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A collation of
Words and Phrases
Used within
The Church

By Chris Williams

I have compiled this little booklet as a short guide to some of the terms we hear and which are used fairly often -and not so often - in the Church today. I felt moved to do so as I found that there did not seem to be one single book to which one could refer - as you will see from the list of acknowledgements below! It is by no means comprehensive. I hope it will assist you in a better understanding of some of the things you see around you or hear in the liturgy, what their significance or symbolism is and why they are done, and perhaps to stimulate you to further personal study. If you have any suggestions for improvement or inclusion do please let me know. Generally speaking, if I have used a word in explaining another then it is included elsewhere for cross reference. I hope you enjoy reading this booklet, needless to say all the mistakes are mine!


A Brief Guide to “Church-Speak” by Dr Melanie Thorne
The Sacristan in the Catholic Church by Timothy McDonald 
The Sacristan in the Church of England by Thomas J.D. Robertson

The Verger in the Church of England by John G. Campbell 
A Handbook of Catholic Sacramentals by Ann Ball
St Stephen’s Handbook for Altar Servers by Edward Matthews

Addis & Arnold’s Catholic Dictionary by Mgr P.E. Hallett
and the internet.

Acolyte - General name for a person who serves at The Mass or other services.

Acolytes' Candles - These two candles are carried either side of the cross in the processions at the beginning and end of The Mass. Also used to flank the Gospel when it is proclaimed and at each side of the altar during the consecration.

Agnus Dei - Latin for ‘Lamb of God’

Alb - A long full length tunic of white linen, cotton or polyester worn over the cassock. Often with a hood or cowl or stand-up collar to mask the shirt or collar beneath. Traditionally worn since the fourth century. The name comes from the Latin word, 'albus', meaning white. Some parishes dress their servers in alb and cincture.

Alleluia - Literally 'Praise God!’. Just as a psalm is said or sung before the Epistle or second scripture reading, so is an ‘alleluia verse’ said or sung prior to the reading of The Gospel as an acclamation, serving to express our interior delight in God. The reason for the joy is found in the ensuing Gospel reading where the joyful message of salvation is heard.

Altar - Usually of stone or of other solid construction. The table on which the liturgy of the Sacrament takes place in The Mass.

Altar Bread
- see Host

Altar Candles - Symbolically representing Christ as 'Light of the world'. On the Nave altar, if present, two are present representing the two natures of Christ - divine and human. Additionally, on the high altar on Sundays, feasts and festivals four or six may be used.

Altar Frontal - An embroidered or decorated cloth that hangs to the front of the altar also known as the ‘antependium’. The frontal like the chasuble, dalmatic and stole, is of a liturgical colour appropriate to the feast or season.

Altar Missal - See Sacramentary.

Ambo - see Lectern

Amice - A covering of white linen or cotton for the neck and shoulders; traditionally square with two long fixing tapes. Worn beneath an alb that has no cowl or collar. Used to protect the chasuble or dalmatic from perspiration and to conceal ordinary clothing worn beneath.

Angelus - The church bell; the angelus bell, is rung in a sequence of three times three, then nine to remind us of The Incarnation.

Antiphon - A short verse used at the beginning and end of a Canticle or psalm. See Introit.

Asperges - From the latin meaning ‘sprinkling’. The name given to the rite of sprinkling a congregation with holy water. The name comes from the first word in the 9th verse of Psalm 51 in the Latin translation, the Vulgate, ‘Asperges Me’.

Aumbry - A recess in the wall of a church where the Blessed Sacrament and the holy oils are reserved.

Bell - The Church bell is rung or the bells are pealed to call people to worship and to remind everyone that the church is in use and has a message to loudly proclaim. The church bell in some churches is rung three times at the elevations of the Host and Chalice to signify the most solemn moments of consecration in the Eucharist. See also 'Sanctus' bell.

Benediction - A service where the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the monstrance where the congregation reveres the sacrament and is blessed. From the Latin meaning ‘blessing’.

Boat - See Incense boat.

Biretta - A square cap with three projections or horns and a tassel. Worn by priests and bishops; Black for priests, purple for bishops, red for the clergy of Royal Peculiars. The tassel or pom-pom can be black, purple or red according to rank.

Book of Gospels - Decorated book containing all the Gospel readings for the Church's year. It is brought to the lectern or among the congregation during the Gospel acclamation. It may be carried into church as part of the entrance procession or put on the altar or in a special place before the celebration begins.

Burse - A decorated ‘envelope’ in liturgical colours that contains the Corporal.

