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*, §, †, ||, ‡.

Asterisk, signum sectionis, dagger, two pipes, double dagger. If you're a typophile or an Anglican—or if you're that not unusual combination of people who have heard of archbishops and the movie Helvetica—you'll be familiar with these forms of punctuation.

The Manual Acts

With the lovely pilcrow, ¶, they're perennial, unavoidable markers of when and what in liturgical typesetting. No matter the language of the liturgy, they are fairly consistent through the centuries since 1549 and 1662. The pilcrow indicates directions in general, but *, §, †, ||, and ‡ are something else altogether. *, §, †, ||, and ‡ tell the celebrant of the liturgy when and how to be like Christ by taking, touching, holding, and breaking the eucharistic elements. Long before Dom Gregory Dix set out his famous Shape of the Liturgy, the shape of the liturgy was codified not just in words, but in concrete actions through these fine little symbols.

Our liturgical books tell us that through nearly 500 years this pattern of actions—called the manual acts—has been firm.* No matter our country, the state of peace or war, the diocese or parish in which we happen to find ourselves, our personal fitness or distraction, the *, §, †, ||, and ‡ have been our church's printed guarantee that the same things happen in the same ways. There is something comforting in this, and it moves us not a little every time we see the reminder of it. It shows us that whatever may divide us, typography puts us all on the same page as often in the daily, weekly, and festal cycles we participate in a celebration of the Holy Communion.

Though *, §, †, ||, ‡, and ¶ look like LOL-speak or Twitter-talk, they're ancient, they're an enduring part of our tradition, and they work. They make the remotest past present, changing then to now and there to here. As people who think often about then and there, but who live now and here, *, §, †, ||, ‡, and ¶ mean quite a lot to us. They're the ecclesiastical equivalent of an address at which we formed a strong memory, a menu item that recalls an absent friend with whom we shared a meal, a smell that brings back a strength of affection, or a sight that moves our hearts to fresh plans for active love.

In light of the effectiveness and staying power of *, §, †, ||, and ‡, we wonder what our church and lives might look like if our tradition gave us typographical directions from the remote past for other moments of grace.

# Here shall the congregation smile.

@ And now shall they smile again.

◊ And here shall they banish ill thoughts of their neighbours.

ß Here shall they stop worrying about X and get on with something else.**

Can you imagine? We can, and we bet you can, too.

See you next week. *, §, †, ||, ‡. #, @, ◊, ß.

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Last updated: 7 February 2010

* We have hunted not a little for a full treatment of *, §, †, ||, and ‡, but we find just one. See Vernon Staley's Manual Acts Prescribed in the Rubrics of the Prayer of Consecration of the Eucharist According to the Anglican Rite (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Young Churchman, 1913).

** Close runners-up in our informal poll of other manual acts we'd like to see included: $ Here shall they embrace. ¢ Here shall they refrain from embracing. ± Here shall they wink.

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