Rubrics. A rubric is a word or section of text which is written or printed in red ink to highlight it. The term derives from the rubrica, meaning red ochre or red chalk, and originates in Medieval illuminated manuscripts from the 13th century or earlier. Rubrics are authoritative rules of conduct or procedure or glosses in the text (explanations or definitions of an obscure word in a text) or directions for the conduct of Christian church services (often printed in red in a prayer book).
I venture to say that you have not read the book if you have not read the rubrics. If you do not know the rubrics, you do not know the liturgy. They go hand in hand -- the words which we say and the directions that tell us how and what to do. They are not incidental because our practice is formed by our faith and our practice reflects what it is we truly believe. So, for example, if our practice is sloppy or slovenly, then we are in essence telling people that what we are doing is not important. Lord knows that there are already too many messages about the stuff of worship telling our people that this stuff is not important. Pastors do not need to encouraging them or adding to these hints that how we do things is of little consequence.
The sad truth is that we did not pay much attention to the rubrics back when the hymnal was dated 1941 and the directions were in black italic and we do not pay much more attention to them today, even with the nice, deep red color to draw our attention to them. It is to our poverty that we ignore the red. Those who ignore the red seem prone to rewording the black.
We have a perfectly good way to introduce the lessons but so often the person reading (lay or ordained) seems determined to make up something new. One of the worst habits formed from ignoring the red is the idea that we should greet the people with a hearty good morning before we plow into the Word of God. It makes me wonder what goes through our heads sometimes. Reading the lessons means reading the Word of God so that the attention is on the Word and not the reader -- so why draw attention to who you are by hollaring out a "Goober says hey" before the reading? Better to borrow from the Orthodox if we must ad lib: "Wisdom! Attend!" But the easiest thing of all would simply be to pay attention to the rubrics.
It is not that the rubric police will show up and cart you off if you ignore the red while making up your own black. It is not that heaven will fall to the ground and the work of God's kingdom will crash to a halt because you skipped a liturgical direction printed in red. It is not that the means of grace will be rendered impotent because you forgot a bow or turned the wrong way. Nobody is saying this. I am not saying this. But if what we are doing as representatives (ikons) of the Lord is important, if we believe that God actually works through His Word and Sacraments, then a little care about how we do what we do and what we do is not only good, it is salutary and beneficial. And, believe you me, people notice.
People learn through seeing how we do what we do as well as what we do. I once watched a waitress pick up a knife off the floor, wipe it on her apron, and place it back on the table. Now I am a firm practitioner of the five second rule when it comes to things dropped. But it is a little unseemly when you catch somebody practicing the home rule in public. So Pastors remember that you are not at home, you are in public. People are watching. Read those lines printed in red. See what they say and try to follow them. Read them often enough so that you know them as well as you know to say "In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit." The better you know them, the easier they are to follow. These things printed in red are really pretty good stuff. They actually make sense the more you do them. So give it a shot, won't you?!