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Liturgical Terms

This glossary is intended to give you a better understanding of our Catholic worship. It includes information about what we see, hear, say and sing; who is involved in what ways, and so on. It also includes information about the various seasons and celebrations of the Church year.



a clergy member in the highest of the four minor orders, or a lay person who performs some or all of the same duties, which include lighting altar candles, preparing wine and water for Mass, etc.



the season, starting on the Sunday closest to the Feast of St. Andrew (November 30), leading up to Christmas



a long, white linen vestment worn by the presider and various other ministers



(Hebrew) a joyful expression of praise to God (omitted from the liturgy during Lent)



the table at which the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Mass, is celebrated



the place from which the Scripture readings are proclaimed and preaching takes place, and the Book of the Gospels is displayed. Various parts of the Mass are read by the cantor and certain announcements may be given from the ambo as well (sometimes called the pulpit)



a cabinet, located in the church, which contains the holy oils



(Hebrew) a word of agreement (so be it), often used at the end of a prayer



a brief retelling, and reliving, of our salvation history, including events from the Old Testament, the life of Jesus, and the early Church



the feast marking Jesus' departure from earth to the Father in heaven, witnessed by the Apostles on the Mount of Olives forty days after the resurrection.  Traditionally celebrated on the fortieth day of Easter, this feast is now celebrated in most US Churches on the seventh Sunday of Easter



a container or branch used to sprinkle holy water



the feast marking the Blessed Virgin Mary's being taken into heaven at the end of her earthly life. Celebrated on August 15, it is a holy day of obligation unless it falls on Saturday or Monday.



the font of holy water where baptisms take place

Blessed Sacrament


bread and/or wine that have been consecrated and have become the body and blood of Jesus Christ

Book of the Gospels


a book containing the Gospel readings for Sundays and Holy days, used by the priest or deacon for proclamation of the Gospel reading at Mass



the leader of the people's singing, who intones the Responsorial Psalm and other music of the Mass, and invites the assembly into the singing of other hymns and songs



a container in which incense is burned, its rising smoke symbolizing prayer rising to our God in heaven. (also called a thurible)



the cup holding the wine that will be consecrated and become the blood of Jesus Christ



the priest's outermost vestment at Mass, colored according to liturgical feast or season

Chrism (oil)


olive oil mixed with a little balsam, blessed by the (arch)bishop, used at baptism, confirmation and ordination, and in blessing baptismal fonts, altars, and churches



a container for the consecrated hosts, the Body of Jesus Christ



a square piece of linen cloth found on the altar, upon which the wine (in the chalice) and bread (in the paten) are placed

credence table


a side table for the bread and wine and other items used in the Mass



a cross featuring the depiction of Christ crucified (corpus)



containers for the water and wine used at Mass, other than the chalice



words offering praise of God, e.g. the "Gloria", sung at the beginning of Mass, or the ending of the Lord's Prayer, "For the kingdom, the power and the glory are Yours, now and forever"



something inserted; usually referring to the prayer " Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day..." within the Lord's Prayer at Mass



words within a prayer that invite the presence and intervention of the Holy Spirit (e.g. "Father, send your Spirit upon these gifts to make them holy...")



the 21 books of the New Testament written as letters to the Christian Church; the Scripture reading after the Responsorial Psalm is usually taken from an epistle.



a holy water receptacle, or the baptistry itself

Gloria in Excelsis Deo


(Latin) "Glory to God in the Highest"



an explanation of the scripture readings and how they apply to Christian living



(Hebrew) a cry of rejoicing, used by the crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem, and found at Mass in the "Holy, Holy, Holy", and during the procession on Passion (Palm) Sunday

Immaculate Conception


the teaching (also celebrated as a feast day & holy day of obligation on December 8) that the Virgin Mary was kept free from sin, even as she was conceived in her mother's womb.  Not to be confused with the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb.

Kyrie Elieson


(Greek) "Lord have Mercy"



the act of washing the priest's hands after he receives the bread and wine at Mass



a book containing the Old Testament, Responsorial Psalm, New Testament, and Gospel readings proclaimed at Mass.  (Many parishes choose to use the Book of the Gospels for the proclamation of the Gospel reading instead.)



one who proclaims the Scripture readings during liturgical celebrations  (Alternately used as a term for the second of the four minor orders)



(from the Old English for the season of spring) the forty days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (not including Sundays) during which the faithful prepare to observe Christ's passion, death and resurrection by means of penitence, prayer, fasting, and charity



(from the Greek for "public duty or work") the prayers and rituals that make up the Church's communal worship

Oil of Catchumens


olive oil, blessed by the (arch)bishop, used to anoint those being baptized and those being confirmed

Oil of Sick


olive oil, blessed by the (arch)bishop, used to anoint the seriously ill and those who may be in danger of death from sickness or old age

Ordinary Time


the 34 counted (using "ordinal" numbers) weeks of the year, outside of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter



an annual Church calendar, featuring instructions for each day's Mass and Liturgy of the Hours



a prayer of gratitude, followed by the Sanctus, or Holy, Holy, introducing the Eucharistic prayer of the Mass



the leader of the people's prayer; sometimes called the celebrant  (at Mass, the priest; on occasion deacons preside at weddings and lay people preside at services outside of Mass, etc.)



the act of lying face down on the floor (most commonly by the presider on Good Friday and by the candidates for ordination at ordination liturgies)



a small linen cloth used to wipe the chalice and other cups used in the communion rite



a small container used to transport the Blessed Sacrament outside of Church, usually to the homebound, the sick or the dying

Roman Missal


the liturgical book comprised mainly of the Sacrmentary (prayers) and the Lectionary (scripture readings), approved by the local Bishop's conference and Rome.



the book from which the presider's prayers of the Mass and other services are taken



a person who cares for the Church (in particular the sacristy and its contents), prepares the altar for the Mass, etc.  At St. Timothy's this role is shared by acolytes, servers, church launderers and church cleaners.



an area of the church where the chalices, ciboria, liturgical books, vestments and other accessories are stored, and where the clergy and other ministers prepare for the liturgy



the altar, ambo and presider's chair area of the Church; sometimes used more broadly to refer to the entire worship space

sanctuary lamp


a candle that, when lit, indicates the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in a church



(Latin) the "Holy, Holy, Holy" sung by the people in response to the Eucharistic Prayer's preface



a long, narrow piece of cloth, colored according to liturgical season or sacramental celebration, worn over the priest's shoulders or over a deacon's right shoulder, crossing to the left side



a structure in which the Blessed Sacrament is stored

Veni, Sancte Spiritus


(Latin) "Come, Holy Spirit"



the language most commonly spoken by a group of people  (The Second Vatican Council allowed for its use in Catholic liturgy.  Prior to that, Mass was said primarily in Latin.)