An index of liturgical terms explaining words used in and related to the celebration of Mass.



Act by which a priest, acting as the agent of Christ, grants forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Penance.


One who assists in the celebration (i.e., carrying candles, holding the Pope's staff miter, etc.).


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

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

Prayer to Christ, who is recognized as being truly present in the Sacrament, which is displayed for the people.


The white garment covering one's street dress.

Alleluia Acclamation

This acclamation of praise to God follows the second reading and serves to prepare the assembly for the Gospel.


A table on which the sacrifice of the Mass is offered. It is the centre of importance in the place where the Mass is celebrated. Also called: The Table of the Lord.


The place where the Scriptures are proclaimed. Avoid: Pulpit


Called the great Amen, it is the acclamation by the people expressing their agreement with all that has been said and done in the Eucharistic prayer.

Amen (2)

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

Apostle - Apostolic - Disciple

Literally "one sent." Normally this refers to the 12 men chosen by Christ, to be the bearers of his teachings to the world. Term apostolic generally refers back to the 12 apostles. In the Church it characterizes certain documents, appointments or structures initiated by the pope or the Holy See. Disciple is one who follows the teachings of Jesus.


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

Apostolic Nunciature

The offices of the Holy Father's representative to a country or to the Church in that country.


Title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses.


The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province.


A vessel or device used for sprinkling holy water. The ordinary type is a metallic rod with a bulbous tip which absorbs the water and discharges it at the motion of the user's hand.

Auxiliary Bishop

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



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


Final step toward canonization of a saint.


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, whether at the Mass or reserved in a special place in the Church (put this after Liturgy of the Eucharist)

Book of Gospels

The book that contains the Gospel texts, from which the priests or deacon proclaims the Gospel of the day.

Bread and Wine

The elements used in the celebration of Eucharist (unleavened bread and natural pure wine). NOTE: After the Eucharistic Prayer the bread and wine is referred to as: the consecrated bread and wine or the body and blood of Christ.

Breaking of the Bread

The celebrant recreates gestures of Christ at the Last Supper when He broke the bread to give to His disciples. The action signifies that in communion we who are many are made one in the one Bread of Life which is Christ.


A man who is a member of a religious order, but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood.



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

Canon Law

The codified body of general laws governing the Church.


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 honor and imitation by the faithful. Verification of miracles is required for canonization (except for martyrs).


One who sings during the liturgy (i.e., the responsorial psalm).


Cardinals are appointed by the pope and constitute a kind of senate of the Church, and aid the pope as his chief counsellors.


Religious instruction and formation for persons preparing for baptism (catechumens) and for the faithful in various stages of spiritual development.


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


The major church in an archdiocese or diocese. It is the seat of the local Ordinary.


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 one who presides over the assembly and consecrates the Eucharistic Sacrament.

Celebrant (2)

The one who presides at the celebration of the Eucharist.

Celebrant's Chair

The place where the celebrant sits. It expresses his office of presiding over the assembly and of leading the prayer of those present.


The cup used to hold the wine.


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


The vestment worn over the alb by priests, bishops and Pope when celebrating the Mass.


The title of Jesus, derived from the Greek translation of the Hebrew term Messiah, meaning the Anointed of God.


The universal Church that is spread throughout the world; the local Church is that of a particular locality, such as a diocese. The Church embraces all its members--on earth, in heaven, in purgatory.


A vessel used to hold the consecrated bread for the distribution of communion.


Collective term referring to male persons who administer the rites of the Church through Holy Orders.


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.


The shared responsibility and authority that the whole college of bishops, headed by the pope, has for the teaching, sanctification and government of the Church.

Communion Song

The music that is used as the consecrated bread and wine is distributed to the faithful.


Those priests and bishops who join the Celebrant in celebrating the Mass.

Concluding Rite

The brief rite, which consists of the celebrant's greeting to all present, final blessing and dismissal.


Only part of the Sacrament of Penance or reconciliation, not a term for the sacrament.


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

Contemplative Nun

A religious woman who devotes her entire life in the cloister to prayer and reflection.


In common usage, the term refers to a house of women religious.

Crosier (pastoral staff)

The staff that 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.


Generic use cult denotes any act or system of veneration or worship.



The vestment the deacon wears over the alb on solemn occasions.


An ordained minister who assists the Celebrant at the Liturgy of the Word and at the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.


The diaconate is the first order or grade in ordained ministry. Any man who is to be ordained to the priesthood must first be ordained as a transitional deacon. Deacons serve in the ministry of liturgy, of the word, and of charity. The Permanent Diaconate is for men who do not plan to become ordained priests. The program is open to both married and unmarried men.


The title of a priest appointed by the bishop to aid him in administering the parishes in a certain vicinity, called a "deanery." The function of a dean involves promotion, coordination, and supervision of the common pastoral activity within the deanery or vicariate.

Diocesan Curia

The personnel and offices assisting the bishop in directing the pastoral activity, administration and exercise of judicial power of the diocese.


A particular church; a fully organized ecclesiastical jurisdiction under the pastoral direction of a bishop as local Ordinary.


An exemption from Church law.


