This is the third post in a series where I have been following my model of liturgy (communal worship) as being like a language – the language of liturgy being primarily the symbols, signs, gestures, etc. accompanied by words. In this context, I proposed thinking of the rules of liturgy (the rubrics) more as being descriptive than prescriptive. What if we think of rubrics, the rules of liturgy, as describing what a native liturgy speaker would naturally do?

Here are the posts so far for those who haven’t read them:
Rubrics and Grammar 1
Rubrics and Grammar 2

I have been 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. Williams’ second type of rules, “Social Rules”, I suggested would be what is appropriate in the context.

Now we come to his third type of rules – “invented rules”. I think most of us who worship intelligently can recognise what would fit into these in the case of liturgy: increasing numbers of swings of the thurible towards clergy as compared to laity; never taking the consecrated bread and wine from the front of the altar; always having an ordained person administer the consecrated bread;…

I think the passage speaks for itself, and you can translate it easily into the worship context:


Finally, some grammarians have invented a handful of rules that they think we all should observe. These are the rules that the grammar police enforce and that too many educated writers obsess over. Most date from the last half of the eighteenth century:

Don’t split infinitives, as in to quietly leave.
Don’t end a sentence with a PREPOSITION.

A few date from the twentieth century:

Don’t use hopefully for I hope, as in “Hopefully, it won’t rain.
Don’t use which for that, as in “a car which I sold.”

For almost 300 years, grammarians have accused the best writers of violating rules like these, and the best writers have consistently ignored them. Which is lucky for the grammarians, because if writers did obey all the rules, grammarians would have to keep inventing new ones, or find another line of work. The fact is, none of these invented rules reflects the unself-conscious usage of our best writers. In this lesson, we focus on this third kind of rule, the handful of invented ones, because only they vex those who already write Standard English.


It is no simple matter, however, to deal with these rules if you want to be thought of as someone who writes “correctly”. You could choose the worst-case policy: follow all the rules all the time because sometime, someone will criticize you for something – for beginning a sentence with and or ending it with up. But if you try to obey all the rules all the time, you risk becoming so obsessed with rules that you tie yourself in knot. And sooner or later, you will impose those rules — real or not — on others.

The alternative to blind obedience is selective observance. But then you have to decide which rules to observe and which to ignore. And if you ignore an alleged rule, you may have to deal with someone whose passion for “good” grammar makes her see in your split infinitive a sign of intellectual flabbiness, moral corruption, and social decay.

If you want to avoid being accused of “lacking standards” but refuse to submit to whatever “rule” someone can dredge up from ninth-grade English, you have to know more about these invented rules than the rule-mongers do.

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