Candles - Symbols of the risen Christ. Used as an aid to devotion, for example near a statue of Our Lady or the patron saint of the church. As they burn their life away they are symbolic of prayer and sacrifice.

Canon - The prayers said after the preface and sanctus, prior to the Lords prayer. The solemn prayers of consecration of the bread and wine in The Mass. During the Canon the Elevation of the Host and Chalice take place.

Canticle - Literally means ‘little song’, a short prayer usually deriving from the bible.

Cassock - Full length gown with sleeves worn by priests and servers. They can be single or double breasted. Single breasted cassocks are sometimes called a Soutane and can be worn with a shoulder cape. Priests and Deacons wear black, a variety of coloured buttons and piping can be added to indicate higher rank. Bishop’s wear purple, Canons, Choristers and Deans of Royal Peculiars Red.

Cassock-Alb - A modern ‘combined’ garment now becoming increasingly popular, worn instead of the cassock and alb. Worn by priests, deacons, choristers and servers.

Chalice - The cup usually of precious metal that is used during The Mass to contain the precious Blood of Christ. When prepared for the celebration of the Eucharist, the chalice is 'layered' as follows: empty chalice, purificator, paten with celebrant’s host, pall, chalice veil and on top the burse containing the corporal.

Chalice Veil - A decorated cloth in liturgical colours about 21 inches square (53cm), used to cover the chalice on the altar or credence table prior to The Mass.

Chasuble - The outer garment worn by the priest at the celebration of The Eucharist. There are two basic forms or styles of chasuble. The full or half Gothic or medieval-shape and the Baroque, Roman, Latin or Spanish with heavily decorated back and pinched waist. The chasuble, like the dalmatic, tunicle, stole and maniple, is of a liturgical colour appropriate to the feast or season.

Ciborium - A container that holds the many breads for the congregation both before and after the consecration. Similar to the chalice but with a lid. Reserved in the aumbry or tabernacle if containing the Blessed Sacrament.

- Also known as a ’Girdle’. A rope belt that is tied around the waist traditionally over an alb to secure the stole. Used by servers wearing cassock-alb’s.

Collect - A short prayer, following a set pattern, used at the end of the Gathering in The Mass and at the end of the Intercession in daily prayer.

Concelebration - Where two or more priests or bishops join together in The Liturgy of The Sacrament at The Mass.

Cope - An ankle length cloak of rich fabric. The cope is worn by bishops and priests.

Corporal - Its name comes from the Latin word 'corpus' meaning a 'body'. It is a square of white cloth 16-18 inches (41-46cm) square, on which the chalice and paten are placed during the Eucharist, to catch particles of the Blessed Sacrament, should any fall from the vessels. The corporal is placed on the altar either before or during the preparation of the gifts.

Cotta - Of white linen, cotton or polyester having a square neck revealing the cassock. The hem reaches to the fingertips when the hands fall at the sides, the sleeves end halfway down the arms. Cottas can be decorated by the substitution of lace to the hem and to the sleeves. Rarely seen today is a cotta made entirely of lace. Worn over the cassock by priests, deacons, choristers and servers. A priest or deacon conducting or participating in a service wears a stole over the cotta.

Credence Table - a side table on which all the things that are necessary for the Eucharist are placed, such as the chalice, paten, ciborium and cruets. It may be a moveable wooden table or of stone built into the fabric of the building.

Credo - 'I believe’ in Latin, the first words of the Creed. The universal confession of faith by Christians

Crozier - Carried by a Bishop. Looks like a shepherd's crook and reminds us that the Bishop is chief shepherd of the flock of Christ in his diocese or area.

Crucifer - The server who carries the processional cross at services. Also known as the cross-bearer.

Crucifix - A cross on which is the figure of Jesus.

Cruet - A jug that contains water or wine for The Mass. Can be of glass or precious metal.

Dalmatic - A sleeved tunic worn by Deacons over the Alb when assisting at The Eucharist. The dalmatic; like the chasuble, Tunicle, stole and Maniple, is of a liturgical colour appropriate to the feast or season.

Doxology - A prayer of praise to God. From the Greek word ‘Doxa’ meaning ‘Glory’. See ‘Gloria’.

Elevation - The ‘major elevation’. When the priest raises the consecrated Host and then the Chalice containing the consecrated wine high up for the congregation to see and adore Christ present in the Sacrament. At the end of the Canon the ‘little elevation’ occurs as a final sacrificial gesture to sum-up the Eucharistic act and as a preparation for communion.

