Advent, season of. In the liturgical year, it is the period of preparation for Christmas, which begins with evening prayer of the Sunday falling on or closest to November 30. It concludes December 24. In addition to preparing for Christmas, the season anticipates and prepares for the second coming of Christ. The First Sunday of Advent also marks the beginning of the new liturgical year. The liturgical color for Advent is violet. See also The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar. See related article.
Advent wreath. A devotional item with four candles (3 purple and 1 pink [for Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday]) used to mark the passing of the weeks of Advent. This popular custom has its roots in the domestic church, the home. It is not an integral part of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church; therefore, an Advent wreath is not required to be placed in a church or chapel. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), however, Advent wreaths were increasingly placed in churches and chapels. The U.S. edition of the Book of Blessings (1989) includes an “Order for the Blessing of an Advent Wreath,” which calls for the blessing to come as the concluding prayer of the general intercessions.
See also Q&A: Seasons, Sacraments and Sacramentals by Dennis Smolarski.
Alb. A long white tunic commonly worn during liturgical and paraliturgical services by priests, deacons, and other ministers. It is modeled after an everyday garment of Greco-Roman times. An alb began to be worn for liturgy in the sixth century. The newly baptized (the neophytes) also receive an alb as a symbol of their baptism.
Altar. The basic symbol of Christ in a church building and the table upon which bread and wine are placed for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002) provides that the altar “should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns” (GIRM 299). Further, that table of a fixed altar (that is, attached to the floor and not movable) is to be of natural stone; however, in U.S, dioceses, “wood which is worthy, solid and well-crafted may be used, provided that the altar is structurally immobile” (GIRM 301).
Altar, consecration of. The anointing of the altar with chrism during the Rite of Dedication of an Altar (1989).
Altar bread. See Bread, eucharistic.
Altar cloth. A piece of linen that covers the altar.
Altar stone. 1. The table of fixed altar, which is made from one piece of stone. 2. The solid stone piece (approximately one inch thick and 10 inches square) inserted in a movable altar table. The altar stone often contains the relics of saints. The U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones (§60) notes that this custom has changed since the Second Vatican Council. Relics may be placed beneath the altar but are “no longer placed on the altar or set into the mensa in an altar stone.” See also The General Instruction of the Roman Missal: “The practice of placing relics of Saints…under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained. Care should be taken, however, to ensure the authenticity of such relics” (GIRM 302). [Español]
Altar wine. The wine used for the celebration of the Eucharist. It is to be made from grapes. See also Norms for Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America (2001).
Ambo. From the Greek word ambon, meaning “pulpit.” It is the place from which all scriptural readings are proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word at liturgical celebrations. Non-scriptural announcements should be made from another place. The ambo, altar and presidential chair comprise the focal point of the sanctuary. The General Introduction to the Lectionary (32, 10) recommends that the design of the ambo and altar have a “harmonious and close relationship” to one another to emphasize that the “Church is nourished spiritually at the twofold table of God’s word and of the Eucharist.” See also Lectionary for Mass: Introduction.
Ambry (or Aumbry). A niche or cupboard in the wall of a church building, where typically the sacred oils are kept: chrism, the oil of the sick, and the oil of catechumens. See also Built of Living Stones (§117), which comments that the style of the ambry may take different forms, e.g., a niche in the wall of a baptistery or sanctuary or a small case.
Apse. The semicircular end of a basilica-style church.
Arcade. A range of arches carried on piers or columns and that is attached to a wall or is free standing.
Ashes. A symbol of penance and reconciliation used on Ash Wednesday. The ashes used come from the burning of the palms used on Palm Sunday of the previous year.
Aspergillum. Latin for “sprinkler.” The liturgical instrument used to sprinkle people and objects with holy water.
Assembly, liturgical. The Church, that is, all the baptized, gathered for communal worship. See related article. Also see Anne Koester's Sunday Mass: Our Role and Why It Matters(Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2007).
Baldachino. A covering or canopy built over an altar.
Baptismal candle. The candle lit from the Easter or Paschal candle and presented to the newly baptized during the Rite of Baptism.
Baptismal font. A receptacle for the water used for the celebration of Baptism. The font may be located in a separate area of the church or separate building (that is, in a baptistery), near the entrance of the church, or in the midst of the gathered assembly.
See also the U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones, §§66 -69.
Baptismal garment. The white garment presented to the newly baptized.
Baptistery (or Baptistry). The section of a church building or a separate building where the baptismal font or pool is located and where the rite of baptism is celebrated. According to the General Introduction to the Rite of Christian Initiation, the baptistery should be “easily seen by the faithful” and “large enough to accommodate a good number of people” (para. 25).
Basilica. (1) A particular style of Roman architecture characterized by its rectangular shape with a wide nave, an apse at one end, and with colonnaded side aisles. (2) Currently, the word is used to designate certain church buildings of historical significance. The major basilicas are located in Rome. The Holy See may confer the title on other church buildings, which would then be designated as minor basilicas.
Bearing wall. A wall or partition that supports the weight of a floor or roof above.
Bells. Used to call people to worship. Bells may be blessed; see the Book of Blessings for this rite.
Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (U.S.). A standing committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that is responsible in the conference for all liturgical matters.
Bishops’ Conferences. The Second Vatican Council mandated in its Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office in the Church (no. 38) that bishops “jointly exercise their pastoral office.” This led to the establishment around the world of episcopal conferences whose purpose is to promote the greater good which the Church offers the world, especially in ways that are adapted to the particular time and place.
Blessed Sacrament. Refers to the consecrated bread and wine. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the tabernacle of a church or chapel for communion to the sick and homebound and for viaticum (communion for the dying). Because the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, special rites are provided for adoration of the Sacrament.
Blessing. A form of prayer that praises and thanks God. Many such prayers call upon God to bless a person or object. Prayers of blessing usually conclude liturgical celebrations. Blessings are also a popular prayer form for people to mark the liturgical seasons and feasts in their homes.
Boat, incense. See Incense boat.
Book of the Gospels. See Gospel Book.
Bread, Eucharistic. One of the elements of the Eucharist. Since the 11th century, the bread is unleavened in the Western Church and leavened in the Eastern Church. The bread is made of wheat flour and water, with no additives. It must also look like real food and be large enough to be broken and distributed to at least some members of the assembly who will be receiving communion.
See also Norms for Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America (2001). For questions regarding Holy Communion and Celiac Sprue Disease, see the U.S. Bishops’ comments.
Calendar, liturgical. A listing of dates of the church year with the corresponding feasts celebrated on those days. See also the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002) [Español], Chapter VII and the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar.
Candles, liturgical use of. A living flame, symbolic of the risen Christ. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2002) [Español] states that candles are “required at every liturgical service out of reverence and on account of the festiveness of the celebration” (307). Candles may be placed either on or around the altar. Candles may also be carried before ministers in processions, before the Gospel Book, and held during the renewal of baptismal promises. See also baptismal candle and Easter or Paschal candle.
Catechesis, liturgical. A particular approach to catechizing and forming the baptized for and through liturgy. See related articles.
Catechumenate. The second period in the process of Christian initiation. It follows an initial period of inquiry about the faith. Once interested persons complete the period of inquiry, they publicly state their intention to continue the process of conversion and are formally accepted into the Order of Catechumens. There is no predetermined length for the catechumenate. In practice, the period is generally one to two years. The catechumen then enters a Period of Enlightenment before being initiated (usually at the Easter Vigil).
Cathedral. The head church in a diocese where a bishop presides at liturgy. It is named for the chair (cathedra) where the bishop exercises his authority.
Ceremonial of Bishops. The liturgical book of detailed directions for bishops to assist them with presiding at Mass, the sacraments, and other liturgies.
Chair, presidential. See Presidential Chair.
Chalice. An older term for the cup used to hold the wine for Eucharist.
Chancel. The area of the church building immediately surrounding the altar and the ambo; may also include the choir area in addition to the sanctuary.
Chapel. A place of worship with an altar within a cathedral or large church building, a school, religious community building, hospital, or prison, a private home, or an airport. A chapel is “for the benefit of some community or assembly of the faithful” (Code of Canon Law can. 1223).
Chapel, Reservation. The chapel separate from the nave and sanctuary of the church were the Blessed Sacrament may be reserved. See The General Instruction of the Roman Missal [Español] no. 315(b) and the U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones §§ 77 – 78.
Chasuble. The outer liturgical vestment worn by the presider at Mass. Traditionally, it symbolizes charity.
Chrism. One of the sacred oils; ideally, it is perfume to which oil is added but in practice it is mostly oil with perfume added. It is used at the baptism of infants, at confirmation (or chrismation in the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches), and at the ordination of priests and bishops, and at the dedication of a church and altar. In the Roman Catholic Church, the oil is blessed by the local bishop at the Chrism Mass celebrated sometime during Holy Week but before the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.
Chrism, along with the Oil of the Catechumens and Oil of the Sick, is kept in a special vessel in an ambry or other designated place in a church building or chapel.
Christian Prayer. An abbreviated version of the Liturgy of the Hours. See also Liturgy of the Hours.
Christmas season. The period in the liturgical year that extends from evening prayer I of Christmas Eve through the Sunday after the actual celebration of Epiphany or after January 6. See also The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar. See related article.
Church, dedication of. The formal blessing of a church building. The usual presider for the liturgy is a bishop. The Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar is found in the Roman Pontifical. The Rite includes: (1) a blessing of the site of the new church and blessing and laying of the foundation stone; (2) dedication of the building once completed, which has four parts: (a) the introductory rites: the entrance into the church, the handing over of the church to the bishop, the sprinkling of holy water on the people, walls and altar; (b) the Liturgy of the Word; (c) the prayer of dedication with anointing of the church walls and altar with chrism, the incensation of the altar and church, the covering of the altar with linens and the lighting of the candles on or alongside the altar; and (d) the celebration of Eucharist.
See Holy People, Holy Place: Rites for the Church's House by Tom Simons (which include the text of Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar).
Church Year. See Liturgical Year.
Ciborium. A covered vessel for the eucharistic bread. See also the US Bishops’ Built of Living Stones §164.
