A practical theology of bereavement care: Re-ritualization within a paradigm of “comforting presence”

  • L Gibson Stellenbosch University
  • DJ Louw Stellenbosch University
Keywords: grief and mourning in pastoral caregiving, funeral directors, deritualization, resilience, re-ritualization, comforting presence, practical theology of bereavement, theology of compassion, theopaschitic thinking


The investigation focuses on a concern for the marginalization of bereaved human beings in the context of cultural shifts now shaping twenty-first century pastoral care. The article advocates for a practical theology of bereavement to aid in nurturing care and eudaimonic well-being (including both vocational pastors and funeral directors) within the paradigmatic framework of a theopaschitic understanding of compassion (oiktirmos). The investigation examines the growing threat of deritualization – a public openness to revise, replace, minimize the significance of, and even eliminate or avoid long-held funerary rituals to assist in the adaptation of loss. The notion of re-ritualization is operationalized as an intentional act of restoring and re-engaging in creative and meaningful ritual forms that give symbolic expression to significant thoughts and feelings of the bereaved within a social ethos that is no longer committed to a conventional or fixed approach to ritualization. In order to facilitate a process of re-ritualization, bereavement care is linked to the notion of “comforting presence”.
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