Absolution: Act by which a priest, acting as the agent of Christ, grants forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession).
Acolyte: One who assists in the celebration (ie, carrying candles, holding the Pope’s staff mitre, etc).
Adoration: Refers to the external acts of reverent admiration or honour given to a thing or person.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament: Prayer to Christ, who is recognised as being truly present in the Sacrament. During Adoration, the Blessed Sacrament is displayed for the people.
Altar: A table on which the sacrifice of the Mass is offered. It is the centre of importance in the place where the Mass is celebrated. Also called: The Table of the Lord.
Ambo: The place where the Scriptures are proclaimed.
Amen: Hebrew word meaning truly, it is true. As concluding word of prayers it expresses assent to and acceptance of God’s will.
Annul: Properly called the degree of nullity, this is the declaration by authorities that a marriage is null and void, because it was never valid.
Apostle – Apostolic: Literally “one sent.” Normally this refers to the 12 men chosen by Jesus to be the bearers of his teachings to the world. The term “apostolic” generally refers back to the 12 apostles. In the Church it characterises certain documents, appointments or structures initiated by the Pope or the Holy See.
Apostolate: The ministry or work of an apostle. In Catholic usage, a term covering all kinds and areas of work and endeavour for the service of God and the Church and the good of people.
Apostolic Nunciature: The offices of the Holy Father’s representative to a country or to the Church in that country.
Apse: Domed or vaulted semicircular or polygonal recess, situated at the east end of a church.
Archbishop: Title given automatically to bishops whose jurisdiction covers a province.
Archdiocese: The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province.
Aspergillum: A vessel or device used for sprinkling holy water. The ordinary type is a metallic rod with a bulbous tip which absorbs the water and discharges it at the motion of the user’s hand.
Auxiliary Bishop: A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese, to assist a residential bishop.
Baldacchino: A baldacchino is a canopy over the altar. It can also be carried over an object of veneration in religious processions.
Basilica: A church to which special privileges are attached. It is a title of honour given to various kinds of churches.
Beatification: Final step toward canonisation of a saint.
Bishop: The chief priest of a diocese. Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. In addition, bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the Church.
Blessed Sacrament: The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, whether at the Mass or reserved in a special place in the Church.
Breaking of the Bread: The celebrant recreates gestures of Christ at the Last Supper when He broke the bread to give to His disciples. The action signifies that in communion we who are many are made one in the one Bread of Life which is Christ
Brother: A man who is a member of a religious order, but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood.
Canon: Greek for rule, norm, standard, measures. Designates the Canon of Sacred Scripture, the list of books recognised by the Church as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Canon Law: The codified body of general laws governing the Church.
Canonisation: A declaration by the Pope that a person who died a martyr or practised Christian virtue to a heroic degree is in heaven and is worthy of honour and imitation by the faithful. Verification of miracles is required for canonisation (except for martyrs).
Cantor: One who sings during the liturgy (ie, the responsorial psalm).
Cardinal: Cardinals are appointed by the Pope and constitute the senate of the Church. They aid the Pope as his chief counsellors.
Cassock: A non-liturgical, full-length, close-fitting robe for use by priests and other clerics under liturgical vestments; usually black for priests, purple for bishops and other prelates, red for cardinals, white for the Pope.
Catechesis: Religious instruction and formation for persons preparing for baptism (catechumens) and for the faithful in various stages of spiritual development.
Catechetical: Referring to catechesis.
Catechetics: From the Greek meaning “to sound forth,” it is the procedure for teaching religion.
Cathedral: The major church in a diocese. It is the seat of the local Ordinary.
Catholic: Greek word for universal. First used in the title Catholic Church in a letter written by St Ignatius of Antioch to the Christians of Smyrna about 107 AD.
Celebrant: The one who presides at the celebration of the Eucharist.
Celebrant: The one who presides over the assembly and consecrates the Eucharistic Sacrament.
Chalice: The cup used to hold the wine.
Chancellor: Priest in charge of issuing official documents and dispensations in a diocese.
Charisms: Gifts or graces given by God to persons for the good of others and the Church.
Chasuble: The vestment worn over the alb by priests, bishops and Pope when celebrating the Mass.
Christ: The title of Jesus, derived from Greek translation Kyrios of the Hebrew term Messiah, meaning the Anointed of God.
Church: The universal Church that is spread throughout the world; the local Church is that of a particular locality, such as a diocese. The Church embraces all its members—on earth, in heaven and in purgatory.
Ciborium: A vessel used to hold the consecrated bread for the distribution of communion.