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 organizational systems. Each is considered equal to the Latin rite within the church.


Having to do with the church in general or the life of the church.


Refers to official structures or legal and organizational aspects of the church.

Ecumenism/Interdenominational/Ecumenical Movement

A movement for spiritual understanding and unity among Christians and their churches. The term is also extended to apply to efforts toward greater understanding and cooperation between Christians and members of other faiths.


A pastoral letter addressed by the Pope to the whole Church.

Entrance procession

Priest, deacon, altar servers, lectors, enter the church or designated place for celebration of the liturgy.

Entrance song/music

The song/music which takes place during the entrance procession.


Refers to a bishop or groups of bishops as a form of church government, in which bishops have authority.


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. It is the center and high point for the entire celebration.


Refers to Christians who emphasize the need for a definite commitment to faith in Christ and a duty by believers to persuade others to accept Christ.


A preacher or revivalist who seeks conversions by preaching to groups.


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.


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.

Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion

Those who assist in the distribution of communion.


Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

Marian feast celebrated on October 7.

Final Doxology

A final prayer of praise of God.


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. The celebrant invites all to pray, another minister announces the petitions and the community responds.


Ancient hymn of praise in which the Church prays to the Father. It is used on all Sundays (outside of Advent and Lent), and at solemn celebrations.


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.


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.


The celebrant greets all present at the liturgy, expressing the presence of the Lord to the assembled community.



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 assist at Mass. In Australia these are: Christmas, (The Nativity of Jesus); August 15, (Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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.


The homily (sermon) is a reflection by the celebrant or other ministers on the Scripture readings and the application of the texts to the assembled community.

Host, The Sacred

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



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 honor celebrated Dec. 8. It refers to the Catholic belief that Mary was without sin from the moment she was conceived.


Incense (material used to produce a fragrant odour when burned) is used as a symbol of the Church's offering and prayer going up to God.


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


A series of prayers for the Church, the world, the Pope, clergy and laity, and the dead.



The name of Jesus, meaning Savior in Christian usage, derived from the Aramaic and Hebrew Yeshua and Joshua, meaning Yahweh is salvation.


Keys, Power of the

Spiritual authority and jurisdiction in the Church, symbolized by the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Christ promised the keys to St. Peter and head-to-be of the Church.



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 laypersons. Included are altar servers, ministers of communion and lectors.

Layman, woman, person

Any church member who is neither ordained nor a member of a religious order. When the Second Vatican Council spoke of the laity, it used the term in this more common meaning.

Leader of Song

The person who leads the community/assembly in the music they sing.


The book that contains all the readings from the Scriptures for use in the celebration of the liturgy.

Liturgical Colours

Colours used in vestments and altar coverings to denote special times in the Church. Green is used in ordinary times, red denotes feasts of martyrs or the Holy Spirit, purple denotes penitential times and white is used for joyful occasions including Christmas, Easter and some saints' days.


The public prayer of the Church.

Liturgy of the Eucharist

The section of the celebration when the gifts are prepared and the Eucharistic Prayer is proclaimed by the celebrant.

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

That section of the celebration where the Scriptures are proclaimed and reflected upon. On Sundays and major feasts, there are three readings: 1. Old Testament selection (except during Eastertide) 2. New Testament selection (from the Epistles) 3. The Gospel reading

Lord's Prayer

The prayer of petition for both daily food (which for Christians means also the Eucharistic bread) and the forgiveness of sins.



The official Teaching office of the Church.


The central point of the theology of Mary is that she is the Mother of God. From apostolic times, tradition, the Church and the faithful have accorded to Mary the highest forms of veneration. She is celebrated in feasts throughout the year, and in devotions such as the rosary and litany and is hailed the patroness of many countries, including the United States.


The common name for the Eucharistic liturgy of the Catholic Church.

Master of Ceremonies

One who assisted in the preparation of the celebration and is present during it to facilitate the movement of the entire rite.


The Roman, Orthodox and Old Catholic churches consider matrimony a sacrament, referred to as the Sacrament of Matrimony. This is a marriage contract between baptized persons.


The archbishop of an archdiocese in a province. He has limited supervisory powers and influence over the other dioceses and bishops in the province.


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.

Miracles, apparitions

Generally miracle is used to refer to physical phenomena that defy natural explanation, such as medically unexplainable cures. An apparition is a supernatural manifestation of God, an angel or a saint to an individual or a group of individuals.


A headdress worn at some liturgical functions by bishops, abbots and, in certain cases, other ecclesiastics.


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 - Friar

A man who belongs to one of the monastic orders in the church, such as Basilians, Benedictines, Cistercians and Carthusians.


An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the Pope to some diocesan priests.


Acts of self-discipline, including prayer, hardship, austerities and penances undertaken for the sake of progress in virtue.



1) Strictly, a member of a religious order of women with solemn vows; 2) in general, all women religious, even those in simple vows who are more properly called sisters.


Offertory Song

Music used during the procession of gifts to the celebrant and as the altar is prepared.

Opening prayer

This prayer by the celebrant expresses the general theme of the celebration.

Ordain - Ordination

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, organized the purpose of performing an apostolic work. Congregation is any group bound together by common rules.