Cincture. An optional rope belt tied around the waist to hold an alb in place.
Code of Canon Law. A codification of the canons of the Roman Catholic Church. The current Code, promulgated in 1983, has 7 books: general norms, the People of God, the teaching office of the Church, the office of sanctifying in the Church, the temporal goods of the Church, sanctions, and processes.
Colors, liturgical. The colors used during the seasons and feasts of the Church year for vestments and other liturgical objects. History shows that the color of vestments was not of particular concern during the first 1,000 years of the Christianity. Color preferences developed thereafter, but only with the 1570 Missal of Pope Pius V did a sequence similar to what is in use today become mandatory.
The colors used in the Roman Catholic Church today are: white for the Easter and Christmas seasons and non-Passion feasts of the Lord and for feasts of Mary, angels, and saints who were not martyred; red for Palm (Passion) Sunday, Good Friday, and Pentecost and for the Passion and feasts of apostles, evangelists, and martyrs; green during Ordinary Time; violet for Lent and Advent (recent suggestions from some liturgists are that the violet for Advent be bluish-purple to distinguish it from Lent’s reddish-purple); rose for Gaudete and Laetare Sundays; and white for funeral services and weddings.
Communion service. The practice of communal distribution of Communion outside the Mass. The Communion Service liturgy is governed by the Rite of Distributing Holy Communion Outside Mass. With the shortage of priests, Communion Services have become increasingly common. To address this situation, the Congregation for Divine Worship (of the Vatican) issued a Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest in 1988. For use in the U.S., the U.S. Bishops approved an Order for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest (1991; revised 2006).
Communion under both kinds. The practice of receiving the body and blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. See also Norms for Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America (2001). For questions regarding Holy Communion and Celiac Sprue Disease, see the U.S. Bishops’ comments.
Confessional. Usually a place for the celebration of the sacrament of penance in which the priest sits in a center chair and penitents kneel on either side, speaking through an opaque grate. With the renewed rite of reconciliation and sacrament of penance, the arrangement now is often a reconciliation room that offers the penitent the option of celebrating the sacrament facing the priest or anonymously. See also Reconciliation Room.
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. A department of the Roman Curia which deals with matters pertaining to liturgy and the celebration of sacraments.
Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium). The first of the sixteen documents to be promulgated by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The document on the liturgy was issued in December 1963. See full text. [Español]
Corporal. The square white linen cloth that is placed on top of the altar cloth during the preparation of the altar and gifts.
Crèche. French for “manger” or “crib,” the word is commonly used to refer to the Nativity set displayed in homes or churches during the Christmas season. The roots of this custom can be found in the practices of St. Francis of Assisi (13th century), who was known to celebrate Christmas in a barn with animals. The crèche is a matter of popular devotion and not liturgy. Although many churches display a crèche during the Christmas season, it is not required. See online exhibit.
Credence Table. The name for the small table on which the vessels and other objects needed for a liturgical celebration are placed during the time they are not being used.
Cremation. Burning of a dead body that reduces it to ashes. The Roman Catholic Church permits cremation, provided it is not chosen “for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Code of Canon Law can. 1176.3). The Church prefers that the body be present for the funeral rites and that the urn (the receptacle for cremated remains) be buried or entombed.
Cross. A representation (without an image of Christ crucified) of the cross on which Jesus Christ died. .
See also the U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones, §91, which states that the processional cross is to be placed out of view of the assembly following the procession, if there is already a cross in the sanctuary.
Cross, Stations of. See Stations of the Cross.
Crucifix. A cross with an image of Christ crucified on it.
See also the U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones, §91, which quotes the General Instruction to the Roman Missal, no. 308: “There should be a crucifix ‘positioned either on the altar or near it, and…clearly visible to the people gathered there.’” The U.S. Bishops’ document also notes that since a crucifix “on the altar” might obstruct the assembly’s view of the action on the altar, it may be more appropriate to suspend the crucifix over the altar or affix it to the sanctuary wall. Another option is to place a processional cross that is of sufficient size to be clearly visible, in a stand following the opening procession.
Cruets. Small vessels containing the wine and water used for Eucharist.
Curtain wall. A non-load bearing wall that can be applied in the front of a framed structure in order to protect against weather elements.
Cycles (in the Church year). See Liturgical Year.
Daylighting. The strategy of bringing natural daylight into the building and distributing it in a way that supplements or replaces artificial light sources.
Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis). Of the sixteen documents issued by the Second Vatican Council, this declaration focuses on education: in the home, the school, and the Church (through catechesis and liturgy), with the greatest emphasis on schooling. See full text. [Español]
Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis Humanae, “Of the dignity of the human [person]”). This document of the Second Vatican Council and concerns important issues related to religious freedom. See full text. [Español]
Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate). One of the sixteen documents of the Second Vatican Council. This declaration speaks about the variations in religious faith and practice. One of the areas of emphases in the document is Christianity’s relationship to Judaism. See full text. [Español] [Français]
Decree on Priestly Formation (Optatam Totius). The document of the Second Vatican Council that addresses the formation of candidates for priesthood. See full text. [Español] [Français]
Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem). One of the sixteen documents of the Second Vatican Council. The decree states that apostolate or mission of the laity of the Church “derives from [their] Christian vocation” and baptism into the Body of Christ. See full text. [Español] [Français]
Decree on the Appropriate Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis). This document of the Second Vatican Council concerns the renewal of religious orders and congregations in the Church. See full text. [Español]
Decree on the Media of Social Communication (Inter Mirifica). A decree of the Second Vatican Council concerning mass media. The Vatican issued a longer document on this topic in 1971, Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communication (Communio et Progressio). See full text. [Español] [Français]
Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis). A 1965 Vatican II document that addresses the ministry of priests in light of the teachings of the council and contemporary pastoral circumstances. See full text. [Español] [Français]
Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church (Ad Gentes Divinitus). A decree of the Second Vatican Council that concerns missionary activity in the sense of the “work of preaching the gospel and implanting the church among people who do not yet believe in Christ,” viz. “the missions.” See full text. [Español] [Français]
Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus). The focus of this Vatican II document is on the application of the council’s teaching on the office of bishops. See full text. [Español] [Français]
Dedication, of a church. See Church, dedication of.
Devotional art. Artwork of any medium that expresses popular religion or personal piety. See also Devotions, popular/private.
Devotional spaces. Interior and exterior areas of a church or chapel that are designed to foster certain popular devotions. See also John Buscemi’s Places for Devotion.
Devotions, popular/private. Nonliturgical prayer forms that express popular religion or personal piety. Devotion (singular) refers to the affective attitude of faith; devotions (plural) are the prayer forms that foster the devotion. See Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines (2001). [Español] [Français]
Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). One of the sixteen documents of the Second Vatican Council, it concerns the revelation of God, that is, the communication between God and humanity, as manifested in the activity and the word of God. Dei Verbum addressed the relationship between Scripture and tradition, the doctrine of inerrancy, and the use of historical critical methods of biblical study and explanation. See full text. [Español] [Français]
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). This document of the Second Vatican Council articulates the Catholic Church’s self-understanding. It includes 8 chapters: The Mystery of the Church, The People of God, The Church is Hierarchical, The Laity, The Universal Call to Holiness, Religious, The Pilgrim Church, and Our Lady (Mary, Mother of God). See full text. [Español] [Français]
Early Church (Ancient Church): Refers generally to the period of the Christian Church from the first until the sixth century.
Easter Candle. See Paschal Candle.
Easter Season. The period of the liturgical year that begins on Easter Sunday and extends until Pentecost, fifty days later. The liturgical color for the Easter Season is white; the liturgical color for Pentecost is red. See also The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar and The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Easter Triduum. The three days prior to Easter Sunday: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Some would say that the Triduum encompasses the three days of the crucified, buried, and Risen Lord, from Holy Thursday evening until Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. For details regarding the celebration, see The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Easter Vigil. The climax of the Sacred Triduum, celebrated Holy Saturday beginning after nightfall and ending before daybreak on Sunday. For details regarding the celebration, see The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Eastern Christian churches. The Christian churches whose origins are in eastern regions of the ancient Roman Empires. The churches are associated with the ancient sees of Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Byzantium or Constantinople. Catholic: The 21 Eastern Christian churches that are in full communion with Rome (the Latin or Western Church). Non-Catholic: The Eastern Christian churches that are not in union with Rome.
Ecclesiology. The theological study of the Church.
Ecumenism. The process that seeks the unity among all Christian churches. See also The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, 1993). [Français]
Elect, the. The name for catechumens (those preparing for the sacraments of Christian initiation) after they are “elected” for initiation through the Rite of Election (celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent).
Elect, Book of the. The book retained by the parish and signed by the catechumens (those preparing for the sacraments of Christian initiation) on the first Sunday of Lent as they are sent by the local parish to the diocesan celebration of the Rite of Election.
Election, Rite of. The liturgical rite of the Rite of Christian Initiation Process for Adults (and Children) whereby the catechumens are called by or elected by the diocesan bishop for the celebration of the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil. See the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and related article.
Enlightenment, Period of. The third period of the Christian initiation process, which begins with the celebration of the Rite of Election. See the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.
Epiclesis. From the Greek word meaning “calling down upon” or “invocation.” In the liturgy, it is the prayer to God the Father for the coming of the Holy Spirit, especially in the Eucharistic prayer for the Spirit to make holy the gifts of bread and wine, or similarly, for the blessing of the waters of Baptism.
Epiphany. Greek for “the manifestation.” A feast on the liturgical calendar celebrated on January 6, although where it is not a holy day of obligation, Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday between January 2 and January 8. Historically, it may be an older feast than that of Christmas. In the West, the theme of the feast is the adoration of the newborn Jesus by the magi; in the East, the theme is the baptism of Jesus. See related article.
Episcopacy. The highest level of Holy Orders; those ordained to the episcopacy are called bishops.
Eschatology. The study of “last things.” It includes discussions about death, divine judgment, purgatory, the resurrection of the body, eternal life, the Second Coming of Christ (the Parousia), heaven, the end of the world, and hell.
