Liturgy and death : an examination of the pastoral and theological issues relating to funerals, with special reference to selected funerary rites
An abundance of anecdotal evidence suggests criticism of funeral services. In a society where religious pluralism, agnosticism and non-belief are increasing, funerals are probably the most common occasions upon which people without formal (or informal) religious belief meet the services of the Christian Church. There is a growing call for alternative funeral provision. This thesis offers a theological and ritual analysis of Christian funeral rites. It suggests that Christian funerals should be at least consistent with a theological anthropology, should relate the dead person to the death, descent and resurrection of Jesus, and should attend to the pastoral needs arising from the circumstance of each particular case. From such considerations it examines contemporary discussions about death, bereavement, and human existence. In response both to the current debate and to traditional Christian understandings, it proposes its own unitary theological anthropology using a language of zoetics. From such a view the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are presented as representative of all personhood. A review of social anthropology draws upon the work of van Gennep and describes how funerals act as rites of passage. The separating, transitional and incorporating phases of such rites are used in conjunction with the Paschal Mystery as a proposal for future Christian funerary liturgies. The establishment of a unitary anthropology, derived from the Hebrew concept of nephesh and rooted in a theology of Christ the Representative is combined with a universalist reading of the Paschal Mystery. Such a pastoral theology makes possible the celebration of Christian funeral rites for all who seek the Church's ministry. The historical development of Christian funeral rites is described and leads to a major review of the current liturgical provisions of a number of Christian churches in Britain. In the concluding part of the thesis general and specific proposals are offered, which seek to minister to the dual passage of death and bereavement. These are then tested against six fictional corpses whose funeral rites are described and analysed. A concluding section suggests future lines of enquiry arising from this research.