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.


The sacramental rite by which a "sacred order" is conferred (diaconate, priesthood, episcopacy).



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.

Papal Infallibility

The end result of divine assistance given the pope, wherefore he is prevented from the possibility and liability of error in teachings on faith or morals.


A specific community of the Christian Faithful within a diocese, which has its own church building, under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing them with ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.


A priest in charge of a parish or congregation. 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.

Pastoral Associate

A member of the laity who is part of a parish ministry team.

Pastoral Council

A group of members of the parish who advise the pastor on parish matters.


The plate used to hold the bread.

Pectoral Cross

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

Penitential Rite

A general acknowledgment by the entire assembly of sinfulness and the need for God's mercy.

Pontiff, Pontifical

Is used as an alternative form of reference to the pope. Pontifical has to do with the pope.


The raising of the mind and heart to God in adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and petition The official prayer of the Church as a worshiping community is called liturgy.

Prayer after Communion

The final prayer by the celebrant in which he petitions that the sacrament be beneficial for all.

Prayer over the gifts

The prayer by the celebrant asking that the gifts to be offered be made holy and acceptable.

Preface dialogue

The introductory dialogue between the celebrant and assembly in which all are invited to join in prayer and thanksgiving to God.

Preparation of the Gifts

The time in the Mass when the bread and wine to be used in the celebration are brought to the celebrant, usually by representatives of the faithful.

Presbyterial Council

Also known as the priests' council, this is the principal consultative body mandated by the Code of Canon Law to advise the diocesan bishop in matters of pastoral governance. It consists of bishops and priests serving the diocese.


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

Processional Cross

The cross carried in the processions.

Profession of Faith

The people together recall and proclaim the fundamental teachings of the faith. The Profession of Faith is used on all Sundays, and solemnities. Also called the Creed.


To bring one to another's viewpoint whether in religion or other areas.


1) A territory comprising one archdiocese called the metropolitan see and one or more dioceses called suffragan sees. The head of an archdiocese, an archbishop, has metropolitan rights and responsibilities over the province. 2) A division of a religious order under the jurisdiction of a provincial superior.


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.



One who is called upon to proclaim the scriptures during the Liturgy of the Word.


The physical remains and effects of saints, which are considered worthy of veneration inasmuch as they are representative of persons in glory with God.


The adoration and service of God as expressed in divine worship and in daily life.

Religious Movements

Groups of people, both lay and clerical, who band together to promote a certain belief or activity.

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

After the first reading there is a psalm as a response to the reading. The response, repeated after verses, is sung by the assembly, while a cantor or choir sings the verses of the psalm.


A period of time spent in meditation and religious exercise. Retreats may take various forms, from traditional closed forms, to open retreats that do not disengage the participants from day-to-day life. Both clergy and lay people of all ages 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 baptized 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.

Rome - diocese of:

The City of Rome is the diocese of the pope, as the bishop of Rome.


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.



The book used by the celebrant, containing all the prayers for the liturgy of the Mass.


That part of the church where the altar is located.

Second Vatican Council

A major meeting of the Bishops of the world convened by Pope John XXIII to bring about a renewal of the Church for the second half of the 20th century. It ran from 1962 to 1965 and produced important documents in 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.


Another name for diocese or archdiocese.


An educational institutional for men preparing for Holy Orders.


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.


Any woman religious, in popular speech, strictly, the title applies to those women Religious belonging to institutes whose members never professed solemn vows, most of which institutes were established during and since the 19th century.

Soutane (Cassock)

A non-liturgical, full-length, close-fitting robe for use by priests and other clerics under liturgical vestments; usually black for priests, purple for bishops and other prelates, red for cardinals, white for the Pope.

Stations of the Cross

Also known as The Way of the Cross, this devotion to the suffering of Christ consist of prayers and meditations on fourteen occurrences experienced by Christ on His way to His crucifixion.


The vestment worn around the neck by all ordained ministers. For priests, bishops and Pope, it hangs down in front (under the chasuble); the deacons wear it over their left shoulder crossed and fastened at the right side.


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


A loose, flowing vestment of white fabric with wide sleeves. For some functions it is interchangeable with an alb.


A gathering of designated officials and representatives of a church, with legislative and policymaking powers.


Eucharist, Celebration of the Liturgy, Eucharistic celebration, Sacrifice of the Mass, Lord's Supper.



Place in the church where the Eucharist or sacred species is reserved.

The Holy, Holy, Holy

The response of the community to the preface and a continuation of the general theme of praise and thanks.


The study of God and religion, deriving from and based on the data of divine Revelation, organized and systematized 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.


Vatican Congregation

A Vatican body that is responsible for an important area in the life of the Church, such as worship and sacraments, the clergy, and saints causes.

Vatican Councils

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

Veneration of the altar

The reverencing of the altar with a kiss and the optional use of incense.


A portion of the Church's divine office, the daily public prayer encouraged for religious and laity. Also called Evening Prayer.


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.


Washing of hands

An expression of the desire for inward purification.

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.



Skull cap worn by the Pope (white) and bishops (purple) and Cardinals (red).