Liturgical Decoder

The Da Vinci Code’s cryptex

Like many areas of life, liturgy is filled with specialized words and phrases that serve as a kind of shorthand for complex processes and ideas. But for those who don’t know what the words or phrases refer to, they become a kind of code (some might say jargon), a sort of secret handshake among those who are in on their hidden meaning. Many people may use these same words without fully understanding them; it’s as if they’re speaking a foreign language while understanding just a bit of it—a word here, a sentence there—but without a strong grasp on the full meaning of what they are saying.

The Enigma Machine, used by Germany during World War II to develop an unbreakable code.

With this “decoder,” we hope to break open some of these liturgical code words used in the Western Church (especially in the Roman [Latin] Rite of the Roman Catholic Church) so that everyone who uses them will have a firmer grasp on their meaning and a richer understanding of what the Church has in mind for its liturgical life. The words and phrases are arranged alphabetically with some useful cross-references. The cross-references are given in italics, like this: See also... Please note that both “Roman Rite” and “Latin Rite” are sometimes used together—Roman (Latin) Rite—and sometimes used interchangeably in the following definitions, as they are in many liturgical documents.

If you think of additional words or phrases that be added to this list, please send them in an e-mail to

Liturgical Code Words


A cappella: Unaccompanied choral music. The name comes from the Italian for “chapel style,” though the full title should be “a cappella Sistina”—in the style of the Sistine Chapel, that is, unaccompanied choral music sung the way they do it at the Sistine Chapel, the papal chapel with the Vatican Palace.

Acclamation: A short formula in the liturgy that is usually sung. In Roman (Latin) Rite Catholic worship, such formulas include, for example, the Gospel acclamation, the Sanctus, the memorial acclamation in the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Amen that concludes that prayer.

Acolyte: From the Latinized version of a Greek word for "assistant" or "attendant," the acolyte is a person whose responsibility is to assist the priest and deacon, particularly by preparing the altar and the sacred vessels for Mass (GIRM, 98) and by serving at Mass and at other liturgies. Instituted acolytes-those appointed to this office by a bishop-may also serve as extraordinary ministers of Communion. Currently, in U.S. Catholic practice, only men preparing for the diaconate or priesthood are formally instituted as acolytes. Others performing these tasks are referred to as altar servers or as extraordinary ministers.

Act of Penitence: Part of the introductory rites at Mass. The act of penitence is an admission of our sinfulness and an affirmation of divine mercy. It includes a formula of general confession, an absolution by the priest, and the Kyrie litany in one of several forms. Also known as the penitential rite.

Adult Initiation: The process by which adults (people old enough and mature enough to make life decisions for themselves) become full members of the Roman Catholic Church. The process is guided by the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which is a series of rituals separated by four periods of initiation-inquiry, catechumenate, election, and mystagogy-and capped (between election and mystagogy) by the celebration of the three sacraments of initiation: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist.

Advent: The four-week season that provides a bridge from one liturgical year to the next. In its first weeks, the texts of Advent continue to focus on the end of all history and the fullness of the divine reign, which are the key images in the final weeks of Ordinary Time. But then Advent shifts focus to the coming celebration of the incarnation in Christmas and its related feasts. Except at solemnities and feasts and solemn special celebrations, the Gloria is not sung during Advent.

Age of Reason: The age at which a person is considered to be capable of moral decisions. Traditional theology considered seven or twelve generally to be the age at which a person could make such decisions.

Agnus Dei: Latin for “Lamb of God,” it is the short litany sung at the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup just before the Communion procession begins. The title comes from John 1:29, and the use of this title with a petition to Christ came into Roman Rite liturgy from the Eastern Churches in about the seventh century. As in current practice, it was originally a chant that continued while all the vessels were prepared for Communion. The congregation sang at least the final part of each petition—“have mercy on us”—though in the Middle Ages, the whole litany was sung by the schola or choir. See Litany.

AGO—see American Guild of Organists.

Alb: From the Latin word for "white," it is the common vestment for all liturgical ministers who wear vestments. The alb has full sleeves and is a long white gown-like garment that reaches almost to the ground. Once made strictly of linen (and so called a linea in early documents), it is now made of any appropriate material. When worn by a priest or deacon for Mass, the alb is nearly completely covered by the stole and the dalmatic (for deacons) or stole and chasuble (for priests). Depending on the design of the alb, it may have an amice under it, around the shoulders, and be gathered at the waist with a cincture.

