Puctuation in Public Worship: The Semiotic Language within Our Liturgies


Commas can splice our sentences, and shift their connotations. Our mixed modes for hyphens compound our words as well as confuse them—even dash them to pieces. In written language, how can we know we are asking a question unless we use the proper punctuation? Punctuation is vital to how we communicate. Whether in speech or prose, we punctuate our thoughts. In this sense, we may classify punctuation among what John Wesley calls “God’s many providences” in the sermon “The One Thing Needful” (1733): “designed either to wean us from what is not, or to unite us to what is worthy of our affection. Are they pleasing? Then they are designed to lift up our hearts to the Parent of all good. Are they painful?” Wesley again answers rhetorically, “Then they are means of rooting out those passions that forcibly withhold us from [God]” (§II.4). Indeed, punctuation espouses varied ‘pleasing’ and/or ‘pleasant’ responses. Rather than merely forcing the point that our punctuation carries meaning—either in addition to or against that which we otherwise intend—I want to suggest that the poetry, prose, and other linguistic media/mediums within our liturgies innately possess meaning(s) which we have the opportunity to punctuate (i.e., ‘consecrate’ or ‘sanctify’) as faith communities or else surrender to the individualisms of our so-called (post)modern preferential interpretations: our proverbial run-on sentence protracting philosophical discussions amid this (in)definite period of change we acutely sense but struggle to describe. We are not God’s grammar police. For our part, however, faith communities and their leaders can and must more dutifully approach the task of shaping the nature, meaning, and purpose of our liturgies as truly corporate worship, not as mere collections of thoughts, words, and actions expressed by individuals more or less simultaneously.

Author's Profile

Reuben L. Lillie
Olivet Nazarene University


Added to PP

88 (#66,350)

6 months
30 (#51,902)

Historical graph of downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks on external links on PhilPapers.
How can I increase my downloads?