- A letter, a portion of scripture read after the Collect and before the Gospel in the Eucharist. Generally, but not always taken from the Epistles of the Apostles, and above all from those of St. Paul.

Eucharist - The Greek noun suxapioTia (eucharistia), meaning ‘thanksgiving’, is not used in the New Testament as a name for the rite instituted by Jesus Christ during his Last Supper.

Extinguisher - A small cone fixed to the end of a pole used to ‘put out’ candles. Also known as a 'Snuffer'.

Flagon - Larger version of the cruet used in festival celebrations.

- A pool or vessel of water in which people are baptised.

Gaudete Sunday - Third Sunday of Advent, from the Latin word Gaudete ’Rejoice’ the first word of the introit. Rose coloured vestments may be worn.

Genuflect - A momentary bending of the right knee to show special reverence to the Blessed Sacrament. The priest genuflects prior to and following the elevations of the host and chalice at The Mass. We all genuflect on approaching the aumbry or tabernacle. A bishop as our father in Christ is also honoured with a genuflection when processing in a service. During the Credo we also genuflect when the words ‘...and dwelt amongst us...’ are said, to revere the fact of the divine Christ's birth among us as a human. When the Blessed Sacrament is exposed it is customary when genuflecting to momentarily kneel on both knees before resuming the genuflection, thus giving adoration and honour to Our Lord.

Girdle - see Cincture

Gloria in Excelsis Deo
- ‘Glory be to God on high', the greater doxology or ‘ascription of glory’, sung by the angels on Christmas night (Luke 2:14). The Gloria is said or sung after the ‘Kyrie’ in the Eucharist concluding the penitential rite in The Gathering. It is not said or sung during Advent or Lent. The lesser doxology, ‘Glory be to the Father...’ is said after each psalm in daily prayer. See 'Doxology’.

Gospel Book - A large decorated book containing only the Gospel readings for The Mass.

Holy Oils - Used in the anointing at baptism (Oleum Catechumenorum), confirmation, consecration and ordination (Chrisma) and the anointing of the sick (Oleum Infirmiorum). These are consecrated by the bishop at the cathedral Mass on Maundy Thursday.

Holy Water - Ordinary water sanctified by the blessing of the church. Symbolises a desire to be washed or purified from sin. Used in baptism, the asperges and at funerals.

Host - Strictly speaking, the consecrated Bread. In practice, the name is often used for the unconsecrated altar bread. The priest’s host is often larger than the others so that members of the congregation can more easily see it

Humeral veil - A wide scarf, usually about nine feet long (3m) and two feet (61cm) wide, placed around the shoulders of the priest or deacon held by a clasp at the front, when carrying a Ciborium or Monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament.

Incense - Made from aromatic gums from various trees and shrubs or from solidified oils from herbs and scented flowers. The grains are sprinkled by the priest on hot charcoal discs contained in the thurible, giving off sweet smelling smoke. Used to hallow or bless things or people. The practice is rooted in the earlier traditions of Judaism in the time of the Second Temple. The smoke of burning incense is interpreted as a symbol of the prayer of the faithful rising to heaven. This symbolism is seen in Psalm 141 (140), verse 2: 'Let my prayer be directed as incense in thy sight’.

Incense Boat - So called because it is usually shaped like a boat, it contains the incense, which will be burned in the thurible.

Intinction - Lightly dipping the consecrated host in the consecrated wine.

- Also known as the Entry Antiphon or Entrance Chant. A short prayer or antiphon said at the beginning of The Mass.

Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison - Greek for ‘Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy’. Said or sung prior to the Gloria.
Laetare Sunday - Fourth Sunday of Lent. Also known as mid-lent or Refreshment Sunday. Rose coloured vestments may be worn. A slight relaxation of the solemnity of Lent is permitted, flowers may decorate the altar. So named from the first word of the Introit in the Latin Mass.

Lavabo - At the preparation of the gifts the priest washes his hands to signify the cleansing of the sins of those gathered and to prepare himself for what he is about to do. After communion the priest cleanses his fingers and the sacred vessels of any particles of the host or drops of consecrated wine that may remain and consumes them. From the Latin 'I will wash’.

Lavabo Bowl - Used at the preparation of the gifts.

Lavabo Towel - Finger towel about 24 inches (61cm) by 12 inches (30cm) used by the priest to dry his hands during the offertory before proceeding to the consecration.

Lectern - The desk from which the readers, deacon and priest proclaim the readings. The lectern is commonly of cast brass in the form of an eagle. Also known as an Ambo.