Clergy: Collective term referring to male persons who administer the rites of the Church through Holy Orders.
Cloister: Part of a convent or monastery reserved for use by members of the order that live in that facility.
College of Cardinals: The College of Cardinals is made up of the cardinals of the Church, who advise the Pope, assist in the central administration of the Church, head the various curial offices and congregations, administer the Holy See during a vacancy, and elect a new Pope.
Collegiality: The shared responsibility and authority that the whole college of bishops, headed by the Pope, has for the teaching, sanctification and government of the Church.
Confession: Part of the sacrament of penance or reconciliation, technically not a term for the sacrament.
Confirmation: One of the three sacraments of initiation, along with Baptism and Eucharist.
Contemplative: A religious man or woman who devotes his/her entire life in the cloister to prayer and reflection.
Convent: In common usage, the term refers to a house of women religious.
Cross/Crucifix: An object is a crucifix only if it depicts Christ on a cross, otherwise it is a cross.
Council of Priests: This is the principal consultative body mandated by the Code of Canon Law to advise the diocesan bishop in matters of pastoral governance. It consists of bishops and priests serving the diocese.
Deacon: An ordained minister who assists the Celebrant at the Liturgy of the Word and at the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Deacons/Diaconate: The diaconate is the first order or grade in ordained ministry. Any man who is to be ordained to the priesthood must first be ordained as a transitional deacon. Deacons serve in the ministry of liturgy, of the word, and of charity. The Permanent Diaconate is for men who do not plan to become ordained priests. The program is open to both married and unmarried men.
Dean/Vicar: The title of a priest appointed by the bishop to aid him in administering the parishes in a certain vicinity called a “deanery.” The function of a dean involves promotion, co-ordination, and supervision of the common pastoral activity within the deanery or vicariate.
Diocesan Curia: The personnel and offices assisting the bishop in directing the pastoral activity, administration and exercise of judicial power of the diocese.
Diocese: A particular church; a fully organised ecclesiastical jurisdiction under the pastoral direction of a bishop as local Ordinary.
Dispensation: An exemption from Church law.
Eastern-Rite (Oriental) Church: Term used to describe the Catholic churches which developed in Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. They have their own distinctive liturgical and organisational systems. Each is considered equal to the Latin rite within the Church.
Ecclesiastical: Refers to official structures or legal and organisational aspects of the Church.
Ecclesial: Having to do with the Church in general or the life of the Church.
Ecumenism/Interdenominational/Ecumenical Movement: A movement for spiritual understanding and unity among Christians and their churches. The term also is extended to apply to efforts toward greater understanding and co-operation between Christians and members of other faiths.
Encyclical: A pastoral letter addressed by the Pope to the whole Church.
Episcopal: Refers to a bishop or groups of bishops as a form of Church government, in which bishops have authority.
Eschatology: Doctrine concerning the last things: death, judgement, heaven and hell, and the final state of perfection of the people and the kingdom of God at the end of the world.
Eucharistic Prayer: The prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification. It is the centre and high point for the entire celebration.
Evangelical: Refers to Christians who emphasise the need for a definite commitment to faith in Christ and a duty by believers to persuade others to accept Christ.
1. Writer of Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John).
2. A preacher or revivalist who seeks conversions by preaching to groups.
Evening Prayer: Evening Prayer, most commonly known as Vespers, is the official prayer that marks the end of the day. It consists primarily of sung psalms and other readings from Scripture.
Exarch/Exarchy: A church jurisdiction, similar to a diocese, established for Eastern-rite Catholics living outside their native land. The head of an exarchy, usually a bishop, is an exarch.
Excommunication: A penalty of censure by which a baptised person is excluded from the communion of the faithful for committing and remaining obstinate in certain serious offences specified in canon law. Even though excommunicated, that person still is responsible for fulfilment of the normal obligations of a Catholic.
Focolare: A lay movement started in Trent, Italy by Chiara Lubich in 1943, now claiming more than a million followers. Its aim is world unity through the living witness of Christian love and holiness in the family and in small communities.
Free Will: The faculty or capability of making a reasonable choice from among several alternatives.
Gloria: Ancient hymn of praise in which the Church prays to the Father. It is used on all Sundays (outside of Advent and Lent), and at solemn celebrations.
God: The infinitely perfect Supreme Being, uncaused and absolutely self-sufficient, eternal, the Creator and final end of all things. The one God subsists in three equal Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Grace: A free gift from God to human beings, grace is a created sharing in the life of God. It is given through the merits of Christ and is communicated by the Holy Spirit. Grace is necessary for salvation.
