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  Death Liturgy and Ritual Death Liturgy and Ritual
Vol 1: A Pastoral and Liturgical Theology
Vol 2: A Commentary on Liturgical Texts

Paul P J Sheppy
Vol 1: ISBN 0754605809 (9780754605805)
Vol 2: ISBN 0754639002 (9780754639008)
Ashgate, 2003
£15.99 each

Paul Sheppy was a member of the Joint Liturgical Group for 15 years, and its secretary for 8, and since 1997 he has been a member of the Churches' Funerals Group. He is, therefore, well qualified to write on the subject of death, liturgy, and ritual. The reader will be interested to know that he is also a Baptist minister, as the heirs of the reformation have usually been suspicious of liturgy and ritual, taking the view that funerals are occasions for warning the living rather than commending the departed. Sheppy cheerfully acknowledges that, for him, the functions of funerals are much richer than this.

Death Liturgy & Ritual comes in two volumes. In the first the author sets the context with which the contemporary pastor or priest will be only too familiar – i.e. that the majority of funerals which clergy are called upon to conduct are for people who were, at most, nominal Christians. There is a gap between expectation and performance, and this, allied to the lack of any positive view of death in our modern culture, leads to unease about funeral liturgy on the part of both minister and people. Sheppy seeks a way into this unease by first taking an in-depth look at current thinking about death in the medical and legal world, and also considering death as a sociological phenomenon. In the light of this he argues for a general acceptance of van Gennep's theory of rites as passage as marking separation, transition, and incorporation, and elegantly links this with the paschal mystery. The funeral liturgy must tell the story of the deceased; but it must tell the story in the context of the story of Christ, his death, descent to the dead, and resurrection.

In the second volume, Sheppy offers a commentary on selected current Christian funeral rites, and critiques them in the light of his thesis developed in the first volume. It is certainly comprehensive, both in range and in detail, and contains chapters on the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and selected Anglican rites, as well as liturgies from the reformed tradition, and some newer "ecumenical" churches. It is, by and large, generous and appreciative of the efforts of churches to provide rites which are both pastorally effective and centred upon the Easter mystery, and will prove a valuable resource. It is noteworthy that Sheppy clearly feels the provision of his own denomination to be somewhat minimalist and among the less useful. It is also surprising to find that the offerings of the Joint Liturgical Group are noteworthy for their absence!


David Coleman, April 2004

The Revd David Coleman is Priest-in-Charge of the Parish of Upper Ryedale and CME Officer for the Cleveland Archdeaconry in the Diocese of York.

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