Evangelary. See Gospel Book.
Evening Prayer or Evensong. Also known as Vespers, the prayer that is celebrated in early evening as part of the Liturgy of the Hours. See General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (1971).
Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. A Catholic devotion during which the Blessed Sacrament is displayed for worship, with the host usually visible in a monstrance.
Exsultet. The proclamation of the resurrection that is sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil after the procession with the Easter (Paschal) candle.
Extraordinary Ministers of Communion. Title given to laypersons (non-ordained) who distribute Communion at Mass or to the sick and homebound.
Fascia. A plain horizontal band, often at the edge of a roof on the exterior of a building.
Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (U.S.). Established in 1969, it is an organization of diocesan liturgical commissions in the U.S. The FDLC is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Fenestration. The arrangement of windows in a building.
Fire, Easter. The fire blessed at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. See also the U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones, §84.
Flagon. A pitcher used for the wine to be consecrated during Eucharist.
Font, baptismal. The pool or basin where baptisms are celebrated. The design of the font ought to accommodate infant and adult baptism. See also the U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones, §§ 66 – 69.
Gable. The triangular upper portion of a wall at the end of a pitched roof.
Garment, baptismal. The white garment presented to and worn by the newly baptized as part of the Rite of Baptism. See the General Introduction to Christian Initiation, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and the Rite of Baptism for Children.
Gathering space. Also commonly referred to as the narthex, this space is the area between the main doors and nave of the church.
Gaudete Sunday. (Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice.”) The third Sunday of Advent. The day is designated as such to set a tone of joyful expectation for the birth of Jesus Christ and the Lord’s Second Coming (the Parousia). Rose-colored vestments may be worn on this Sunday.
General Intercessions. See Prayer of the Faithful.
Good Friday. The first full day of the Triduum, the day on which Christians remember the passion and death of Jesus. The liturgy of this day consists of: the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and a Communion Service. Good Friday is the only day of the liturgical year when Mass is not celebrated. For details regarding the celebration, see The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Gospel Book. Also known as the Evangelary, this liturgical book contains the Gospel readings used at Mass. It is carried in the opening procession by a deacon or if there is no deacon, by a lector and placed on the altar. The book is carried again in the Gospel procession by the reader of the Gospel. See also the General Instruction of the Roman Missal [Español] and the U.S. Bishops’ Introduction to the Order of the Mass.
Holy Oils. See Oils, Holy
Holy Thursday. The Thursday of Holy Week. The principal liturgy for this day is the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which is also the beginning of the Easter Triduum. Included in the Roman Catholic liturgy since the 13th century is the ritual of foot washing (cf. John 13:34). For details regarding the celebration, see The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Holy Water. Water that is blessed and used when praying as a community (whether for liturgical and paraliturgical prayer) and when praying alone.
Holy Week. The last week of Lent, beginning with Palm (Passion) Sunday and concluding with Holy Saturday (the Saturday of the Easter Triduum). For details regarding the celebrations of Holy Week, see The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Homily. The homily is the preached reflection on the Scriptures and/or liturgical texts of the day and “should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.” The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 65. See also Fulfilled in Your Hearing: The Homily in the Sunday Assembly.
ICEL. See International Commission on English in the Liturgy.
Icon. Painted panel with a representation of Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or a saint. Icons are common in the liturgy of the Eastern Christian tradition but are also becoming increasingly common in the worship spaces of Western Christian churches. See related article.
Iconostasis. A screen covered with icons, which separates the sanctuary from the nave of the church in the Eastern Christian tradition.
Indirect lighting. A method of lighting a space or surface such that the source of illumination is concealed from view.
Immersion. Manner of baptism whereby the one to be baptized is immersed in the water of the baptismal font or pool. Immersion is the first named manner of baptizing in the General Introduction to Christian Initiation, which adds that immersion “is more suitable as a symbol of participation in the death and resurrection of Christ (n. 22).” Pouring of the water over the head of the candidate (baptism by “affusion” or “infusion”) may also be used. See also RCIA no. 213 and the Rite of Baptism for Children no. 18(2).
Incense. Sweet-smelling gums of resinous trees that are burned in a censer or thurible.
Incense boat. The vessel used for incense grains before they are burned in a censer.
Inculturation, liturgical. The process of creatively adapting liturgical practices by attending to the culture of a particular people. See also Mark Francis’ Shape a Circle Ever Wider.
Indult. Permission granted by the Holy See of the Roman Catholic Church for the non-observance of a canon law requirement.
Infusion. Also known as affusion, this is the manner of baptism whereby the candidate is baptized by the pouring of water over his/her head. See also RCIA no. 213 and the Rite of Baptism for Children no. 18(2).
International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). This body, established by the English-speaking bishops’ conferences of the world, supervises the translation of Latin liturgical texts into English and proposes English adaptations to the texts. The executive secretariat of ICEL is located in Washington, D.C.
[Return to top]
Lavabo. The bowl used by the presiding priest to wash his hands before the Eucharistic Prayer begins at Mass.
Lectern. See Ambo.
