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Abbot – A priest who heads a monastery, or community of monks. The female equivalent is an abbess.

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

Abstinence – the avoidance of a particular type of food, such as meat, as an act of penance or spiritual discipline.

– person who assists in the celebration of Mass or other liturgical celebration.

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

Ad limina – a term meaning "to the threshold" and used to describe the five-yearly visits made by bishops to the Vatican.

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 during the Mass and prepares the assembly for the Gospel.

Altar – this is the focal point of the church. It is a table, often made of wood or stone, that is set at the center of the sanctuary and has been consecrated for sacred use. The holy sacrifice of the Mass is offered on the altar, as the gifts of bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. A relic of a saint is often contained inside the altar.

Altar server – a lay man or woman who assists the priest during the Eucharist. Women have been allowed to become altar servers since 1983.

Ambo – looks like a podium and is where the lector proclaims the readings for Mass. The deacon or priest also reads the Gospel from here.

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.

– properly called the degree of nullity, this is the declaration by authorities that a marriage is null and void, because it was never valid.

Annunciation – Feast celebrated on 25 March to mark the Angel Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would bear the Christ-child.

Apparition – an appearance to people on earth of a heavenly being – namely, Christ, Mary, or a saint or angel.

Apostle – "one sent". This normally refers to the 12 closest followers of Jesus, regarded in Catholicism as the precursors of bishops.

Apostolate - The ministry or work of an apostle. In Catholic usage, this is a term covering all kinds and areas of work and endeavour for the service of God and the Church and the good of people.

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

Apostolic nunciature
– the offices of the nuncio, the Pope's representative to a country or to the Church in that country.

Apostolic succession – the theory according to which the authority of the apostles is handed down to bishops.

Assumption – Feast celebrated on 15 August in Catholic and Orthodox Churches to mark Mary's assumption body and soul into heaven.

Auxiliary bishop – a bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese, to assist a residential bishop.


Baptismal font – a receptacle for water that is used in the sacrament of baptism.

– a church to which special privileges are attached. It is a title of honour given to various kinds of Churches.

Beatification – last step in the process of sainthood before canonisation. Someone who is beatified but not canonised is referred to as "Blessed".

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, either at Mass or reserved in a special place in the Church.

– a metal pan used to hold incense.

Bread and wine – the elements used in the celebration of Eucharist (unleavened bread and natural pure wine).

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.

Brother – a man who takes vows and promises to use his talents to serve God. Brothers do not get married and are not ordained. They live in religious communities and have many different jobs.

Bull – a particularly formal papal document, so-called from its seal (in Latin, "bulla").


Canon – Greek for rule, norm, standard, measure. 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 practiced 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). Someone who is canonised is referred to as "Saint".

Cantor – a person who leads the singing during the liturgy.

– Cardinals are appointed by the pope and constitute a kind of senate of the Church, and aid the pope as his chief counsellors. Cardinals under the age of 80 are elegible to elect a pope when there is a vacancy, in a forum called a conclave

– 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).  This is a non-liturgical, full-length robe.

– religious instruction and formation for persons preparing for baptism and for the faithful in various stages of spiritual development.

Catechetical – referring to catechesis.

– from the Greek meaning "to sound forth", it is the procedure for teaching religion.

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

Cathedral – the major church in an archdiocese or 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 A.D.

– the person who presides over the assembly and consecrates the Eucharist.

Chalice – the large cup used to hold the wine that becomes the Blood of Christ. It is made of durable material and comes in varies shapes and sizes.

Chancellor – the chief archivist of a diocese's official records who is also a notary and secretary of the diocesan curia.

– Person who believes God has endowed them with gifts of the Holy Spirit.

– Gifts or graces given by God to persons for the good of others and the Church.

– the sleeveless, outer garment that when slipped over the head, hangs down from the shoulder covering the alb and stole of the priest. It is worn by the main celebrant and its colour varies according to the feast.

– a specially perfumed olive oil that is consecrated for use at 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. Chrism is blessed at the Chrism Mass, which takes place on Holy Thursday, or the Thursday before Easter, each year.

– the title of Jesus, derived from the Greek translation 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.

– 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.

– 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 colour of the day may be used.

Cloister – part of a convent or monastery reserved for use by members of the institute.

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 doctrine, adopted at the Second Vatican Council, that all the Church's bishops, in union with the pope, are collectively responsible for the well-being of the Church.

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

Conclave – a meeting of the College of Cardinals convened to elect a pope when there is a vacancy in the office.

Concluding rite – the brief rite at the conclusion of the Mass which consists of the celebrant's greeting to all present, final blessing and dismissal.

