The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


For pets that we see no longer

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 human.

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.

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