Lectionary. The book containing the Scripture readings for use at Mass. The 1969 lectionary, created after the Second Vatican Council, provides three readings for Sundays and feasts. The first reading is from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) except during the Easter season when it is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. The first reading is followed by a responsorial psalm. The second reading is from the New Testament, oftentimes from one of the Pauline letters. The third reading is from one of the Gospels. See Lectionary for Mass: Introduction.
Lent. The period of forty days (not including Sundays) before Easter. It begins with Ash Wednesday. See also The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar and The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Litany. A form of prayer that consists of a series of invocations and responses. Well-known litanies are the Kyrie (prayed at Mass) and the Litany of the Saints (prayed at the Easter Vigil, for example).
Liturgical books. Collections of the official texts of the liturgy, which include prayers, songs, readings, and sometimes directions for liturgical ministers. Examples of such books in the Roman Catholic Church are the Sacramentary or Missal, the Lectionary, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Rites for the various Sacraments of the Church.
Liturgical commission. A commission within a diocese that assists and advises the local bishop on matters relating to liturgy. The Second Vatican Council mandated the creation of diocesan liturgical commissions. See The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Español] nos. 44-46.
Liturgical design consultant. See related article.
Liturgical movement. The interest in liturgy and liturgical reform that began in the nineteenth century and that led up to the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Español] at the Second Vatican Council.
Liturgical Year. The annual cycle of seasons and feasts, which begins with the first Sunday of Advent and concludes the Saturday after the feast of Christ the King (the last Sunday in Ordinary Time). The liturgical seasons are:
Advent: begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on December 24
Christmas Season: begins on Christmas Day and ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord
Lent: begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday in the evening
Paschal Triduum: begins on Holy Thursday in the evening and ends on Easter Sunday in the evening
Easter Season: begins on Easter Sunday and ends on Pentecost Sunday
Ordinary Time: from the end of the Christmas Season until Ash Wednesday and from the day after Pentecost until the first Sunday of Advent
See also General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar and The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Liturgy. Generally, the Church’s prayer/worship rituals (includes: (1) Eucharist (in the Roman Catholic Church, also commonly called the Mass) and the other Sacraments (baptism, confirmation, reconciliation, anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders); (2) Liturgy of the Hours; and (3) other liturgical rites, e.g. funeral rites, dedication of a church, religious profession). There are also paraliturgical rites (“alongside” or “closely related” to liturgical rites, e.g., various kinds of prayer services, children’s liturgy of the word, various blessings, etc.). See related article.
Liturgy Committee, Parish. The group of individuals in a parish who assist the liturgy director or coordinator, ordained leaders, and the local assembly with the preparation of liturgical celebrations.
Liturgy of the Eucharist. “Liturgy of the Eucharist” is used in two ways: (1) as a way in which to refer to the Mass as a while; and (2) as a way to identify the movement of the Mass which begins with the presentation of the gifts and concludes with the prayer after Communion.
Liturgy of the Hours. Also known in the Catholic Church as the Divine Office, this is the daily prayer of Christians. It consists of Morning Prayer (Lauds), Midday Prayer, Evening Prayer (Vespers), and Night Prayer (Compline). See related article. See also the General Instruction to the Liturgy of the Hours.
Liturgy of the Word. The movement of the eucharistic liturgy and other liturgical rites during which scriptural readings are proclaimed and reflected upon. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Liturgy of the Word at Mass begins with the proclamation of the first reading (from the Old Testament, except during the Easter Season when a passage from the Acts of the Apostles is proclaimed) and concludes with the Prayer of the Faithful.
Mass. In the Roman Catholic Church, the celebration of Eucharist is commonly referred to as Mass. The term is derived from the words of the dismissal in the Roman tie (“Ite missa est”) and began to be used interchangeably with “the Lord’s Supper” to refer to the entire eucharistic liturgy during the Middle Ages.
Missal, Roman. See Sacramentary.
Monstrance. A vessel used for the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the form of the consecrated Host.
Morning Prayer. Also known as Lauds, it is the prayer that begins the Liturgy of the Hours. See the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (1971).
Mystagogy. “Instruction in the Mysteries.” Mystagogy is most commonly known as the final period of formation in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults following initiation into the Christian community.
[Return to top]
Narthex. The gathering area between the main doors and the nave of the church.
Nave. The space in the church for the members of the assembly other than the presiding priest and other ministers. See the U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones, §§ 51-53.
Neophytes. The name for the newly initiated members of the Christian community.
Night Prayer. Also known as Compline, it is the prayer that concludes the Liturgy of the Hours. See the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (1971).
O-Antiphons. The "O-Antiphons" identify the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve. Antiphons are short verses recited or sung at the beginning and end of Psalms and Canticles during the Liturgy of the Hours. The "O-Antiphons" are sung before and after the Canticle of Mary (the Magnificat) at the end of evening prayer or vespers. Each of the antiphons recalls one of the Christological titles that are borrowed from prophetic and wisdom books of the Hebrew Scriptures. In order, they are: O Sapientia (Wisdom); O Adonai (Lord); O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse); O Clavis David (Key of David); O Oriens (Radiant Dawn); O Rex Gentium (King of All Nations); O Emmanuel (God-with-us).
