiltrators, altered documents, a deceived pontiff, and prophecies of an evil intruder sitting on the Chair of Peter. For those who understand how the enemies of the Church operate, parts of the account may sound plausible at first. It also (as book reviewers love to say) makes for “a rollicking good read.”
Unfortunately, it is the type of conspiracy story which exposes traditional Catholics to ridicule — because when you look closely at the facts adduced as “proof” for a conspiracy, you discover that the story’s originators managed to get just about everything wrong.
TWO PRAYERS: 1886 AND 1888
The promoters of the falsified text theory begin with an absolutely fatal error. The Latin text of the St. Michael Prayer we all know so well was published in 1886. (See Irish Ecclesiastical Review 7 , 1050.)
The text that they claim was the origin of our St. Michael Prayer, however, in fact appeared two years later when, on 25 September 1888, Pope Leo XIII approved a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel and granted an indulgence of 300 days for its recitation. (For the Italian text, see Enchiridion Indulgentiarum [Vatican: 1950)], 446.) This text was in fact a completely new prayer.
Like the 1886 text, the 1888 prayer also invokes St. Michael’s aid us in our warfare against the devil. But it is a very lengthy text, filled with line after line of vivid and striking imagery about the devil and his minions.
The prayer describes the devil as one who pours out on “men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.” Of these servants of Satan, the prayer adds:
“These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions.”
The prayer then expands upon this description with the following:
“In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of the abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered. (tr. A. St. John, Raccolta, 11th ed, [London: 1930] 407.)
These two passages, needless to say, are the ones which the censored text theorists claim “predict” the effects of Vatican II.
After its approval, the 1888 text was at some point included in The Raccolta (the Church’s official collection of indulgenced prayers).
THE 1890 EXORCISM AGAINST SATAN
In an audience two years later, moreover, Leo XIII approved a new and lengthy “Exorcism against Satan and Apostate Angels,” intended to be used by bishops and by priests who received special permission from their ordinaries. (See SCPF, ex aud. SSmi., 18 May 1890, AAS 23 [1890–91], 747.)
This rite employed the 1888 prayer to St. Michael, including the two pas-sages quoted above, as sort of a preface to a series of prayers of exorcism. (See SCPF “Exorcismus…, AAS 23 [1890–91], 743–4.) The rite was then incorporated into the Appendix of The Roman Ritual (the book containing the official texts for sacramental rites and various blessings) among the more recent (novissimae) blessings. (See Rituale Romanum, 6th ed. [Ratisbon: 1898], 163*ff.)
Later editions of The Raccolta omitted the conclusion of the 1888 prayer, beginning with the passage which spoke of the “throne of abominable impiety” raised where the See of Peter stood.
Later editions of The Roman Ritual went even further: they omitted not only that passage, but also the one referring those who have laid impious hands on the Church’s most sacred possessions. Other passages were deleted as well, leaving only about one-third of the 1888 text. (See the Appendix below.)
THE “CONSPIRACY” EXPLAINED
Now, having misidentified an 1888 prayer as the antecedent to an 1886 prayer, the proponents of the censored-text theory contend that unnamed infiltrators in the Vatican, fearing exposure of their plot to seize control of the See of Peter, stealthily deleted these passages from the Raccolta and the Ritual after Leo’s death.
All of it is nonsense.
(1) Pope Dead? Pope Alive! The passages were not removed after Leo XIII’s death. They were already suppressed in 1902 — a year and a half before the pontiff died.
(2) Mysterious Author? A Public Document! This suppression was not, as we are told, an “ambiguous forgery” perpetrated “mysteriously” by some “unnamed Vatican official.”
The Sacred Congregation of Rites, in consultation with the Congregation for Indulgences, revised the 1888 prayer and issued a new edition. This was printed in 1902, bearing the seal of the Congregation’s Prefect, Cardinal Ferrata, and the signature of the Congregation’s Secretary, Archbishop D. Panici, and his attestation that is “agrees with the original.” (See supplementary material bound into back of Pustet Rituale Romanum, 6th ed., .)
(3) The Future? The Past! The passages in question, please note, were not written in the future tense, as one would expect for a prophecy. They were written in the past tense, and thus referred to events which had already taken place in 1888.
(4) Crafty Enemies? Revolutionaries! To whom, then, do the passages refer? One has but to look to the situation the Pope faced in Italy in the late 1880s.
The “crafty enemies” of the Church who “laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions” were none other than the revolutionaries who (as we have seen above) invaded the Papal States and despoiled the Church’s properties.
(5) Throne of Impiety? The King of Italy! And the “throne of abominable impiety“ raised up in “the Holy Place itself, where there has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of truth for the light of the world”? This was the throne of the King of Italy, set up in the Quirinale Palace.
Prior to its seizure 1870 by the excommunicated King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel, the Quirinale was the principal papal palace in Rome. It was the customary location for papal conclaves. It was also one of the places where the pope had held court, sitting, of course, on a throne — the “Chair of truth for the light of the world.”
