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Jasper, Ronald Claud Dudley (1917–1990), liturgical scholar and historian, was born on 17 August 1917 at 4 York Terrace, Ford, Devonport, Devon, the only child of Claud Albert Jasper (1882–1974), a shipwright, and his wife, Florence Lily, née Curtis (1885–1957). Educated first at Ford primary school and Plymouth College, he then read history at Leeds University and obtained a second-class degree in 1938. Responding to a call to ordination, he went to the College of the Resurrection at Mirfield, Yorkshire, to prepare for the priesthood, while completing an MA on constitutional history, which he gained with distinction. However, the academic world was not beckoning and on ordination he became curate of Ryhope in the diocese of Durham (1940–42).

From the beginning of Jasper's time there, the bishop, A. T. P. Williams, himself a distinguished historian, kept a benevolent eye on this young man with historical interests. At the first opportunity he sent him to Durham as a curate of St Oswald's (1942–3). On 10 August 1943 he married Ethel (Betty) Wiggins (b. 1919), a domestic science teacher, and daughter of David Wiggins, a solicitor's managing clerk; they had a daughter, and a son who became principal of St Chad's College, Durham, and later professor and dean of divinity at the University of Glasgow. After a period as priest in charge of Langley Park and Esh (1943–5) and then curate in charge of St Giles, Durham (1945–6), two years as chaplain of University and Hatfield colleges in Durham (1946–8) gave him the opportunity for further serious study, and the result was a Leeds BD (1950) and Prayer Book Revision in England, 1800–1900 (1954), the first of his many books. During this time he was also encouraged by Colin Dunlop, bishop of Jarrow, who used him as a lecturer at his clergy schools. In 1954 Bishop Dunlop, who had become dean of Lincoln, was asked by the archbishops of Canterbury and York to chair a commission ‘to consider all matters of liturgical concern referred to it by the archbishops’, and was given a free hand in choosing his team. Having identified a young priest of talent he included Jasper, who was vicar of Stillington, co. Durham (1948–55), and who became succentor of Exeter Cathedral (1955–60).

The archbishop of York, Donald Coggan, who succeeded Dunlop on the liturgical commission in 1960, decided he must give up its chairmanship and persuaded Jasper to take it on. By this time Jasper had left Exeter, had obtained his DD (1961) from Leeds, and was lecturing in liturgy at King's College, London (lecturer 1960–67, reader 1967–8), and acquiring a reputation as an ecclesiastical biographer, with a life of Arthur Cayley Headlam, bishop of Gloucester (1960), and a biography of George Bell, bishop of Chichester (1967), in progress. ‘I was doing the very things in life I had always wanted to do and to take on the Commission would involve a serious disruption’, he said at the time. But he realized that his study of the papers of Walter Frere, bishop of Truro (Walter Howard Frere: his Correspondence on Liturgical Revision and Construction, 1954), who had been much involved in the abortive 1927–8 prayer book revision, as well as his earlier researches, had given him a unique insight into the pitfalls awaiting those brave enough to attempt this kind of work in the Church of England. He also glimpsed the possibilities of ecumenical liturgical co-operation. He therefore assumed the chairmanship of the commission in 1964, a position he held until 1981.

Jasper was responsible for convincing Archbishop Michael Ramsey to invite the mainstream British churches to form the joint liturgical group, set up in 1963. Jasper served as its secretary and diligent facilitator until his retirement in 1984. During that time he edited a series of books which greatly influenced the revision of most denominational service books in Britain. His ecumenical vision was further widened when, in 1966, he was appointed an official observer to the Concilium Liturgicum, set up to work out the implications of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963). From this work emerged the need for a forum at which the dilemmas of those engaged in liturgical revision in English-speaking countries could be shared. Roman Catholics were particularly anxious to be involved, being engaged in the problem of producing liturgical texts in the vernacular. The result was the International Consultation on English Texts (1967–74). In 1969 Jasper was elected president of the Societas Liturgica, the international ecumenical society for liturgical study and research formed in 1967. At the same time he was engaged in all the major works of liturgical revision in the Church of England, of which the Alternative Service Book (1980) was to be the fruition. In this work he was much supported by the scholarship of Geoffrey John Cuming (1917–1988) and Edward Charles Whitaker (1916–1988). Whitaker was an example of the now almost extinct breed of parson–scholar, hardly venturing beyond his native Cumbria, yet having an international reputation for his work on Christian initiation. Cuming also spent many years as a parish priest, but succeeded Jasper at King's, London in 1968. At his death Cuming was described as ‘standing in the first rank of liturgists worldwide’.

Jasper was a canon of Westminster (1968–75), archdeacon of Westminster (1974–5), and dean of York (1975–84). At York he saw through a liturgical reordering of the nave and significant work in the lady chapel and the Zouche Chapel. He pressed for a traffic-free Deansgate and implemented the rescue, conservation, and restoration of the fifteenth-century St William's College. His time at York came to a dramatic conclusion. A lightning bolt struck the minster and the subsequent fire, which destroyed the roof and vault of the south transept, occurred on 9 July 1984, four days before his retirement.

Under Jasper's leadership major changes in the worship of the Church of England were inaugurated. Not all have been popular, but he courageously orchestrated change from a historian's knowledge of its inevitability and from a liturgist's appreciation of modern scholarship, never forgetting his ministry in the pit villages of co. Durham and never allowing the church's worship to become recherché or arcane. He retired to Ripon in Yorkshire and produced The Development of the Anglican Liturgy, 1662–1980 (1989), an overview of liturgical development in England. He received the honorary degree of DLitt at Susquehanna University, Pennsylvania, in 1976 and was appointed CBE in 1981.

Jasper was of average height, had a slim build, and was always neatly and smartly dressed. He was one of those rare clergymen who took care in his choice of clothes when not in clerical dress. In his later years he lived at 3 Westmount Close, Ripon. He died on 11 April 1990 in Harrogate District Hospital. His funeral was held in York Minster on 18 April and his ashes laid to rest in the Zouche Chapel on 1 June 1990.

Donald Gray


D. Gray, Ronald Jasper: his life, his work and the ASB (1997) · D. Gray, ‘E. C. Whitaker’, ‘G. J. Cuming’, ‘R. C. D. Jasper’, They shaped our worship, ed. C. Irvine (1998), 145–60 · D. Gray, ‘Dr Ronald Jasper and the liturgical commission’, Annual Report [Friends of York Minster], 62 (1991) · The Times (12 April 1990) · The Times (4 June 1990) · The Independent (14 April 1990) · K. Stevenson, ‘Geoffrey John Cuming, 1917–1988’, The liturgy of St Mark, ed. G. J. Cuming (1990) · personal knowledge (2004) · private information (2004) · WWW, 1991–5 · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1990) · b. cert. · d. cert.


LPL, liturgical corresp. and papers |  Church of England Record Centre, London, Church of England Liturgical Commission MSS


photograph, St William's College, York

Wealth at death  

under £115,000: probate, 23 July 1990, CGPLA Eng. & Wales