Alleluia: This Latin form of the Hebrew word for “praise God” appears at various places in the liturgy, especially as part of the Gospel acclamation in every season but Lent. It was incorporated into Christian liturgy from Jewish practice and from the Scriptures, especially from the psalms. See Gospel Acclamation.

Altar: From the Latin for a “high place,” it is the place, shaped somewhat like a table, where the Eucharistic Prayer is prayed and the consecrated elements are placed. The top is traditionally made of stone, though it may also be wood. Traditionally, the altar is fixed in its place (attached to the floor), though in some places moveable altars are used when the space for liturgy is shared with other activities.

Altar Bell: A small bell, introduced into the liturgy when the Eucharist was celebrated behind a screen and prayed quietly, to alert the congregation when the Eucharistic Prayer had begun and when the priest elevated the host and chalice during the words of institution. While it may still be used at Mass (GIRM 150), it is not as necessary as it once was when the text and action of the Eucharistic Prayer were inaudible and invisible to the congregation.

Altar Cloth: A white cloth that covers at least the top of the altar. Traditionally, this cloth extended over the sides of the altar. Cloths of other colors may also be used (for example, to reflect the liturgical seasons), but the top of the altar should normally be covered with a white cloth (GIRM 304).

Ambo: Latin, from a Greek word for elevation or high place, it was the place in the church from which the Scriptures were proclaimed. Originally there was only one ambo in a church, placed in the nave, and provided with two flights of steps; one from the east (the side toward the altar) and the other from the west (toward the congregation). From the eastern steps the subdeacon (a cleric below the order of deacon, this liturgical office is no longer in existence), with his face toward the altar, read the epistle at Mass; and from the western steps the deacon, facing the people, read the Gospel. The gradual was also proclaimed by the cantor from a lower step (a gradus in Latin) of the ambo. Ambos were first introduced into churches during the fourth century and were in universal use by the ninth. Many churches used two ambos (Latin plural: ambones ), facing one another across the choir section of the church. By the fourteenth century, ambos were mostly replaced by pulpits. In current practice, "ambo" is used interchangeably with "lectern."

Ambrosian Rite: A version of Roman Rite liturgy that developed in Milan when it was the western capital of the Roman Empire. Named for St. Ambrose, who was bishop of Milan from 374 to 397, this “usage” of Roman Rite liturgy was renewed and translated into Italian after the Second Vatican Council.

Amen: Originally a Hebrew word of affirmation: “Yes,” “For sure.” Jesus used this word (spoken twice for emphasis) at the beginning of some of his more important statements: “Amen, amen, I say to you...” In worship, the word is used at the end of prayers, hymns, and other texts as an act of affirmation to what has been said or sung. Its most important use in Roman Catholic worship is as the final word of the Eucharistic Prayer, confirming what the priest has prayed in the name of the whole community.

American Guild of Organists ( The American Guild of Organists is a professional association serving people in the organ and choral music fields. Its purpose is to promote the organ in its historic and evolving roles, to encourage excellence in the performance of organ and choral music, and to provide a forum for mutual support, inspiration, education, and certification of Guild members.

Amice: From the Latin word amictus (a garment that is simply tossed on), the amice is a rectangular piece of white cloth with ribbons attached to the upper corners. If required by the shape of an alb, it is worn around the shoulders to cover the top of clothes worn under the alb. Traditionally, the amice is touched to the top of the head before being placed on the shoulders because it was once worn as a hood by priests going to and from the altar for Mass.

Anamnesis: From the Greek word for "remembering" or "memory," anamnesis in Christian liturgy is the act of making present by recalling. This notion appears in the psalms, when the psalmist asks God to remember the divine actions of old on behalf of the nation and therefore to continue that action today (see Psalm 25:6; Psalm 74). In Christian prayer, anamnesis evokes the present power of the paschal mystery-the salvation achieved in the dying, rising, and ascension of Jesus Christ in which this gathered assembly is participating through this liturgy.

Animator: A leader of congregational song. See also Cantor.

Anthem: As used today in Protestant and Episcopal worship (and sometimes in Roman Catholic circles as well), the word (which derives from a Greek word via the Saxon word "antefin") commonly refers to any short sacred choral work presented during the course of a worship service. When use of the word entered Anglican worship in the sixteenth century, it had a more specific meaning as the English version of the European religious "motet."