Hierarchy: In general, the term refers to the ordered body of clergy, divided into bishops, priests, and deacons. In Catholic practice, the term refers to the bishops of the world or of a particular region.
Holy Communion: After saying a preparatory prayer, the celebrant (or other designated ministers) gives communion (the consecrated bread and wine) to himself and the other ministers at the altar, and then communion is distributed to the congregation.
1. The diocese of the Pope, Rome.
2. The Pope himself or the various officials and bodies of the Church’s central administration – the Roman Curia – which act in the name and by authority of the Pope.
Homily: The homily (sermon) is a reflection by the celebrant or other ministers on the Scripture readings and the application of the texts to the assembled community.
Host, The Sacred: The bread under whose appearance Christ is and remains present in a unique manner after the consecration of the Mass.
IHS: In Greek, the first three letters of the name of Jesus.
Immaculate Conception: Catholic dogma concerning Mary and the name of a feast in her honour celebrated 8 December. It refers to the belief that Mary was without sin from the moment she was conceived.
Incense: Incense (material used to produce a fragrant odour when burned) is used as a symbol of the Church’s offering and prayer going up to God.
Indulgence: The remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven.
INRI: Latin words inscribed on top of a cruxifix meaning ‘Iesus Nazareth, Rex Iudorum’ (latin for: Jesus from Nazareth, King of Jews)
Intercommunion: The agreement or practice of two ecclesial communities by which each admits members of
the other communion to its sacraments.
Jesus: The name of Jesus, meaning Saviour in Christian usage, derived from the Aramaic and Hebrew Yeshua and Joshua, meaning Yahweh is salvation.
Keys, Power of the: Spiritual authority and jurisdiction in the Church, symbolised by the “keys” to the kingdom of heaven. Christ promised the keys to St. Peter and future heads of the Church.
Layman, Woman, Person: Any Church member who is neither ordained nor a member of a religious order. When the Second Vatican Council spoke of the laity, it used the term in this more common meaning.
Lay Ministries: These are ministries within the Church that are carried out by laypersons. Included are altar servers, Eucharistic ministers and lectors.
Lectionary: The book that contains all the readings from the Scriptures for use in the celebration of the liturgy.
Liturgical Colours: Colours used in vestments and altar coverings to denote special times in the Church year. Green is used in ordinary time, red denotes solemn feast days, purple denotes penitential times and white is used for joyful occasions including Christmas, Easter and some saints’ feast days.
Liturgy of the Eucharist: The section of the celebration when the gifts are prepared and the celebrant proclaims the Eucharistic Prayer.
Liturgy of the Hours: This is the preferred term in the Latin rite for the official liturgical prayers sanctifying the parts of each day.
Liturgy of the Word: That section of the celebration where the Scriptures are proclaimed and reflected upon. On Sundays and major feasts, there are three readings:
1. Old Testament selection
2. New Testament selection (from the Epistles)
3. The Gospel reading
Mary: The central point of the theology of Mary is that she is the Mother of God. In traditions since apostolic times, the Church and the faithful have accorded to Mary the highest forms of veneration. She is celebrated in feasts throughout the year, and in devotions such as the rosary and litany and is hailed the patroness of many countries, including the United States.
Matrimony: The Roman, Orthodox and Old Catholic churches consider matrimony a sacrament and refer to it as the Sacrament of Matrimony. This is a marriage contract between baptised persons.
Metropolitan: The archbishop of an archdiocese in a province. He has limited supervisory powers and influence over the other dioceses and bishops in the province.
Minister: From the Latin word for “servant,” in the ecclesiastical sense a minister is (1) an ordained cleric or (2) one who has the authority to minister to others.
Miracles, Apparitions: Generally “miracle” is used to refer to physical phenomena that defy natural explanation, such as medically unexplainable cures. An apparition is a supernatural manifestation of God, an angel or a saint to an individual or a group of individuals.
Mitre: A headdress worn at some liturgical functions by bishops, abbots and, in certain cases, other ecclesiastics.
Monastery: An autonomous community house of a religious order, which may or may not be a monastic order. The term is used more specifically to refer to a community house of men or women religious in which they lead a contemplative life separate from the world.
Monk – Friar: A man who belongs to one of the monastic orders in the Church, such as Basilians, Benedictines, Cistercians and Carthusians.
Monsignor: An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the Pope to some diocesan priests.
Morse: an ornamented metal clasp or brooch for fastening a cope in front.
Nave: The central space in a church, extending from the main entrance or narthex to the sanctuary.
