Liturgy 33.1: Death and the Liturgy

This issue was guest-edited by Lizette Larson-Miller. Lizette Larson-Miller is the Huron Lawson Professor of liturgical studies at Huron University College, University of Western Ontario, London, Canada.

Here is an excerpt from Larson-Miller's introduction: 

In this issue of Liturgy, an ecumenical group of theologians has approached the realities of Christians dying and the church’s liturgies with the dead from the perspectives of history, theology, and pastoral practice––none of which is independent of the other. Theology is rooted in the future, the present, and past. It is inseparable from history and pastoral liturgy, informed by new knowledge and experience.

Michael Witzcak’s article reflects on changes in Roman Catholic funerals prior to and following Vatican II, examining how the centrality of the paschal mystery motivates liturgical change. James Donohue looks at a pivotal eighth-century text in Western Christian rites for the dying that exemplifies a turning point in understanding the intent of prayers for the dying. Both Witzcak and Donahue also give us a remarkable gift in the accessible translation of texts otherwise out of the reach of many readers. Lucy Bregman challenges the historical (and often popular) articulation of the focus in rites with the dying and the dead, asking whether it is the soul, the body, or both, by revisiting Christian anthropology. Cyril Kennedy introduces Western Christians to the ongoing conversation about the setting of the Byzantine funeral within the Divine Liturgy (the Eucharist), expanding our knowledge of the richness of non-Eucharistic funeral liturgies. My own contribution concerns the challenge to the church raised by the civil legality of assisted suicide by drawing on baptismal theology, linking the beginning and ending of Christian life in Christ. Raggs Ragan, also drawing on contemporary issues in dying, gives us insight into the richness of interfaith learnings from Buddhism and Judaism and how that engagement may encourage Christians to revisit their own ritual repertoire. Todd Townsend offers a liturgical spirituality on preaching about death based on Holy Saturday, with application to the very different situations of sudden deaths versus those who have lived long and rich lives. Finally, Melinda A. Quivik concludes with a pastoral reflection on the necessity of keeping “death before our eyes” through rituals, pastoral care, preaching, and other avenues, so that communities of faith may more fully hold the unity of life and death in our discipleship.

David Turnbloom