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Absolution - the act by which a priest, acting as an agent of Christ, grants forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Acolyte - person who assists in the celebration of Mass.

Adoration - the external acts of reverent admiration or honor given to a thing or person.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament - Prayer to Christ, who is recognized as being truly present in the Sacrament of Eucharist.

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."

Alleluia Acclamation - this acclamation of praise follows the second reading and prepares the assembly for the Gospel.

Altar - a freestanding structure that serves as the main focal point of the congregation. It is the table where Eucharistic elements are consecrated and is the center of worship.

Ambo - (also may be referred to as pulpit) a place from 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.

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

Amen - a Hebrew word meaning truly, it is true. As a concluding word of prayers, it expressed assent to and acceptance of God's will.

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

  • Simon - Jesus renamed him Peter
  • Andrew
  • James the Greater
  • John
  • Philip
  • Bartholomew
  • Thomas
  • Matthew
  • James
  • Thaddeus
  • Simon the Zealot
  • Judas Iscariot
  • Matthias - was chosen to fill the place of Judas

Apostolic - refers to the 12 apostles. It also characterizes certain documents, appointments or structures initiated by the Pope or the Holy See.

Archbishop - A bishop of a main or metropolitan diocese in an ecclesiastical province.

Archdiocese - The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province.

Aspergilium - a container used for sprinkling holy water.

Assembly - those gathered to celebrate the liturgy.

Associate Priest - a priest who assists the Parish Priest in the pastoral care of a parish or parishes.

Auxiliary Bishop - A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese, to assist a residential bishop.

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

Beatification - The last official step leading to the canonization of a new saint.

Benediction Veil - also called the humeral veil; a long, narrow shawl-like vestment used at Benediction.

Bishop - A bishop, by divine institution, carries on the work of the apostles. By reason of episcopal consecration, he shares in the three-fold apostolic function of teacher of doctrine, priest of sacred worship, and minister of church government. Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their districts/dioceses. In addition, bishops have a responsibility to act in council to guide the Church.

Blessed Sacrament - The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, either at Mass or reserved in a special place in the Church.

Book of the Gospel - contains only the Gospel readings; used on solemn occasions and is carried by the deacon, or in his absence, the reader.

Brazier - a metal pan used to hold incense.

Breaking of the Bread - the celebrant recreates the gestures of Christ at the Last Supper when he broke the bread to give to his disciples. This action signifies that in communion, the many are made one in the one Bread of Life which is Christ.

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Canon - Greek for rule, norm, standard, measure. Designates the Canon of Sacred Scripture, the list of books recognized by the Church as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Canon Law - the codified body of general laws governing the Church.

Cantor - person who leads the singing during the liturgy.

Cassock (KASS-uhk) - a long, black garment worn by altar servers under the surplice; also worn by diocesan priests (black); monsignors (rose); bishops (violet), cardinals (red), and the Pope (white).

Catechesis (cat-UH-key-sis) - religious instruction and formation for persons preparing for baptism and for the faithful in various stages of spiritual development.

Catechetical (cat-uh-KIT-uh-kal) - referring to catechesis.

Catechetics (cat-uh-KIT-iks) - from the Greek meaning "to sound forth," is os the procedure for teaching religion.

Cathedra - the archbishop's chair. It is the symbol of his role of chief teacher and pastor of the local church. The word is Greek and means chair. The word cathedral comes from cathedra, meaning, literally, chair of the bishop.

Celebrant - the person who presides over the assembly and consecrates the Eucharist.

Chalice (CHAL-is) - the large cup used to hold the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ.

Chasuble (CHAZ-uh-buhl) - the sleeveless outer garment, slipped over the head, hanging down from the shoulder covering the alb and stole of the priest; it is the proper Mass vestment for the main celebrant and its color varies according to the feast.

  • Green - worn during "Ordinary Time." Ordinary does not mean ordinary in the sense of common or normal. Ordinary means counting, as in the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
  • Red - worn on Passion (Palm) Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, and on the Feast Days of Martyrs, including the Apostles and Evangelists.
  • White - worn during the Christmas and Easter seasons and celebration of Mary, the Angels, the Saints who were not martyrs, All Saints, Birth of John the Baptist, Chair of Peter, Conversion of Paul, and St. John the Evangelist.
  • Violet - worn during Advent and Lent
  • Rose - worn on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) and the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday).