Lectern Fall - An embroidered or decorated cloth used to decorate the lectern. The fall like the chasuble, dalmatic, tunicle, stole, maniple and frontal is of a liturgical colour appropriate to the feast or season.

Lectionary - A book containing all the scripture readings, antiphons, collects and prayers for the services of the Church year. It is placed on the lectern before Mass begins, or it may be carried in the entrance procession.

- A portable lectern from which the liturgy of the word may be conducted.

Liturgical Colours - These are different colours used to show the progress of the church seasons and feasts. The principal colours are White or Gold, Red, Purple or Violet and Green. Less common today are Rose and Black.

• White or Gold - symbolising purity or rejoicing
Feasts of Our Lord (except the Passion)
Feasts of Our Lady, angels and saints who were not martyrs.
All Saints
John the Baptist
John the Evangelist
The conversion of St. Paul
Funerals (White sometimes)

• Red - symbolising sacrifice
Palm Sunday
Good Friday and Feasts of The Passion of Our Lord
Feasts of apostles, evangelists and martyrs.

• Purple or Violet - symbolising penitence
Funerals (sometimes)

• Green - symbolising growth
Ordinary Time

• Rose - symbolising a slight relaxation of purple or violet
Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday)
Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday)

• Black-symbolising mourning
Funerals (sometimes)

Liturgy - The form and order of ceremony used in public worship.

Lunette - A crescent-shaped clip made of gold or of silver-gilt which is used for holding the Host in an upright position when exposed in the monstrance.

Maniple - is a liturgical vestment, it is an embroidered band of silk or similar fabric that when worn hangs from the left arm. It is only used within the context of The Mass, and it is of the same liturgical colour as the other Mass vestments, the maniple was likely a piece of linen which clerics used to wipe their faces and hands and has been described by some modern commentators as being akin to a handkerchief. It appears to have been used in the Roman liturgy since at least the 6th century. The maniple can vary widely in size, shape, and degree of embroidery and ornamentation.

Mass - The Catholic Church sees the Mass or Eucharist as "the source and summit of the Christian life", to which the other sacraments are oriented. The Catholic Church believes that the Mass is exactly the same sacrifice that Jesus Christ offered on the Cross at Calvary. The term "Mass" is derived from the Late Latin word missa (dismissal), a word used in the concluding formula of Mass in Latin: 'Its, missa est’; ‘Go; it is the dismissal. In antiquity, missa simply meant 'dismissal'. In Christian usage, however, it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word 'dismissal' has come to imply a 'mission'. These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church.

Mitre - A tall pointed hat in two pieces as worn by a Bishop. It reminds us of the tongues of fire that seemed to light upon the apostles on the first day of Pentecost.

Monstrance - A metal container on a stand. It is used at expositions and benedictions of the Blessed Sacrament. It may be plain or very elaborate, but it always has a little glass window through which you can see the host.

Nave - The part of the church where the congregation sits.

Offertory - The offering of bread and wine for The Mass.

Pall - A square board covered in white linen about six inches (15cm) square, used to cover the chalice during the Eucharist.

Paschal Candle - A very large candle. Blessed at the Easter vigil Mass, it represents the risen Christ. During the Easter season the paschal candle has its place in the sanctuary. At Pentecost it is placed in the baptistery or next to the font. It is used all through the year at baptisms and sometimes at Funerals.

Paten - A thin metal concave plate on which is placed the priests host for consecration during the Eucharist.

Pectoral Cross - A cross or crucifix worn by a bishop.

Penitential Rite - The part of The Mass or other service where God’s mercy is asked for and sins are confessed.

Piscina - Built into the south or Epistle wall of the sanctuary. A shallow basin with a hole in its centre which serves as a drain directly to the consecrated ground outside. From the Greek meaning ‘fish bowl’, used for the cleansing of the sacred vessels after communion.

Postcommunion - Concludes the communion rite. A prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving for receiving the Sacrament, a prayer requesting that the full effect of Sacramental grace may be received.

Preface - The introductory prayer at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer of consecration or Canon.

Purificator - A white linen cloth about 15 inches (38cm) by 9 inches (23cm) that is used during the distribution of the wine at communion to cleanse the lip of the chalice and by the priest for cleansing the chalice and ciborium after communion.

Presidential chair - see Sedilia

- An outward and collective expression of a desire to show grief, joy or mourning. To give honour and solemnity to a service, such as Corpus Christi.

