Gabriel (Hebrew: גבריאל, Gaḇrī ēl; Greek: Γαβριήλ, Gabriēl; Latin: Gabrielus; Arabic: جبريل, Jibrīl; "my master is God") is one of the seven archangels and one of the three archangels named in the Bible, who serves as a messenger of God and who announced the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary and who also announced to birth of John the Baptist to Zechariah. The name means "God is my hero" or "mighty man of God". Gabriel is depicted as "one who is like a man", but also flies.
Gabriel and Michael are the archangels who figure most prominently in the Bible, though it could be argued that Gabriel's role is the better developed. In the Old Testament, he is only mentioned by name in two visions of the Prophet Daniel. Here he explains to Daniel the future of Israel. In Daniel 8, he explains the vision of the horned ram as portending the destruction of the Persian Empire by the Macedonian Alexander the Great, after whose death the kingdom will be divided up among his generals, from one of whom will spring Antiochus Epiphanes. In chapter 9, after Daniel had prayed for Israel, we read that "the man Gabriel . . . . flying swiftly touched me" and he communicated to him the mysterious prophecy of the "seventy weeks" of years which should elapse before the coming of Christ. In chapter 10, it is not clear whether the angel is Gabriel or not, but at any rate we may apply to him the marvellous description in verses 5 and 6. In the New Testament he foretells to Zachary the birth of the Precursor, and to Mary that of the Saviour. Holy Tradition also credits Gabriel with inspiring the Prophet Moses to write either Genesis or the entire Pentateuch. Later Jewish Rabbinical literature states that he was the angel who taught Joseph the 70 languages needed to rule in Egypt, but this is not in the Genesis account.
The reason why Gabriel is most celebrated, though, is his role in the Annunciation and other events in New Testament times attributed to him by Tradition (although his name may not be mentioned explicitly in the text). Starting in Luke 1, Gabriel first appears to Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist. Zachariah initially refuses to believe that his barren wife, Elizabeth, and he will have a child in their old age. This is the moment in which Gabriel says, "I am Gabriel. I stand before God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this this good news" (Luke 1:19). He then strikes Zachariah mute until the birth of his son because of his disbelief.
Thus he is throughout the angel of the Incarnation and of Consolation, and so in Christian tradition Gabriel is ever the angel of mercy while Michael is rather the angel of judgment. At the same time, even in the Bible, Gabriel is, in accordance with his name, the angel of the Power of God, and it is worth while noting the frequency with which such words as "great", "might", "power", and "strength" occur in the passages referred to above. The Jews indeed seem to have dwelt particularly upon this feature in Gabriel's character, and he is regarded by them as the angel of judgment, while Michael is called the angel of mercy. Thus they attribute to Gabriel the destruction of Sodom and of the host of Sennacherib, though they also regard him as the angel who buried Moses, and as the man deputed to mark the figure Tau on the foreheads of the he elect (Ezekiel 4).
As remarked above, Gabriel is mentioned only twice in the New Testament, but it is not unreasonable to suppose with Christian tradition that it is he who appeared to St. Joseph and to the shepherds, and also that it was he who "strengthened" Our Lord in the garden. Gabriel is generally termed only an archangel, but the expression used by St. Raphael, "I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord" (Tobit 12:15) and St. Gabriel's own words, "I am Gabriel, who stand before God" (Luke 1:19), have led some to think that these angels must belong to the highest rank; but this is generally explained as referring to their rank as the highest of God's messengers, and not as placing them among the Seraphim and Cherubim (cf. St. Thomas, I.112.3; III.30.2 ad 4um).
However, Gabriel is usually portrayed with certain distinguishing characteristics. He typically wears blue or white garments; he holds either a lily (representing the Theotokos), a trumpet, a shining lantern, a branch from Paradise presented to him by the Theotokos, or a spear in his right hand and often a mirror—made of jasper and with a Χ (the first letter of Christ (Χριστος) in Greek)—in his left hand.
He should not be confused with the Archangel Michael, who carries a sword, shield, date-tree branch, and in the other hand a spear, white banner (possibly with scarlet cross) and tends to wear red. Michael's specific mission is to suppress enemies of the true Church (hence the military theme), while Gabriel's is to announce mankind's salvation.
Gabriel, commander of the heavenly hosts,
we who are unworthy beseech you,
by your prayers encompass us beneath the wings of your immaterial glory,
and faithfully preserve us who fall down and cry to you:
"Deliver us from all harm, for you are the commander of the powers on high!"
Supreme commander Gabriel, you are the glorious intercessor and servant before the all-radiant, worthy, all-powerful, infinite and awesome Trinity. Ever pray now that we may be delivered from all tribulations and torments, so that we may cry out to you: "Rejoice, protection of your servants!"
Alleged to Help in Communication and Conception
Glorious Messenger of the Court of Heaven
and most excellent Saint and Archangel,
first minister of God,
interpreter for Daniel the Prophet,
instructor of Zachary the Priest,
annunciator to our Holy Mother Mary,
bringer of the word of truth:
Please favor my devotions and
help me to love and serve you,
and, through you,
to love and serve the Lord.
O Gabriel Archangel,
grant me what I most earnestly desire
and humbly ask for with this prayer,
for the honor, glory, and fulfillment
of my soul.