Chrism - a specially perfumed olive oil that is consecrated for use at the baptism, confirmation, and holy orders. Chrism also is used to anoint altars and walls during church or cathedral dedications. This is only time the consecrated oil is not used on a human being.

Ciborium (si-BORE-ee-um) - a vessel used to hold the Hosts which will be used for communion; some are cup-like and others are bowl/plate like; they are also used to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

Cincture (SINGK-sure) - a long cord used for fastening some albs at the waist; it holds the loose-fitting type of alb in place and is used to adjust it to the proper length; it is usually white, although the liturgical color of the day may be used.

Communion Cups - chalice-like vessels used at communion when the people receive from the cup; they are kept on the Credence Table and brought to the Altar at communion time.

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

Confession - part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, not the term for the sacrament itself.

Cope (KOPE) - a cape-like garment that is put over the shoulders and hangs to the ankles; it is open in the front and worn by a priest or deacon in processions at Benediction and in other services.

Cross/Crucifix - an object is a crucifix only if it depicts Christ on a cross; otherwise it is a cross.

Crosier - (Pastoral Staff) an ecclesiastical ornament which is conferred on bishops at their consecration and which is used by them in performing certain solemn functions.

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Dalmatic (dahl-MAT-ik) - a loose-fitting robe with open sides and wide sleeves worn by a deacon on more solemn feasts; it takes its color from the liturgical feast as listed above.

Deacon - an ordained minister who assists the celebrant during the Liturgy of the Word and at the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Deacons can also provide assistance to the pastor in baptismal and/or marriage ministry.

Decanter or Flagon (FLAG-un) - the bottle- or pitcher-like vessel used to hold the wine which will be consecrated at Mass for the communion of the people; it is brought forth with the gifts.

Disciple - one who follows the teachings of Jesus.

Diocese - An ecclesiastical jurisdiction under the direction of a bishop.

Dispensation - An exemption from Church law.

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Ecclesiastical (ee-CLEE-zee-as-tuh-cal) - refers to official structures or legal and organizational aspects of the Church

Ecumenism (eh-KEW-meh-nizm) / Interdenominational / Ecumenical (EK-you-meh-nikal) 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 cooperation between Christians and members of other faiths.

Eucharistic Prayer - the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification. It is the center of the celebration. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the Church believes that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Encyclical - From the Greek egkyklios or kyklos, meaning a circle, this is basically a letter that is circulated among a group. Specifically, it is a pastoral letter written by the Pope of Rome to all members and clergy of the Church.

Extraordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist - A non-ordained man or woman that collaborates in the sacred ministry of priests, such as, to assist with the distribution of Holy Communion as needed, the ministry of Communion to the Sick and the purifying of the sacred vessels. NOTE: The Ordinary Minister of the Eucharist is a bishop, priest or deacon.

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

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Heraldry of Catholic Clerics [ see list with pictures ]

Hierarchy - Structure of the Catholic [see list ]

Holy See - Better known as the Vatican, the Holy See is the diocese and home of the pope and the center of Church administration and authority.

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

Hymnal/Missalette - contains all parts of the Mass for a specific season in the liturgical year, including instructions on when to stand, sit, or kneel.

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IHS - Often seen on vestments, icons and other Christian items. The emblem or monogram representing the Holy Name of Jesus consists of the three letters: IHS. In the Middle Ages, the Name of Jesus was written: IHESUS; the monogram contains the first and last letter of the Holy Name.


Laicization - The process by which an ordained priest is relieved of his obligations and is returned to the status of a lay person.

Lectionary - contains the scripture readings for Mass.

Liturgical Colors - Colors used in vestments and altar cloths to symbolize the various seasons and feasts of the Church.

Liturgy of the Word - the occasion during Mass when readings from the Scriptures are proclaimed and reflected upon. On Sundays and major feasts, there are three readings:

  • First reading - from the Old Testament
  • Second reading - from the Epistles
  • Gospel

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

Lord's Prayer (Our Father) - the prayer of petition for both daily food (which means the Eucharistic bread for Christians) and the forgiveness of sins.

