Rubrics are the instructions given within a printed service. I have been proposing a model of liturgy (communal worship) as being like a language – the language of liturgy being primarily the symbols, signs, gestures, etc. accompanied by words.

Rubrics, traditionally, were coloured red, although now they are commonly simply printed in black italics. There is a catchcry, “Do the red. Say the black.” There is much value in that, but I want to take a slightly different tack following my grammar model.

Following my model, I want to think of rubrics as being ‘descriptive’ more than ‘prescriptive’. What if we think of rubrics as describing what a native liturgy speaker would naturally do?

I’m drawing on Joseph Williams Style (Lessons in Clarity and Grace). He divides grammar rules into three kinds and accuses generations of grammarians, in their zeal to codify “good” English, of confusing three kinds of “rules”:

1. Real Rules
Real rules define what makes English English: ARTICLES must precede NOUNS: the book, not book the. Speakers born into English don’t think about these rules at all when they write, and they violate them only when tired or distracted.

So, I suggest that similarly, there are the first type of liturgical rules and rubrics that simply make these actions, signs, gestures, and words Christian liturgy. A leader who has been well formed in the Christian tradition does these (‘Real Rules’) things intuitively.

Joseph Williams has two other types of rules. The mistake is to regard all three as being identical in authority and importance. Grammarians make this mistake. Christians do so in liturgy and in discussing liturgy. We will get to these in due course.

Just as a good grammar book can help us to communicate with clarity and grace, so thinking through liturgy (and its rules and rubrics) helps us lead and celebrate worship with clarity and grace.

To be continued…

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