Processional Cross - This is carried into church at the head of a procession by the Crucifer, as a sign of our faith, and is the basic symbol of Christianity. It reminds us that Jesus died for us. Preceded by the thurifer in procession to hallow or give honour to this supreme symbol of Christianity.

Pyx - A small metal container, used to take Holy Communion to the sick at home or hospital. Reserved in the Aumbry or Tabernacle in a silk-lined bag attached to which are cords, so that it can be hung around the priest's neck.

Reader - Licensed by the bishop as a lay minister after a period of training to preach, teach and lead worship. To distribute Holy Communion during The Mass and for home and hospital visiting. Can also take funerals.

Royal Peculiar - A parish or church exempt from the jurisdiction of the diocese in which it lies, coming under the direct authority of The Crown, Westminster Abbey and St. Georges Chapel Windsor are two examples.

Sacrament - An outward and visible sign, which indicates and reassures those involved that they are receiving an inward and spiritual grace.

- A book that the priest uses at his chair and at the altar. It can also be called the Missal.

Sacristan - The person who cares for the sacred vessels and vestments and prepares the altar and sanctuary for services.

Sacristy - The room where the clergy and servers prepare themselves for the Service.

Sanctuary - Sacred part of the church where the Altar, Lectern and presidential chair are. Today the Sanctuary altar is often referred to as the High Altar. Also known as the chancel.

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus - ‘Holy, holy, holy...’. The ‘angelic hymn' which concludes the Preface and precedes the most solemn part of The Mass at the prayers of consecration.

Sanctus Bell - Hand held bell rung by a server when the ‘Sanctus’ is said or sung and at the consecration during The Mass. Also rung during benediction and processions of The Blessed Sacrament.

Sanctuary Lamp - The lamp that is kept burning in the sanctuary or near the aumbry or tabernacle to show that the Blessed Sacrament is present.

Scarf - Broader than a stole, worn around the neck and falling calf length to the front. Black for priests blue for readers.

Sedilia - The chair on which the president or chief celebrant sits. Usually the three stone seats on the south side of the sanctuary.

Skullcap - see zucchetto

Snuffer - see Extinguisher

Soutane - see cassock

Stations of the Cross - These depict, usually in fourteen stages, the journey of Jesus to Calvary, his crucifixion on the cross and his laying in the tomb. Used as a focus for meditation on Our Lords Passion.

Statues - Images of Our Lord, Our Lady and the saints. Honoured not adored. Honoured for whom the statue represents. Used as an aid to devotion and prayer.

Stocks - Usually of silver, three small airtight containers used to contain the holy oils. Kept in the Aumbry. Most priests have their own single stock containing oil of the sick, which they keep on them to enable sick calls to be made without delay. The lids are engraved with the letters ‘B’, ‘C’ and T. See also ‘holy oils’.

Stole - Worn around the neck by priests and deacons; the mark of ordination. It shows that the priest is celebrating one of the Sacraments. It also shows that the priest has the duty to preach the Word of God. A priest wears the stole around the neck and falling equally to the front, the deacon’s stole is worn over the left shoulder and falling to the right side where it is fastened. The stole, like the chasuble, dalmatic and tunicle and maniple, is of a liturgical colour appropriate to the feast or season.

- Of white linen, cotton or polyester having a round neck revealing the cassock. The hem reaches to the calf, the sleeves are wrist length. Worn over the cassock by priests, deacons, choristers and readers. A priest or deacon conducting or participating in a service wears a stole over the cotta; a priest can wear a black scarf over the surplice in place of a stole. A reader wears a blue scarf over the surplice. The surplice is never worn beneath a chasuble, dalmatic or tunicle.

Tabernacle - A decorated secure niche or metal cupboard where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. Situated on or above the high altar.

Tabernacle Veil - The embroidered or decorated cloth of liturgical colour covering the tabernacle.

- Container for the burning of incense, usually suspended on three chains.

Tunicle - A short tunic worn by Sub-Deacons over the Alb when assisting at The Eucharist. The Tunicle; like the chasuble, Dalmatic, Stole and Maniple, is of a liturgical colour appropriate to the feast or season.

Verger - Or Virgir, a layperson who acts as a caretaker and attendant for a church or cathedral.

- Chasuble, dalmatic, tunicle stole, maniple and cope. The special garments worn by priests and deacons during The Mass or other services. Vestments have their origin in the ordinary street clothes of the first century.

Zucchetto - Also known as a ‘skullcap’, coloured purple. Worn by a bishop beneath the mitre.