by Margaret Duggan
A burial service for animals is one of 14 liturgies in a new book by
the Revd Professor Andrew Linzey, who holds the world's first post in
theology and animal welfare. Animal Rites, published by SCM Press
on 1 February, is likely to be the most controversial of his 20-odd
books on animals, theology, and ethics.
He argues that God loves and redeems the whole of his creation; but,
though many of the early Fathers, as well as St. Francis, included
concern for other creatures in their prayers, the Church has given the
impression that God is interested only in human beings. When it comes to
animals, "the liturgical cupboard is virtually bare."
He has written all the services himself. They include a celebration
of creation, eucharistic prayers which include all creatures, a rite for
the healing of animals, which can include the laying-on of hands and the
use of holy oil, a vigil for animals suffering exploitation by human
beings, litanies for the protection of such animals, memorial prayers
for animals, and a collection of additional prayers and readings. There
is also the widely used liturgy for animal welfare which he first wrote
for the RSPCA in 1975.
Dr Linzey says that the late Revd Michael Vasey of the Liturgical
Commission had promised to read through the services with an eye to
their liturgical content, but was prevented by his untimely death. The
work is therefore entirely Dr. Linzey's own. He is ready to welcome
constructive criticism from liturgists and poets, and from those who
have prayed through the services.
He argues that the God who creates is also the God who redeems the
whole of creation, including all sentient beings; and anyone who has
shared his or her life with a companion animal can experience
bereavement and a sense of loss that is as great as the loss of another
There are clergy prepared to be sympathetic about bereavement of this
kind, but who would not take it as far as Dr. Linzey. Canon Keith
Withington says that in his 40 years as Vicar of St. Francis's,
Bournville, he has never actually been asked to conduct such a service.
However, if someone was burying a much loved pet in the garden, he would
be prepared to "stand by them and say some sort of prayer about this
life being returned to its Creator". But he could not commit himself to
the belief that animals have souls.
A brother of the Society of St Francis at its house in Hilfield, who
preferred not to be named, would not be drawn. "We like animals," he
said. "We have several ourselves. But our main interest is in people.
Animals were peripheral to St Francis, which many people don't realise.
He was more concerned about people."
Teacher of ethics at two theological colleges I approached refused to
comment or be quoted, because they had "nothing to say" on the subject.
Church Times, 29 January 1999.