Octave. The eight day period (the feast itself and the following seven days) during which a feast is celebrated. Christmas and Easter are the only two feasts of the liturgical year with octaves.
Oils, Holy. There are three blessed oils used in the Catholic Church: (1) the Oil of Catechumens, which is used to anoint catechumens during the process of preparing for Christian initiation and which may be used to anoint children before the water bath during the Rite of Baptism for Children; (2) the Oil of the Sick, which is used for the Rite of Anointing of the Sick; and (3) Chrism, a perfumed oil used at the baptism of infants, at confirmation, at the ordination of priests and bishops, and at the dedication of a church and altar. Most often, the oils are blessed by a bishop at the Chrism Mass celebrated during Holy Week.
Oil Stocks. A vessel or container used to store the holy oils. The oils are also often displayed in an ambry in churches.
Orans. The posture for prayer where the arms are lifted upward, with palms up. The presider uses the orans posture at various times during liturgical and paraliturgical celebrations. It is also common for the assembly to use the orans posture while praying the Lord’s Prayer.
Oratory. A place other than a church that is designated for worship, e.g., a chapel in a religious house.
Order of Christian Funerals. This is the collection of rites of Christian burial. The rites include: Vigil for the Deceased, Funeral Liturgy (within or outside Mass), and Rite of Committal.
Ordinary Time. On the liturgical calendar, ordinary time consists of two periods, covering 33 to 34 weeks of the Church year: from the end of the Christmas Season until Ash Wednesday and from the day after Pentecost until the first Sunday of Advent. The liturgical color for Ordinary Time is green. See The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar. See articles (Part I and Part II) on the worship space environment for Ordinary Time.
Ordo. This term is used in a variety of ways. It is used to refer to the order of the Mass. The word is also used interchangeably with “rite” when speaking of other liturgical services. Finally, “ordo” is a common title for the book containing the annual liturgical calendar.
Pall (funeral). The cloth used to cover a coffin at the Mass of Christian Burial. It is a reminder of the baptismal garment. See related article.
Palm Sunday. The first day of Holy Week. The liturgical color for this day is red. See also The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar and The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Paraliturgy/paraliturgical. Prayer services that are not part of the Church’s official liturgy but are similar to liturgical celebrations are referred to as paraliturgies. An example of a paraliturgy is a penitential service that does not include the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation.
Parament. An ornamental church hanging or vestment.
Paschal Candle. Also called the Easter Candle, this candle is marked with incense and lit at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, after the blessing of the Easter fire. The candle is lit during the liturgies of the Easter Season, baptisms, and funeral liturgies.
Passion Sunday. See Palm Sunday.
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes). The last of the sixteen documents of the Second Vatican Council to be issued. It has two main parts: the first concerning Christian anthropology, a theology of human work and the Church’s role in the world; the second addressing themes of Catholic social teaching. See full text. [Español] [Français]
Paten. A plate or bowl used for the bread that will be consecrated and distributed at Mass.
Pentecost. “The fiftieth day” and the day on which the Easter season concludes on the liturgical calendar. The liturgical color for Pentecost is red. See also The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar and The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Pericopes. The term used to refer to selected units of Scripture.
Plinth. The projecting base of a wall or column pedestal, often chamfered or molded at the top.
Pontifical. The liturgical book containing the rites normally celebrated by a bishop, e.g., confirmation, ordination, and the dedication of churches.
Prayer of the Faithful. In the Mass, the Prayer of the Faithful follows the recitation of the Creed (or if the Creed is omitted, the homily) and takes the form of intercessory prayers. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal indicates that the prayers offered ought to include petitions for the Church, civil authorities, those with various needs, for all men and women, and for the salvation of the world (no. 69). [Español]
Presbyter. A presbyter is commonly called “priest.” A presbyter/priest in the Roman Catholic Church are either diocesan (those who share in the ministry of the bishop of a particular diocese) or religious (those who are members of religious communities, monastic or apostolic).
Presider, liturgical. One from the assembly who leads liturgical prayer. Presiders may be ordained or lay. For certain liturgical rites (e.g., Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick, Baptism) the presider must be ordained; for other rites (e.g., Liturgy of the Hours), the presider may be a layperson.
Processional Cross. See Cross, Processional.
Program. A list of space requirements, usually quantified in terms of area, and other needs that form the details about the purpose of a building project.
Punched opening. An opening in a solid wall, usually for a window.
Purificator. The small white linen cloth used to wipe the edge of the cup used for the Eucharist and to dry the cup after it is cleansed.
Pyx. A small container used for taking consecrated bread to the sick or homebound.
Quinceañera. A religious ceremony celebrated around a woman’s fifteenth birthday. The custom is of Mexican origin and usually includes a eucharistic celebration with the renewal of baptismal vows. See related article.
RCIA. See Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Reconciliation Room or Chapel. A room or chapel for the celebration of the Rite of Penance for Individual Penitents. The space allows for the option of celebrating the sacrament face-to-face or anonymously with a partition or screen between the penitent and priest. See also The U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones §§ 103 – 105 and related article.