Narthex: A portico at the west end of a church, esp. one at right angles of the nave
1) Strictly, a member of a religious order of women with solemn vows;
2) In general, all women religious, even those in simple vows who are more properly called sisters.
Opus Dei: Literal translation: the work of the Lord. A personal prelature dedicated to spreading through society an awareness of the call to Christian virtue, awareness, and witness in one’s life and work. Members are not of a religious order, do not take vows, but sometimes live in community.
Ordain – Ordination: The proper terms in Catholic usage for references to the conferral of the sacrament of Holy Orders on a deacon, priest or bishop.
Order, Congregation, Society: A religious order is the title loosely applied to all religious groups of men and women. A society is a body of clerics, regular or secular, organised for the purpose of performing an apostolic work. A congregation is any group bound together by common rules.
Ordinary: Diocesan bishops, religious superiors, and certain other diocesan authorities with jurisdiction over the clergy in a specific geographical area, or the members of a religious order.
Pallium: Special stole made of lamb’s wool worn over the chasuble by the Pope and archbishops; it signifies communion of archbishops with the Holy See.
Papal Infallibility: The end result of divine assistance given to the Pope through which he is prevented from the possibility and liability of error in teachings involving Church dogma and articles of faith.
Papal Representatives: The three types of representatives of the Roman Pontiff are:
1. Legate – An individual appointed by the Pope to be his personal representative to a nation, international conference, or local church. The legate may be chosen from the local clergy of a country.
2. Apostolic Nuncio – In the United Kingdom, the papal representative is sent by the Pope to both the local church and the government. His title is Nuncio. In countries where he is dean of the diplomatic corps, his title is Apostolic Nuncio.
3. Permanent Observer to the United Nations – The Apostolic See maintains permanent legates below the ambassadorial level to several world organisations. Since the Papal Legate does not enjoy the right to vote within the organisation, his title at the United Nations is that of Observer.
Parish: A specific community of the Christian Faithful within a diocese, which has its own church building and is under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing the faithful with ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.
Parish Co-ordinator: A deacon, religious, or lay person who is responsible for the pastoral care of a parish. The parish co-ordinator is in charge of the day-to-day life of the parish in the areas of worship, education, pastoral service and administration.
Parish Priest: A priest in charge of a parish or congregation. He is responsible for administering the sacraments, instructing the congregation in the doctrine of the Church and other services to the people of the parish.
Pastoral Associate: A member of the laity who is part of a parish ministry team.
Pastoral Council: A group of members of the parish who advise the pastor on parish matters; also called a Parish Council.
Paten: The plate used to hold the bread.
Pectoral Cross: A cross worn on a chain about the neck of bishops and abbots as a sign of office.
Penitential Rite: A general acknowledgement by the entire assembly of sinfulness and the need for God’s mercy.
Pontiff/Pontifical: Pontiff is used as an alternative form of reference to the Pope. Pontifical has to do with the Pope.
Prayer: The raising of the mind and heart to God in adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition. The official prayer of the Church as a worshipping community is called liturgy.
Priests, Council of: This is the principal consultative body mandated by the Code of Canon Law to advise the diocesan bishop in matters of pastoral governance. It consists of bishops and priests serving the diocese.
Primacy: Papal primacy refers to the Pope’s authority over the whole Church.
Profession of Faith: The people together recall and proclaim the fundamental teachings of the faith. The Profession of Faith is used on all Sundays, and solemnities. Also called the Creed.
Proselytise: to bring one to another’s viewpoint whether in religion or other areas.
Province: 1) A territory comprising one diocese called the metropolitan see and one or more dioceses called suffragan sees. The head of a diocese, an archbishop, has metropolitan rights and responsibilities over the province. 2) A division of a religious order under the jurisdiction of a provincial superior.
Purgatory: The state or condition in which those who have died in the state of grace, but with some attachment to sin, are purified for a time before they are admitted to the glory and happiness of heaven.
Relics: The physical remains and effects of saints, which are considered worthy of veneration inasmuch as they represent people who are with God.
Religion: The adoration and service of God as expressed through divine worship and acts of faith in daily life.
Religious Movements: Groups of people, both lay and clerical, who band together to promote a certain belief or activity.
Religious Priest/Diocesan Priest: Religious priests are professed members of a religious order or institute. Religious clergy live according to the rule of their respective orders. In pastoral ministry, they are under the jurisdiction of their local bishop, as well as the superiors of their order. Diocesan, or secular, priests are under the direction of their local bishop. They commit to serving their congregations and other institutions.