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

– one of the three sacraments of initiation, along with baptism and Eucharist.

Conscience – the "interior voice" of a person. It is a God-given and directed sense of what is morally right and wrong. Conscience helps people to be responsible for their actions and to strive to do good and avoid evil.

– a Religious who devotes his or her entire life in the cloister to prayer and reflection.

Convent – a house of women Religious.

– a cape-like garment, open in the front that when placed over the shoulders, hangs to the ankles. It is worn by a priest or deacon in processions at Benediction and other services.

– the relationship between God and human beings which is characterised by mutual commitment and partnership.

– An official profession of faith used in the liturgy of the Church. The word means “I believe”. The two most popular Catholic creeds are the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.

Crosier (or pastoral staff) – the staff a bishop carries when he presides at the liturgy.

Cross-bearer - the one who carries the cross in the procession (entrance and recessional).

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


Dalmatic – a loose-fitting robe with open sides and wide sleeves worn by a deacon on more solemn feasts; it takes its colour from the liturgical feast at which it is worn.

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 are men who can also provide assistance to the priest in baptismal and/or marriage ministry. Deacons serve in the ministry of the liturgy, of the word, and of charity. Transitional deacons are men who are preparing for the priesthood. Permanent deacons are men who are not planning to become ordained priests. They can be married and have children.

Diocese – the administrative unit of the Church, presided over by a bishop.

Dispensation – an exemption from church law.

Divine Office – see Liturgy of the Hours.

Doctrine – an official teaching of the church based on the revelation of God by and through Christ.

Dogma – church teachings that are central to the faith, defined by the Magisterium and accorded the fullest weight and authority.

Doxology – the response of the people acclaiming the sovereignty of God.


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 autonomous and are in communion with Rome. Some permit married priests, though not married bishops.

Ecclesial – having to do with the church in general or the life of the Church.

Ecclesiastical – refers to official structures or legal and organisational aspects 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, judgment, 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 used during the Mass. It is the centre of the celebration. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the Church believes that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.

Evangelist – Someone who seeks conversions by preaching the Gospel (or "Evangel") to groups.

– Historically, a Protestant who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture and emphasises the need for individual conversion and evangelisation. More recently, the term has also come to be used by Churches, often in the developing world, that preach the “prosperity Gospel”, ie that God blesses believers with material riches in this life.
An evangelical priest (Catholic or otherwise) can refer to a cleric with a flair for communicating the Gospel.

– The act of spreading the message of the Christian faith, also known as evangelism in Protestant Churches.

– an event, message or approach that has the aim of evangelisation and ultimately, conversions. Not to be confused with Evangelical.

Exarch/Exarchy – a church jurisdiction, similar to a diocese, established for Eastern-rite Catholics living outside their native land. The head of an exarch, usually a bishop, is an exarch.

Excommunication – a penalty of censure by which a baptized person is excluded from the communion of the faithful for committing and remaining obstinate in certain serious offenses specified in canon law. Even though excommunicated, a person still is responsible for fulfillment of the normal obligations of a Catholic.


Final doxology – a final prayer of praise of God.

Free will – the faculty or capability of making a reasonable choice among several alternatives.

Friar – a member of a community that relies on charity, such as the Dominicans, Franciscans or Carmelites. They live a rule of communal poverty, living primarily from the freewill offerings of the faithful, engage in various forms of pastoral ministry, and belong to a religious order that is a wider community beyond the local house, in contrast to a monastery, which is self-contained, even if in federation with others.


General intercessions - a prayer of intercession for all of humankind; for the Church, civil authorities, those in various needs, for all peoples, and for the salvation of the world.

Great Amen – the acclamation said by the people at the end of the Mass to express their agreement with all that has been said and done in the Eucharistic prayer.

Gloria – an 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 favour rests.")

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 and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Christians believe God is love.

Good Friday – day commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, whose resurrection two days later is celebrated on Easter Day, the zenith of the Christian year. Dates for Easter Day vary each year according to the Paschal full moon.

Grace – a free gift of 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. It is necessary for salvation.


Hail Mary – One of the most famous prayers in Catholic, Orthodox and Anglo-Catholic traditions. Also known as the Angelic Salutation or Ave Maria, it asks for the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Heresy – the conscious and deliberate rejection of a dogma of the Church.

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.

Holy Days of Obligation – feasts in Latin-rite churches on which Catholics are required to attend Mass.

Holy See – 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.

Holy Week – The seven days before Easter Day, from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, and the Triduum: Good Friday and Easter Saturday or Holy Saturday.

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.

Host – the bread under whose appearances Christ is and remains present in a unique manner after the consecration of the Mass.