Reliquary. A vessel or container to hold or expose relics.
Reservation Chapel. See Chapel, reservation.
Ribbon window. A continuous horizontal band of windows.
Rite. A ceremonial activity that has particular rules. The term is also used to refer to particular traditions or liturgical families (e.g. the Roman rite, Byzantine rite, Coptic rite, etc.).
Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). In the Catholic Church, the liturgical and formational/catechetical process of Christian initiation. The RCIA was restored in 1972, per the mandate of the Second Vatican Council. In the U.S., national statutes for the RCIA were approved in 1986; the Canadian edition of the RCIA was approved in 1987. The Rite consists of four periods: (1) Evangelization and Precatechumenate; (2) Catechumenate; (3) Purification and Enlightenment; and (4) Postbaptismal Catechesis or Mystagogy.
Rite of Christian Initiation of Children. In essence, the RCIA adapted for use with children of catechetical age (beginning around age 7).
Roman Missal. The book containing the introductory documents and prayer texts for the celebration of the Mass according to the Roman rite. This term is used interchangeably with “Sacramentary.”
Rubric. The word is from the Latin for “red,” since the rubrics for rituals are printed in red (to distinguish the words from the spoken texts printed in black) in the liturgical books. A rubric gives direction or instruction for liturgical action. Some rubrics are descriptive and therefore may be adapted; others are prescriptive and are not to be altered.
[Return to top]
Sacrament, Blessed. See Blessed Sacrament.
Sacramentals. Sacred signs in the form of intercessory prayer, instituted by the Church, which according to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy [Español] (n. 60), help people be “ready to receive the much greater effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.” Common sacramentals include objects: holy water, ashes, palms, and candles, all of which serve to enhance the liturgical experience, as well as such things as rosaries and medals, which while not liturgical, remind people of the active presence of God in their lives and move them to prayer. Sacramentals also include blessings of persons and objects.
Sacramentary. The liturgical gook containing all the prayers needed by the presider for various liturgies, including the Mass, the celebration of sacraments, Liturgy of the Hours, and occasional services (e.g., funerals).
Sacred Triduum. The three-day festival during which the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. The Triduum begins with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, reaches its climax with the Easter Vigil, and concludes with Evening Prayer on Easter Sunday. See also The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar and The Circular Letter Paschale Solemnitatis: On Preparing and Celebrating the Paschal Feasts.
Sacristy. The room where vestments and other items needed for liturgical rites are stored. It is also used by the liturgical ministers for vesting and other preparations before liturgical celebrations.
Sacristan. The person who assumes the ministry of caring for and maintaining all items needed for liturgical celebrations.
Sanctuary. The area of a church building immediately around the altar. The space also includes the ambo and presidential chair.
Sanctuary Light. The light (either a wax candle or oil lamp) to be kept alight near the tabernacle to indicate and honor the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Sign of Peace. See Kiss of Peace.
Stations of the Cross. A devotional prayer originated by the Franciscans in the 14th century, the focus of which is representations of fourteen scenes of Christ’s passion. The number – fourteen – became the standard in the 18th century; however, a recent and increasingly common practice is to add a fifteenth station to represent the resurrection. Because the Stations of the Cross are devotional and not liturgical, a community is not required to have images depicting the Way of the Cross inside or outside the worship space. See also the U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones §§ 132-134 and Q&A: Seasons, Sacraments and Sacramentals by Dennis Smolarski. And see related article.
Stole. A long strip of fabric worn by bishops, priests and deacons as a sign of their office. A stole is worn by bishops and priests over both shoulders; by deacons across the right shoulder, clasping it on the left at the waist.
Stoup. See Font, Holy Water.
Sunday. The original Christian feast day and first day of the week, the day on which Christians celebrate the Paschal Mystery. See related article.
Sunday Celebration in the Absence of a Priest. Celebration of the Eucharist is the norm on Sunday for Catholic communities; however, in places where a priest is not available and there is no reasonable alternative for the people to celebrate the Eucharist, the diocesan bishop may permit the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word or the Liturgy of the Hours (and either with a communion service). Such celebrations may be led by a deacon or a layperson.
Sustainability. The Brundtland Commission (formerly the World Commission on Environment and Development) defines this as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." See related articles.
Tabernacle. The receptacle for keeping the consecrated eucharistic bread. For details regarding the design and location of the tabernacle, see The General Instruction of the Roman Missal [Español] nos. 314 – 317 and the U.S. Bishops’ Built of Living Stones §§ 70 – 80.
Thurible. See Censer.
Transept. In a cruciform-shaped church building, the transept is the part of the church that lies at right angles to the nave.
Triduum, Sacred. See Sacred Triduum.
Vessels, Sacred. The containers or utensils used for various liturgical rites. Common vessels include: ciborium, chalice, paten, pyx, monstrance, oil stocks, cruets, censer (thurible), and the sprinkler for holy water.
Vestments. The ritual garb worn by certain liturgical ministers. Common vestments include the alb, chasuble, and stole.
[Return to top]
Word, Liturgy of the. See Liturgy of the Word.
Year, Liturgical. See Liturgical Year.