Antiphon: A short phrase that may be repeated before and after a psalm or canticle or as a response to the verses of a psalm or canticle. In Latin liturgy, the word antiphona also identifies the verses that are sung with a psalm at three processional moments: during the entrance procession (antiphona ad introitum), at the procession with gifts (antiphona ad offertorium), and during the Communion procession (antiphona ad communionem).

Antiphonal: A liturgical book containing the texts—and, eventually, when musical notation developed, the chants—for the divine office (liturgy of the hours). Some antiphonals also contained chants for Mass.

Apse: From the Latin (and Greek) word for “arch,” it is a semicircle or polygon that ends an aisle or the nave of a church. Apses were frequently places where statues were placed for special devotion or where additional altars were constructed for priests’ private Masses or as places where particular groups would gather to celebrate Mass.

Antiphonal singing: As used today, it usually means that two groups alternate the singing of a particular text, as when a group might divide to sing verses of a psalm or canticle. It is sometimes used (incorrectly) to identify responsorial singing.

Asperges: Latin shorthand for the optional sprinkling rite at the beginning of Mass. The word comes from the Latin text that was sung in most seasons during this rite in the Tridentine Mass: “Asperges me, Domine” (“Wash me, Lord”—Psalm 51).

Assembly: Everyone gathered for worship. Often used to identify the congregation, as distinct from those who have a special ministry at liturgy.


Baldachin: Also known as a “baldachino” or “baldachium,” from the late medieval name for Baghdad (the source of rich cloths), this is a domelike canopy in wood, stone, or metal erected over the altar in some churches. It is generally supported on four columns, though sometimes a baldachino may be suspended by chains from the roof.

Banns (of Marriage): From an Old English verb "to summon," the banns are an announcement of a forthcoming marriage. Churches are required by canon law to publish the banns (by speaking or in print) several times before a marriage, so that people may celebrate the coming union or, if necessary, warn the pastor about possible factors ("impediments") that might prevent the marriage.

Baptism: In Roman Catholic practice, the first of three sacraments of initiation into the Church (the other two are confirmation and sharing in Eucharistic Communion). In all Christian churches, the sacrament that unites a believer to the risen Christ and allows individuals to share in the redemption.

BCL—see Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy.

Benediction: From the Latin word for “blessing,” the title is shorthand for a service centered on the reserved Eucharistic sacrament. The full title is “Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction.” At the beginning of the service, the host (consecrated bread) is taken from the tabernacle and exposed for veneration either in a ciborium or a monstrance. The sacramental presence of Christ is honored with hymns, prayers, and incense. The rite concludes with a blessing (the “benediction”) of the community by a priest or other minister who uses the exposed sacramental bread to trace the sign of the cross.

Benedictus: Latin title for the Canticle of Zechariah used at morning prayer. It comes from the first word of the Latin version of this canticle.

Bishop: A member of one of the three sacramental orders in the Catholic Church (bishop, priest, and deacon), the bishop is an ordained minister who serves as a representative of the apostolic faith. In this capacity, his job is to preserve the unity of a diocese in worship, doctrine, and practice and to keep the diocese in communion with all of the other churches throughout the world, especially those that are part of the Roman Catholic communion of churches united with the pope. Bishops may ordain members of the other two orders (presbyters or priests and deacons) and, in communion with other bishops, ordain a bishop.

Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy ( A committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops responsible for all liturgical issues that the whole body of Latin Rite bishops might have to deal with.

Blessed Sacrament: The consecrated bread and wine, especially the consecrated bread (host) reserved in the tabernacle for Communion to the sick and personal devotional prayer.

Book of the Gospels: A specially decorated ritual book that contains the text of the Gospels arranged according to the Lectionary for Mass. It is carried in procession to the place where the Gospel will be proclaimed, and it is venerated with a kiss, at the end of the Gospel, as the repository of the living Word of God.

Byzantine Church: Any church that uses the forms of liturgical celebration known collectively at the Byzantine Rite. Such churches may be in communion with Rome (such as the Byzantine Catholic Church in the United States) or in communion with one of the other ancient Christian centers in the Middle East (those not in communion with Rome are called “Orthodox” churches).

