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Terms & Definitions


Absolution The forgiveness of a debt either by the remission of sin in the Sacrament of Penance or the lifting of a canonical penalty.

AcolyteAny layperson who serves the Mass or who assists at other church services.

Administrator One who is officially appointed for a temporary period to perform the duties of the person holding the permanent office. An administrator may be assigned by the bishop to oversee the pastoral care of a parish without a pastor, or while the pastor is unable to fulfill the functions of the office.

Adoration, Perpetual The practice of continuous exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, usually in the monstrance, for the purposes of uninterrupted vigil and adoration on the part of the faithful.

Alb A long, white garment that can be used by all liturgical ministers. It is a reminder of the baptismal garment worn when the new Christian "puts on Christ."

Ambo A place where scriptures are proclaimed and homilies may be preached. It is a main focal point of the church and a lector stands at or behind it when reading aloud. Also referred to as a pulpit.

Ambry A recess that holds the holy oils that are blessed and consecrated at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week.

Amen A Hebrew word of assent found in the Old and New Testaments, generally left untranslated but meaning "So be it," "Truly," "Certainly," or even, "I dobelieve."

Apostle "The one sent." This normally refers to the 12 chosen by Jesus to be the bearers of his teachings to the world.

Apostolic Referring to the 12 Apostles.

Archbishop Title of a bishop with jurisdiction over an archdiocese, which is the principal see of a region.

Archdiocese A territory of the Church governedby an archbishop.

Aspergillum Liturgical instrument used for the sprinkling of holy water.

Associate Pastor A priest who assists the pastor in the pastoral care of a parish or parishes.

Auxiliary Bishop A bishop assigned to assist a diocesan bishop in the administrative and pastoral care of a diocese. "Auxiliary" refers to jurisdiction, not to sacramental ordination. A man may be named an auxiliary bishop, but he is ordained a bishop.


Baptismal Font A receptacle for water that is used in the sacrament of baptism.

Bishop From the Greek word meaning "overseer," a bishop is a member of the Church hierarchy. He has received the highest of the holy orders, is invested with the authority to govern a diocese, and is a successor of the Apostles.

Blessed Sacrament The consecrated bread and wine when they become the Body and Blood of Christ. The Blessed Sacrament is perpetually reserved in churches, marked by a burning sanctuary lamp.

Brazier A metal pan used to hold incense.


Canon Greek for "rule" or "measure." Refers to a law of the Church or a doctrinal formula of a council or synod. The canon of Scripture comprises books of the Bible received in the Church as authentically inspired and normative for the Faith.

Canon Law The name given to the official body of laws by which a Church is governed.

Cantor The one who leads the congregation in singing the music within the liturgy in a prayerful way.

Cassock A long, black garment worn by altar servers under the surplice; also worn by diocesan priests (black), monsignors (rose), bishops (violet).

Catechesis Religious instruction and formation for those preparing for baptism and for the faithful in all stages of spiritual development. It is a lifelong process of conversion.

Catechist A person who teaches catechesis. The main catechist at each parish is known either as the Director of Religious Education (DRE) or Parish Catechetical Leader (PCL).

Catechumen Unbaptized adult or child preparing for the sacrament of initiation through the RCIA process.

Cathedra The bishop's chair, the symbol of his role of chief teacher and pastor of the local church.

Cathedral From "cathedra," literally, chair of the bishop. The official church of a bishop who has jurisdiction over a diocese is the cathedral. It is located within the diocese, generally in the see city in which the bishop exercises his authority and conducts worship for all under his jurisdiction.

Celebrant Bishop, priest, or deacon whopresides at a liturgical function.

Chalice The large cup used to hold the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ.

Chancellor Appointed by the bishop of a diocese, the chancellor serves as an ecclesiastical notary. The chancellor's duties include the supervision of the diocesan archives, the authentication of documents, and the drawing up of written reports on the official government of the diocese.

Chancery A term commonly used in some countries (the United States included) for the diocesan administrative offices.

Chapel Any small place of worship.

Chasuble From the Latin for "little house," the chasuble is the outer liturgical vestment worn by the celebrant at Mass.

Chrism Mixture of olive or other vegetable oil and balsam, consecrated by a bishop, for use in liturgical anointings at Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, the blessing of an altar, or, in former days, the coronation of a king. At the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, a bishop consecrates the holy chrism as well as the oil of the catechumens and the oil of the infirm.

Ciborium A vessel used to hold the hosts which will be used for communion. Some are cup-like and others are bowl- or plate-like. They are also used to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

Coadjutor Bishop A bishop assigned to assist the residential bishop. Upon the death, retirement, or removal of the residential bishop, the coadjutor automatically becomes the residential bishop.

Concelebrants The priests and bishops who join the main celebrant in celebrating Mass.

Confession In the Catholic context, confession occurs in the Sacrament of Penance, in which one reveals one's sins to a priest who grants absolution when there is true repentance.