When the 1888 prayer was composed, the throne of a usurping and excommunicated monarch then stood in this palace which had been stolen from the the pope. So — throne of impiety!
(6) Changed Texts? Changed Politics! Why, finally, were the texts altered toward the end of the Leo’s reign? Again, we look to historical situation.
By 1902 Leo XIII had been carrying on secret negotiations for years with the new King, Umberto. The King at one point ap-peared willing to return a substantial part of the city of Rome to the Pope’s control — a proposal that could have infuriated Parliament enough to call for the King’s deposition. (See E. Jarry, “Les États Pontificaux,” Tu es Petrus [Paris: 1934)] 610) Had Umberto made such a risky concession, he would have expected (and received) official recognition of his status from the Pope. (This finally came with the Lateran Treaty in 1929)
Further references to the King in the Church’s Ritual as occupying “a throne of abominable impiety,” needless to say, would have been at odds with papal acknowledgement of the King’s legitimacy.
The prayer also linked the establishment of the King’s throne with the devil, who pours out on “men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.” Since the King gave signs of wanting to make amends, it probably seemed appropriate to alter the prayer.
* * *
TO SUM UP, then: The lengthy 1888 prayer to St. Michael was composed after the St. Michael prayer in the Leonine Prayers appeared. The passages in the 1888 text which are supposedly “prophetic” refer in fact to the Italian government’s past actions, including seizure of the Church’s property. The “throne of impiety” was the one the excommunicated King Victor Emmanuel had set up in the “holy place” — the Quirinale Palace, where the pope’s throne had previously been.
Once the King of Italy appeared willing to arrive at a settlement of the Roman Question — the dispute over the disposition of seized Church property — the Vatican dropped from the prayer passages which he and the Italian government would have found offensive.
So while in the history of the Church we may indeed find real instances of conspiracies and falsified texts, the case of the St. Michael Prayer isn’t one of them.
Beware the too-juicy tale!
“Prayer to St. Michael from Exorcism against Satan and the Apostate Angels (Approved 18 May 1890.)”
NOTE: In 1902 the Congregation of Rites issued a decree approving a new version of the prayer. The passages indicated in bold face below were removed.
O GLORIOUS ARCHANGEL St Michael, Prince of the heavenly host, defend us in battle, and in the struggle which is ours against the principalities and Powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against spirits of evil in high places. (Eph 6.) Come to the aid of men, whom God created immortal, made in his own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil, (Wis 2, 1 Cor 6.)
Fight this day the battle of the Lord, together with the holy angels, as already thou hast fought the leader of the proud angels, Lucifer, and his apostate host, who were powerless to resist thee, nor was there place for them any longer in Heaven, But that cruel, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan, who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with all his angels, (Apoc 12.)
Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of man has taken courage, Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the name of God and of his Christ, to seize upon, slay and cast into eternal perdition souls destined for the crown of eternal glory. This wicked dragon pours out, as a most impure flood, the venom of his malice on men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.
These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions.
In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered.
Arise then, O invincible prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and bring them the victory.
The Church venerates thee as protector and patron; in thee holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious powers of this world and of hell; to thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude.
Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly conciliate the mercies of the Lord; and beating down the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations.
ENCHIRIDION INDULGENTIARUM: PRECES ET PIA OPERA OMNIUM CHRISTIFIDELIUM. Vatican: Polyglot Press 1950.
GIUFFRÉ, GARY. “Exile of the Pope-Elect, Part VII: Warnings from Heaven Suppressed,” Sangre de Cristo Newsnotes 69–70 (1991). 3–11.
JARRY, E. “Les États Pontificaux.” In Tu es Petrus: Encyclopédie Populaire sur la Papauté, edited by G. Jacquemet. Paris: Bloud 1934. 551–617.
PARSONS, WILFRED SJ. The Pope and Italy. New York: America Press 1929.
RITUALE ROMANUM. 6th edition post typicam. Ratisbon: Pustet 1898.
SACRORUM RITUUM CONGREGATIO [S.R.C.]. Decree Iam Inde ab Anno, 6 January 1884, Acta Sanctae Sedis 16 (1884). 249–250.
_______________. Decree Mechlin., 31 August 1867, 3157, in Decreta Authentica.
_______________. Decreta Authentica Congregationis Sacrorum Rituum. Rome: Polyglot Press 1898.
S.C. DE PROPAGANDA FIDE. Ex audientia Sanctissimi 18 May 1890, Acta Sanctae Sedis 23 (1890–91). 747.
_______________. “Exorcismus in satanam et angelos apostaticos iussu Leonis XIII P.M. editus,” Acta Sanctae Sedis 23 (1890–91). 743–746.
SCHNÜRER, GUSTAV. “States of the Church.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by Charles G. Habermann et al. New York: Enylopedia Press 1912. 14:257–268.
ST. JOHN, AMBROSE [translator]. The Raccolta or Collection of Indulgenced Prayers and Good Works. 11th edition. London: Burns Oates 1930.
The foregoing was adapted from material in another longer article, “Russia and the Leonine Prayers,” that originally appeared in Sacerdotium 5, (Autumn 1992).