Humanae Vitae – the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI on married love and procreation that prohibited of all forms of artificial contraception.

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


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 on 8 December. It refers to the Catholic belief that Mary was without sin from the moment she was conceived.

Incense – material used to produce a rich and fragrant smell when burned, and used as a symbol of the Church's offering and prayer going up to God. Used on major feast days and for funerals, it symbolises communication with God. The image of smoke rising to the heavens in combination with the fragrance it emits, invoke a connection with the divine.

– the remission before God of the temporal punishment due for sins already forgiven.

Infallibility – the belief that the pope, when teaching formally to the whole Church about matters of faith or morals, cannot make a mistake. Instances of such teaching are rare.

Intercessions – A series of prayers for the Church, the world, the pope, clergy and laity, and the dead.

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 means Saviour.


Keys, Power of the – spiritual authority and jurisdiction in the Church, symbolised by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Christ promised the keys to St Peter, of whom Jesus said "on this rock I will build my Church".


Laicisation – the process by which a man ordained is relieved of his obligations and is returned to the status of a lay person.

Lamb of God – an invocation during the breaking of the bread in which the assembly petitions for mercy and peace.

Lay ministries
– these are ministries within the church that are carried out by laypeople. Included are altar servers, Eucharistic minister and lectors.

Laity, laypeople
– church members who are neither ordained nor members of a religious orders.

Lectio divina – ancient practice of "holy reading" that combines reading of Scripture with prayer and meditation.

Lectionary – book containing a collection of scripture readings appointed for each day of the year.

Lent – Period of just over 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter marked by fasting, penitence and alms-giving.

Liberation Theology – a movement within the Church that developed in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s in poverty in the region. It sees Jesus Christ as liberator not just from sin but also from unjust economic, political, or social structures and has been cited by Leftist groups but criticised by the Vatican.

Liturgy – the official prayer of the Church as a worshipping community.

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.

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 – the occasion during Mass when readings from the Scriptures are proclaimed and reflected upon. On Sundays and major feasts, there are three readings: one from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles and one from the Gospels.

Lord's Prayer (Our Father)
– the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, which includes petition for daily food and the forgiveness of sins.


Madonna – term for representation of the Virgin Mary in art, usually with the infant Jesus.

Magisterium – the official teaching office of the Church.

Marian – pertaining to Mary, the mother of Jesus, for example, an apparition.

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.

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.

Ministers of Communion – those who assist in the distribution of communion.

Miracle – generally "miracle" is used to refer to physical phenomena that defy natural explanation, such as medically unexplainable cures. Catholics believe miracles can occur following prayer to a saint, as well as prayer directly to God.

Mitre – a headdress worn at solemn liturgical functions by bishops, abbots and, in certain cases, other clerics.

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 – a member of a monastic community such as Benedictine, Carthusian, Trappist, etc. Monks tend to live lives more separate from society to pursue, under a formal rule, a life of prayer and work for God's glory, for personal sanctification, and for the good of the Church and world. Monastic communities may have some outside works connected with them, such as a college or retreat house, but their primary ministry is prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours.

Monsignor – an honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the Pope to some diocesan priests. In the United States, the title is given to the vicar-general of a diocese. In parts of Europe, the title is also given to bishops.


Norm – rule or standard

Nun – a member of a religious order of women who has taken solemn vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Nuncio – papal diplomat with the rank of an ambassador; ie one who is accredited to a sovereign government.


Ordain – 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 – religious orders is a 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. 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.

Ordination – the act that enables a man to act on behalf of the Church through Word, sacrament, and leadership. A bishop is ordained to represent Christ. Priests share in the bishop's role of representing Christ the shepherd. Deacons collaborate with the bishop in his role as representative of Christ the servant.


Pall – the stiff, square, white cover that is placed over the paten when it is on the chalice.

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.

Parish – a specific community of the Christian faithful within a diocese which has its own church building and is under the authority of a priest 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 administrator – when a parish is without a priest or a priest is unable to fulfill his pastoral responsibilities, a priest administrator is appointed by the bishop and is bound by the same obligations and enjoys the same rights as a priest.

Parish council – a group of members of the parish who advise the priest on parish matters.

Pastoral assistant – a member of the laity who is part of the parish ministry team. A certified pastoral associate is a generalist serving in a key parish leadership position. He/she assists the pastor or parish director in the daily operation of the parish. This may include the direct co-ordination of one or more specific ministries, such as sacramental planning, educational formation, pastoral ministry and parish administration. The pastoral associate is hired directly by the parish and is accountable to the pastor or parish director.

