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In the first post in this series, I proposed thinking of the rules of liturgy (the rubrics) more as being descriptive than prescriptive. I am following a model that sees liturgy (its actions, signs, gestures, and words) as being akin to language. Good language follows certain rules so that we are intelligible and communicate with clarity and grace. Native speakers of the English language, as just one example, follow the English rules of grammar intuitively. Those who have been well formed in Christian worship, similarly (in their use of actions, signs, gestures, and words) do what the rubrics describe.

I’m drawing on Joseph Williams Style (Lessons in Clarity and Grace). He divides grammar rules into three kinds. Breaking the first kind, “Real Rules”, would make our discourse essentially incomprehensible – it would basically cease to be English. The same, I suggest, is true for liturgy. Breaking the “Real Rules” of liturgy would make these actions, signs, gestures, and words cease to be Christian worship. We come now to Williams’ second type of rules:

2. Social Rules
Social rules distinguish Standard English from nonstandard: He doesn’t have any money versus He don’t have no money. Schooled writers observe these rules as naturally as they observe the Real Rules and think about them only when they notice other violating them. The only writers who self-consciously try to follow them are those not born into Standard English who are striving to associate themselves with the English-speaking educated classes.

To make these distinction in rubrics of liturgy, Real Rules would be akin to what is required to make our actions be Christian worship. Social Rules would be what is appropriate in the context.

I think using water to baptise, for example, is a Real Rule. But what to wear presiding at the Eucharist, I would suggest is akin to a Social Rule.

The presiding priest at the Eucharist should wear a cassock and suprlice with stole or scarf, or an alb with the customary vestments. (NZPB/HKMA p 515)

What the presider wears at the Eucharist does not affect whether the worship is Christian liturgy or not. I suggest that wearing jeans and a T-Shirt in Canterbury cathedral for Christmas Midnight Mass would be inappropriate. Similarly, I suggest that, in a small house-group or hospital-bedside Eucharist, fully vesting in alb and chasuble could be inappropriate.

I think that the language used in the rubrics often attempts to distinguish different levels of bindingness: does, should do, appropriately does, may do. I note that there was a ‘middle period’ after NZPB’s publication when ‘should’ was unfashionable. Before the Liturgical Commission would endorse my book, Celebrating Eucharist, I had to remove the ‘should’s. ‘Should’, I note, is back in for some more recent liturgical documents. But, in the Anglican Church of Or, ‘should’ has now pretty much lost any clout.

To be continued…

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