Ecclesiastical Glossary

This glossary originated out of frustration, mainly the frustration of colleagues in the Office of the Public Ministry not having a common vocabulary, a churchly vocabulary, with which to converse. I have had several fieldworkers who respond with blank stares or confusion at such basic terms as pall, corporal, superfrontal and reredos, let alone Laetare, Greater Gloria, or Benedicamus.

Nor is this is a new phenomena, because there are ordained clergy serving before their local altars who are little better prepared. Every “trade” has technical terms used to refer to the tools and the processes used by those participating in that trade. The ability to use the historic ecclesiastical and liturgcal vocabulary, and use them correctly is a sign of knowledge, skill, and care.

It seems, however, that instead of treating the things of God with greater reverence than the trades of men, many in the Office show a lack of skill and care that would lead to expulsion from a trade union. For those who care, and want to better use the tools of the ‘clergy trade’, this page is here to hopefully serve you.

While some can, and have, devoted whole Wiki pages to a single term, the definitions in this brief, informative, and hopefully concise ‘glossary’ are meant to give a usable starting point for understanding the depth, breadth, and beauty of the Church’s vocabulary. It is my hope that those intimately involved in the Church would certainly and ultimately want to dig deeper and go beyond these brief ‘definitions’.

This project will be completed over time. You can participate by revising, refining, or correcting these entries using the page comment function. if you think I have left something out, please, suggest it.

Each page contains all the entries for a single letter of the alphabet. Use the page controls at the bottom of each page to navigate: 1=A, 2=B, 3=C, 4=D, etc.

Ablution Ceremonial cleansing of the sacred vessels (chalice and paten) after the Eucharist; washing of the celebrant’s hands; a washing or cleansing as a religious rite.

Absolution The divinely authorized declaration of of God’s forgiveness and remission of sins pronounce by an ordained minister to those who are repentant and have made a confession of their sins in a public service or privately.

Abstinence The giving up of certain foods or pleasures in remembrance of Christ’s death and for the sake of self-discipline.

Acolyte One who assists the minister at or around the altar.

Adoration The worship given to God, especially in prayer — an outward act and an inward attitude; a type of prayer.

Advent (color: violet or blue) Latin advenire ‘to come unto’. The season that opens the Christian Year and commemorates Jesus coming into the world; the seasons of preparation for Christ’s “Coming” at Christmastide and for His Second Coming to judge the world.  Consists of the four Sundays before Christmas

A.D. Latin Anno Domini,  ‘Year of Our Lord’. This is used to indicate a date that occurred after Christ’s birth, such as ‘A.D. 2013’. Note that the ‘A.D.’ when used, comes before the date, not after.

Affusion The pouring of water upon the head of the person in baptism.

Agnus Dei Latin ‘Lamb of God’. An ancient hymn based on John 1:29. The icon–a lamb with or without a banner–is often a symbol of Christ. A title of Jesus spoken by John the Baptist, “Behold the lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)

Aisle A division of a church on either side of a nave, often, separated by columns or arches. It is incorrectly, though commonly, used to designate a passageway in the nave between sections of pews, properly called a “pace” or alley.

Alb (or albe) A long white linen basic garment (shoulders to ankles) worn by ministers who celebrate the Holy Communion; one of the Eucharistic vestments. Traditionally, the alb is worn with an amice, and is white symbolizing holiness (being set apart). This vestment can be worn by an acolyte or crucifer.

All Saint’s Day (color: white) November 1st; a day of commemoration to remember all the saints and martyrs of the church.

Alleluia Exclamation derived from the Hebrew meaning “praise to Yahweh.”

Alley The passageway between sections of rows of pews.

Alms Originally money or gifts for the poor. It has been extended to mean offerings by congregations or gifts for any religious or charitable purpose.

Alms box A box or receptacle in the vestibule or narthex for receiving alms.

Alpha and Omega The beginning and the ending. First and last letters of the Greek alphabet, used in church symbols to suggest the everlasting nature of Christ’s divinity, as in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and Omega.”

Altar from the Latin alta ara, ‘high place’. The sacrificial focus of the congregation’s worship. A stone or wooden structure at the center of the chancel from which the Lord’s Supper is celebrated; the sacramental focus from which God gives His gifts.

Altar cross The cross surmounting an altar at the center — sometimes in more modern church design, hanging above the altar.

Altar desk Same as Missal Stand.

Altar hangings A collective term for frontal, antependia, superfrontal, dossal, and riddles.

Altar lights A collective term for candles on an altar; sometimes used to designate branch candelabra. See Eucharistic Lights and Vesper Lights.

Altar linen A collective term for the cerecloth, altar cloth or fair linen, corporal, chalice veil, purificators, pall, etc.

Altar rail The railing enclosing the sanctuary or surrounding the altar at which communicants kneel to receive the Lord’s Supper.

Ambo A pulpit or platform and reading desk from which Scripture and Lessons are read. (See Lecturn)

Ambulatory The passageway found in some church structures behind the altar and around the chancel. It is traditionally used for choir processions and clergy access.

Amen Hebrew  The response said or sung at the end of prayers, creeds, hymns, and anthems, signifying approval or solemn ratifications.

Amice A linen neck piece and collar worn with the alb. It was originally a hood covering the head and neck symbolizing the helmet of salvation.

Ampulla Another name for cruet. See cruet.

Anathama A solemn ban or curse pronounced upon a person or thing; a sentence of separation or excommunication.

Angel Greek angelos, ‘messenger’. A spiritual being who serves God; a messenger of God.

Anno Domini Latin “Year of Our Lord” See ‘A.D.’.

Anoint To bless with oil for the healing of the sick

Antependium A cloth which hangs from the pulpit or lecturn, usually in the color of the season. Sometimes also used to refer to the hanging on the front of the altar (See Frontal).

Anthem Derived from antiphon. A selection of Scripture, sacred poetry, or suitable words, sung by the choir.

Antiphon Greek antiphonon, ‘responsive strain’. A verse (generally of Scripture) used as a key-note to a Psalm or Canticle. I announces the ‘thought’ of the Day or Season.

Antiphonal Responsive singing as on alternate verses of psalms and canticles between two voices, two sides of a choir, or between the minster and congregation.

Apostle One of the twelve whom the Lord chose to send out in his name; one sent directly by Christ into the world to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20).

Apostle’s Creed The earliest statement (summary) of the Christian faith; see Creed.

Apse A semicircular or polygonal projection or termination to the sanctuary of the church.

Archangel The highest ranking angel. Michael and Gabriel are mentioned in Scripture; Raphael and Uriel are mentioned in the Apocrypha.

Ascension Day (color: white) A feast of Christ that commemorates the ascension of Christ to heaven and the end of his post-resurrection appearances; celebrated on the 40th day after Easter, the Thursday of the week of Easter 6.

Ash Wednesday (color: black or violet) The first day of Lent. The name is derived from the Roman practice of marking the forehead with ashes on this day.

Athanasian Creed A long detailed statement of faith setting forth the doctrine of the Trinity written in the 5th century and adopted by ecumenical council in the 5th and 6th centuries. See Creed.

Atonement The doctrine that Christ by his incarnation, suffering, and death redeemed man, or reconciled man to God.