Reredos: A large altarpiece, a screen, or decoration placed behind the altar.
Retreat: A period of time spent in meditation and religious exercise. Retreats may take various forms, from traditional closed forms, to open retreats which do not disengage the participants from day-to-day life. Both clergy and lay people of all ages participate in retreats. Houses and centres providing facilities for retreats are called retreat houses.
Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA): The norms and rituals of the Catholic Church for people who wish to join the Church. Part of the process is intended for baptised Christians who wish to become Catholics. The term is used in a general sense to refer to the process of entering the Catholic Church.
Roman Curia: The official collective name for the administrative agencies and courts, and their officials, who assist the Pope in governing the Church. Members are appointed and granted authority by the Pope.
Rome – Diocese of: The City of Rome is the diocese of the Pope, who also serves as the Bishop of Rome.
Rosary: A prayer of meditation primarily on events in the lives of Mary and Jesus, repeating the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. Generally, the rosary is said on a physical circlet of beads.
Sacramentary: The book used by the celebrant, containing all the prayers for the liturgy of the Mass.
Sanctuary: The part of the church where the altar is located.
Scripture, Holy Scripture: The old and new testaments.
Second Vatican Council: A major meeting of the Bishops of the world convened by Pope John XXIII to bring about a renewal of the Church for the second half of the 20th century. It ran from 1962 to 1965 and produced important documents involving liturgy, ecumenism, communications and other areas.
Secular Institutes: Societies of men and women living in the world who dedicate themselves to observe the evangelical counsels and to carry on apostolic works suitable to their talents and opportunities in every day life.
See: Another name for diocese or archdiocese.
Seminary: An educational institution for men preparing for the priesthood or diaconate.
Shrine: Erected to encourage private devotions to a saint. It usually contains a picture, statue or other religious feature capable of inspiring devotional prayer.
Sign of the Cross: A sign, ceremonial gesture or movement in the form of a cross by which a person professes faith in the Holy Trinity, and intercedes for the blessing of himself, as well as other persons or things.
Sister: Any woman religious, in popular speech. Strictly, the title applies to those women religious belonging to institutes whose members have not professed solemn vows, most of which were established during and since the 19th century.
Society of St Vincent de Paul: An organisation of lay people who serve the poor through spiritual and material works of mercy. The society operates stores, rehabilitation workshops, food centres, shelters, criminal justice and other programmes.
Sodality: A group of laity, established for the promotion of Christian life and worship, or some other religious purpose.
Stations of the Cross: Also known as The Way of the Cross, this devotion to the suffering of Christ consists of prayers and meditations on fourteen occurrences experienced by Jesus on His way to His crucifixion and death. A cross represents each of these events. Stations can be done individually, or in groups with one person leading the prayers and moving from cross to cross.
Stole: The vestment worn around the neck by all ordained ministers. For priests, bishops and Pope, it hangs down in front (under the chasuble); the deacons wear it over their left shoulder crossed and fastened at the right side.
Stoup: A bowl or basin for holy water.
Superior: The head of a religious order or congregation. He or she may be the head of a province or of an individual house.
Synod: A gathering of designated officials and representatives of a church, with legislative and policymaking powers.
Tabernacle: Place in the church where the Eucharist or sacred species is reserved.
Theology: The study of God and religion, deriving from and based on the data of divine Revelation, organised and systematised according to an academic method.
Titular Sees: Dioceses where the Church once flourished but which later died out. Bishops without a territorial or residential diocese of their own, eg, auxiliary bishops, are given titular sees.
Tribunal: A tribunal (court) is the name given to the person or persons who exercise the Church’s judicial powers.
Vatican Congregation: A Vatican body that is responsible for an important area in the life of the Church, such as worship and sacraments, the clergy, and have saints causes.
Vatican Councils: Councils of all bishops of the Church called by the Pope. These councils usually are called to discuss specific matters of interest to the Church.
Veneration of the altar: The reverencing of the altar with a kiss and the optional use of incense.
Vespers: A portion of the Church’s divine office, the daily public prayer encouraged for religious and laity. Also called Evening Prayer.
Vow: A promise made to God with sufficient knowledge and freedom, which has as its object a moral good that is possible and better than its voluntary omission.
Witness, Christian: Practical testimony or evidence given by Christians regarding their faith. They may witness their faith in all circumstances of life—by prayer and general conduct, through good example and good works, etc. – and by being and acting in accordance with Christian belief, while actually practising the Christian faith.
Zucchetto: Skull cap worn by the Pope (white) and bishops (purple) and Cardinals (red).