|Saint Trophim at Arles|
St. Ephrem sees the angels, "taking up the soul (after it has left the body) and carrying it through the upper air." This belief is responsible for the numerous representations of angels on the funeral monuments. These continue up to the Middle Ages. The front gate of Saint-Trophime at Arles pictures a soul being carried by an angel into the bosom of Abraham. In the dialogues of St. Gregory the Great, so filled with allusions to the invisible world, the angels often come to serve the saints at the hour of their death. The witnesses who were assisting at the death of the pious Stephan saw the angel
"without being able to express what they had seen because they were so struck with fear."
The death of the saints appears as a mystery full of sacred terror. The hymns of the angels fill the soul with so divine a joy that does not notice the sufferings of death. And during its voyage toward heaven, the angels scatter the demons who try to bar the soul's advance. Secondly, the angels of heaven, the guardians of Paradise, are asked to permit the soul to enter there. Here once again we find that there are two groups, the angels of earth and the angels of heaven. Just as the liturgy invokes the angels who lead the soul into Paradise, it also contains allusions to those who welcome the soul there. The Apostalic Constitutions contain a prayer for the dead which is drawn up in this manner:
"Cast thine eyes upon this servant. Forgive him if he has sinned and make the angels well-disposed toward him."
St. Ephrem pictures the confusion of a man confronted by heavenly powers, "when the armies of the lord show themselves and when the divine commanders bid him leave the bodies behind. he shakes, he trembles at the unaccustomed sight of these figures, these choirs which he has never seen before. All of us, trembling, say to each other: 'Pray that your soul leave your body in peace. Pray that it find the angels well-disposed.'" This is an echo of the the liturgical prayer of the Constitutions. Gregory of Nyssa insists on this point to demonstrate the necessity of Baptism:
"I do not know whether, once it has left the body, the angels will receive the soul which has not been illuminated and adorned with grace of regeneration. For how could they, if it does not bear the seal and has no sign of its quality? Probably it is borne upon the air, wandering and vagabond."
This twofold aspect of the relation between death and the angels is expressed in the prayer which an early apocryphal writer puts into the mouth of Saint Joseph at his death: "But now O my Lord, let your holy angel keep close to my soul and my body until they separate from each other without pain. Do not permit that the angel who was attached to me since the day you formed me up to now should turn toward me, his countenance smouldering with anger, when we are on our way along the round that leads to you. Do not allow my soul to be stopped by the keepers of the gate and do not put me to shame before your fearful tribunal. Do not loose against me the floods of the river of fire in which all souls are purified before they see the glory of your divinity, O God, You who judge each one in truth and justice."
This excerpt is from the book entitled, The Angels and Their Mission, According to the Father of the Church, by Cardinal Jean Danielou, S.J.