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Magisterium - The official Teaching office of the Church.

Mass - the common name for the Eucharistic liturgy of the Catholic Church. Also referred to as Eucharist, Celebration of the Liturgy, Eucharistic celebration, Sacrifice of the Mass, Lord's Supper.

Miter (MY-ter) - a headdress worn at solemn liturgical functions by bishops, abbots and, in certain cases, other clerics.

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Pall (PAHL) - the stiff, square, white cover that is placed over the paten when it is on the chalice.

Pallium - is a white woolen circular band embroidered with six black crosses which is worn over the shoulders and has two hanging pieces, in front and in back. Worn by metropolitan archbishops and by the Pope himself, the pallium symbolizes authority and expresses a particular bond of union with the Roman Pontiff. Palliums are made from the wool shorn from lambs that are blessed by the Pope on the feast of St. Agnes.

Papal Infallibility - The doctrine that the Pope's instructions on faith and morals are not wrong because of the divine guidance he receives.

Parish - The smallest unit of diocesan jurisdiction, by which is meant not only the church building itself, but also a geographic area around the parish, such that the entire diocese is divided into parishes. The spiritual needs of those living in this geographical area are provided for by the parish.

Pastor - The pastor is the priest named by the bishop of the diocese as head of a parish.

Pastoral Team - refers to a group of priests assigned to the pastoral care of a parish or parishes with one of them as moderator. All priests who are members of the team have the same responsibilities and rights as a pastor.

Paten (PAT-en) - a saucer-like disk that holds the bread that becomes the Body of Christ.

Penitential Rite - a general acknowledgement of sinfulness by the entire assembly, accompanied by requests for God's mercy and forgiveness.

Profession of Faith - the assembly joins to recall and proclaim the fundamental teachings of the Roman Catholic faith. The Profession of Faith is also called the Creed.

Purificator - a white cloth used to cleanse the chalice.

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Relics - The physical remains or possessions such as clothing of a saint and, as such, venerated and considered holy.

Responsorial Psalm - the psalm that is spoken or sung between the first and second readings. The response is repeated after each verse.

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.

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Sacrament - An outward sign instituted by Jesus Christ during His visit with us in earthly life, through which invisible grace and interior sanctification are communicated from Jesus to an individual human soul. The Church recognizes seven sacraments: baptism; Eucharist; penance; confirmation; ordination of a deacon, priest or bishop; marriage; and the anointing of the sick.

Sacramental - Something instituted by the Church for a sacred purpose, both to remind us of the saving power of Christ and to give Him the honor and glory in its use. eg. holy water, blessed palms and candles, crucifixes, statues, medals, scapulars, rosaries, etc.

Sacramentary - contains the opening prayer, prayer over the gifts, prayer after communion, and solemn blessings, Eucharistic prayers and prefaces for all of the Masses, including special occasions.

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

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.

Stole - a long, cloth scarf; according to the manner in which it is work, it is the mark of the Office of the priest or deacon. A priest wears it around the neck, letting it hang down in front. A deacon wears it over his left shoulder, fastening it at his right side.

Surplice (SIR-plis) - a wide-sleeved garment, slipped over the head. Covering the shoulders, and coming down below the hips; it is worn over the cassock.

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Tabernacle - An ornamental structure, usually made of stone, which contains the Holy Eucharist (communion host or bread that has been consecrated by the priest) and is stored for future use. Typically, they are kept locked. Comes from the Latin, tabernaculum, which means tent.

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Vatican Councils - Councils called by the pope of all bishops of the Church. These councils are usually called to discuss specific matters of interest to the Church.

Vespers - A portion of the Church's divine office recited each day by priests. Also called Evening Prayer.

Vestments [ see list with pictures ]

Vicar Apostolic - A titular bishop who governs a district where no formal hierarchy exists.

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Washing of Hands - an expression of the desire for inward purification. The celebrant washes his hands in symbolic cleansing to prepare himself just as the gifts have been prepared as an offering to the Lord.

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Zucchetto (zoo-KET-oh) - the skull cap worn by the Pope (red), bishops (purple) and cardinals (red).
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