Priest – an ordained man appointed by a bishop to attend to the pastoral care of one or more parishes. 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. The priest fulfills his responsibilities in the areas of teaching, sanctifying and administration, with the co-operation of and assistance from other priests as well as deacons and/or lay persons.

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 – a saucer-like disk that holds the bread that becomes the Body of Christ.

Pectoral cross – a cross worn on a chain about the neck of bishops and abbots as a mark of office.

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

Pope – head of the Roman Catholic Church, also known as pontiff, bishop of Rome and successor of Peter.

Prayer – the raising of the mind and heart to God in adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition.

Primacy – Papal primacy refers to the pope's authority over the whole church.

Processional cross – the cross carried in the processions.

Profession of faith – the assembly joins to recall and proclaim the fundamental teachings of the Roman Catholic faith. Also called the creed.

Purgatory – Catholic belief in the state or condition in which those who have died in the state of grace, but with some attachment to sin, suffer for a time as they are being purified before they are admitted to the glory and happiness of heaven.


Reader – one who is called upon to proclaim the scriptures during the Liturgy of the Word.  A reader may also read the prayers of the faithful at Mass, in the absence of a deacon.

Reformation – the sixteenth-century movement begun by Martin Luther (1483-1546) which divided Western Christianity and gave rise to Protestantism.

Relics – the physical remains and effects of saints, which are considered worthy of veneration inasmuch as they are representative of people in glory with God.

Religion – the adoration and service of God as expressed in divine worship and in daily life.

Religious – (noun or adj) a man or a woman who has taken vows, such as a monk or a nun.

Religious order – a community of people with a particular charism, as expressed by its founder, and recognized by the Church is a religious order. There are religious orders of priests and brothers, and religious orders of sisters. Religious communities may also have lay associates. Some religious orders are dedicated primarily to prayer (contemplative), while others focus on apostolic (active) ministries.

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.

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

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 may participate in retreats. Houses and centres providing facilities for retreats are 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 book 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.

Rosary – a prayer of meditation primarily on events in the lives of Mary and Jesus, repeating the Our Father and Hail Mary. It is generally said on a physical circlet of beads.


Sacramentary – the book used by the celebrant at Mass, containing all the prayers for the liturgy of the Mass, including 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.

Saint – someone whose holiness of life has led the Church to approve him or her as a person who may be publicly venerated. The final stage of declaring someone a saint is canonisation.

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 landmark 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 institute for men preparing for Holy Orders.

Shrine – erected to encourage private devotions to a saint, it usually contains a picture, statue or other religious feature capable of inspiring devotions.

Sign of peace – before sharing the body of Christ, the members of the community are invited to express their love and peace with one another.

Sign of the Cross – a sign, ceremonial gesture or movement in the form of a cross by which a person confesses faith in the Holy Trinity and Christ, and intercedes for the blessing of himself, other persons, and things.

Sister – a woman who belongs to a religious community. Religious sisters make vows and serve God according to the charisms of their communities. Sisters are unmarried and work in many different jobs, according to the needs of the religious community and/or the needs of the local area. A sister in a cloistered religious community is a nun.

Species – Holy Communion can be received under both species – the bread and the wine – or under only one species, the bread.

Stole – a long, cloth scarf that marks the Office of the priest or deacon according to the manner in which it is worn. 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.

Superior – the head of a religious order or congregation. He or she may be the head of a province, or an individual house.

Surplice – worn over the cassock, this is a wide-sleeved garment that when slipped over the head, covers the shoulders and extends down below the hips.

Synod – a gathering of designated officials and representatives of a church, with legislative and policy-making 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 some kind of scientific method.

Titular sees – dioceses where the Church once flourished but which later died out. Bishops without a territorial or residential diocese of their own, e.g., 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.

Triduum – the three days of the liturgical year which incorporate the celebrations of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday's Easter Vigil. It ends with Evening Prayer on Easter Day.


Vatican Councils – major 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.

Vatican congregation – a Vatican body which is responsible for an important area in the life of the Church, such as worship and sacraments, the clergy, and saints causes.

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 recited each day by priests. Also called Evening Prayer.

Vestment – the vesture the ministers wear.

– 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. Vows that Religious take include the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.


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.

Witness, Christian – practical testimony or evidence given by Christians of their faith in all circumstances of life--by prayer and general conduct, through good example and good works, etc., being and acting in accordance with Christian belief, actual practice of the Christian faith.


Zucchetto – the skull cap worn by the Pope (red), bishops (purple) and cardinals (red).

References: The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, the glossary of the archdiocese of Boston and Roman Catholicism, The Basics, by Michael Walsh