Consecration The Words of Institution in the Eucharistic Prayer, by which bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Crucifix An object is a crucifix only if it depicts Christ on the cross; otherwise, it is a cross.D

Deacon There are two kinds of deacons: transitional and permanent. Transitional deacons are men who have been ordained to the diaconate but who will ultimately be ordained to the priesthood. Permanent deacons are men who have been ordained to the diaconate and who will remain deacons.

Diocese A territorial division of the Church comprised of church members living in a specific geographic region under the pastoral care and authority of a bishop.


Ecclesiastical Pertaining to or connected to theChurch.

Eucharist The sacrament of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ really, truly and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine. The Holy Eucharist is the primary act of worship of the Church in which Christ perpetuates the sacrifice of the cross; the Church, in turn, offers herself with Jesus to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Evangelization The teaching or spreading of the Gospel message and all those activities by which every member of the Church proclaims and presents to the world the saving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Every Christian is given the responsibility by Christ to evangelize.


Faith Formation Often used interchangeably with "religious education" or "catechesis," it refers to everything that contributes to a person's growth in faith and intimacy with Jesus Christ: evangelization, religious instruction, liturgy, faith sharing, personal prayer, life experiences, etc.

Friar A member of one of the mendicant orders founded since the thirteenth century, for example, the Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites.


Gloria Ancient hymn of praise in which the Church glorifies God. It is used on all Sundays except for those during Advent and Lent. The text originates from the Christmas narrative in the Gospel of Luke: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)


Holy Water Water blessed and used for Baptisms and in the blessing of religious articles, homes, and other items.

Homily A reflection by the celebrant or other minister on the Scripture readings and on the applications of the texts in the daily lives of the assembled community.

Host The bread that is used at Mass is only the Host after the consecration and in the view of its consummation at Holy Communion.


Lectionary The book of Scripture readings used during the Liturgy of the Word in Mass.

Liturgy The public worship of the Church, including the rites and ceremonies of the Mass and sacraments.

Liturgy of the Eucharist The section of Mass when the gifts of bread and wine are prepared, the Eucharistic Prayer is proclaimed by the celebrant, and the Blessed Sacrament is distributed to the assembly.

Liturgy of the Word The section of the Mass when readings from the Scriptures are proclaimed and reflected upon.


Mass The common name for the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church, the principal celebration of the Church's public worship.

Mitre (or Miter) The liturgical headdress proper toall bishops.

Monk One who withdraws from society in order to pursue a life totally dedicated to God in prayer, penance, and solitude. Monks are commonly distinguished from communities of clerics or friars who engage in some form of active ministry.

Monsignor An honorary ecclesiastical title granted to some diocesan priests. The title carries no additional authority or responsibility but is given as a sign of recognition of their service to the Church.

Monstrance The sacred vessel used for the exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as well as solemn Benediction. The Host is generally enclosed in a round glass or crystal-covered opening and surrounded by rays or other decorations.


Ordinary A person placed in authority over a particular Church (diocese) or its equivalent. Bishops, major religious superiors, vicars general, and vicars episcopal are examples.

Ordinary Time All those parts of the Church's liturgical year that aren't included in the major seasons (Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter).

Ordination The act of consecrating or setting apart of men to be the sacred ministers for the worship of God.


Parish A community of believers served by a pastor, most commonly worshipping at a single church building.

Parishioner A member of a parish.

Pastor The priest responsible for the administration and care of aparish. 

Pastoral Administrator A deacon, religious or lay person who assumes the administrative duties of a pastor in a parish where a priest is not in residence. A priest is appointed to perform sacramental services in that parish.

Pastoral Associate A deacon, religious, or lay person who serves the parish in multiple areas of ministry. This position is similar to that of an associate pastor in that a pastoral associate assists the pastor in fulfilling the entire pastoral ministry of the parish.

Paten A saucer-like plate that holds the bread that becomes the Body of Christ.

Priest One who is ordained and who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass, reconciles sinners to God, preaches the Gospel, anoints the sick, baptizes, and witnesses marriages.


Religious Brother Members of a religious community who are either not ordained and not intending to receive Holy Orders or those who are in the process of preparing for Holy Orders.

Religious Order A religious community of men or women who have professed solemn vows.

Religious Sister Women members of a religious community or order. Usually, there is a distinction between sisters, who have taken simple vows, and nuns, who have taken solemn vows.

Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is the process by which adults are received into full communion with the Church.


Sacramental Minister A priest assigned to perform sacramental ministry in a parish whose pastoral care has been entrusted to a pastoral administrator.

Sanctuary The part of the church where the altar is located.


Tabernacle The receptacle in which the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in churches and chapels.

Transubstantiation The change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood ofChrist.


Vocation The calling God has for an individual.


Zucchetto The small skullcap worn by bishops (purple).  

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