Byzantine Rite: All liturgies, forms for the administration of sacraments, the daily office (known in the Latin Rite as the liturgy of the hours), and the forms for various blessings, sacramentals, and exorcisms that trace their origins to the Church of Constantinople. Liturgies of the Byzantine Rite are used in almost all Orthodox churches of the Byzantine tradition and in most Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome.


Cadence: A musical phrase that marks the end of a section of a musical composition or of a passage or phrase.

Candidate for Reception: A person, baptized in another Christian communion, who now seeks admission to the Roman Catholic Church and who has completed preparation for reception into the communion of the Church. That rite of reception will include an affirmation of shared faith, confirmation, and sharing in the Eucharist, including Eucharistic Communion.

Canon: Canon to the right of them, canon to the left of them. Not to be confused with large-bore weapons (which are spelled with a third "n"), there are several kinds of canons in liturgical-musical-ecclesiastical language. Of course, depending on your perspective, some of these may also be considered large-bore. Liturgical Canon: The First Eucharistic Prayer is also called the "Roman Canon" or the Canon of the Mass ( Canon Missae in Latin) because it provided the sole "rule" (canon) for praying the Eucharist in the Roman Rite for about fourteen centuries (from at least the sixth century through the mid-twentieth century), though parts of the text are older than that. Musical Canon: A form of musical composition in which a melody is introduced and then repeated completely in a second voice before the first voice has finished. Usually the second voice begins after the first measure of the first tune or at some other temporal distance before the first tune is completed. Additional voices may also be added. Ecclesiastical Canon: A person who lives "by the rules," specifically, a member of a "chapter" (a small community) of priests assigned to serve a cathedral or other church and to be responsible for the liturgy of that church, including daily Mass and the daily liturgy of the hours. "Canon" may also refer to a member of certain religious orders who live under a particular rule and take vows. Other Canons : Church laws- see Code of Canon Law.

Canon Law: Canon law is the body of laws and regulations made by or adopted by ecclesiastical authority, for the government of the Roman (Latin) Church and its members and collected in the Code of Canon Law. (Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome have a similar body of laws.) The current code was published in Latin in 1983. A “canon” is a particular law within that collection. Canon law does not replace the liturgical laws found in the various official liturgical books, as canon two clearly states: “For the most part the Code does not define the rites which must be observed in celebrating liturgical actions. Therefore, liturgical laws in force until now retain their force unless one of them is contrary to the canons of the Code.”

Canopy: A covering that may be made of cloth or more solid materials. Canopies are sometimes used over altars (see, for example, baldachin) and sometimes used in processions to cover the Blessed Sacrament, a relic, or some other holy object.

Canticle: A song text from the Bible that is not part of the Book of Psalms. Such canticles appear in both the First (Old) Testament and the New Testament, and they are used in the liturgy as part of the liturgy of the hours and as responsorial psalms.

Canticle of Mary: One of three canticles in the Gospel according to Luke, often called the Magnificat from the first word of the Latin translation of this Greek text. The text may have existed earlier and been incorporated into Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:46–55). It is used in the Roman Rite liturgy of the hours as the Gospel canticle for evening prayer.

Canticle of Simeon: One of three canticles in the Gospel according to Luke, often call the Nunc dimittis from the first words of the Latin translation of this Greek text (Luke 2:29–32). It is used in the Roman Rite liturgy of the hours as the Gospel canticle for night prayer (compline).

Canticle of Zechariah: The longest of three canticles in the Gospel according to Luke, often called the Benedictus from the first word of the Latin translation of this Greek text (Luke 1:68–79). The first part (vv. 68–75) may have existed separately as a messianic hymn of thanksgiving. The second part (vv. 76–79) identifies John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus. This text is used in the Roman Rite liturgy of the hours as the Gospel canticle for morning prayer.

Cantor: In current Roman Catholic practice, “cantor” may mean the choir director, someone who sings what the choir would normally sing at Mass when the choir is not present, or a leader of congregational songs, acclamations, and responses. As a leader of congregational song, the cantor is sometimes called an animator.

Catechumen: From the Greek word for someone who has been or is being instructed, a catechumen is an unbaptized person preparing to join the Catholic Church who has been accepted into the process of formation and brought into the order of catechumens or catechumenate. In a formal ceremony, these people declare their intention to join the Church, and the Church accepts them as persons who intend to become members. In a sense, catechumens are already members of the Church, entitled to the nuptial blessing at their marriage and to Christian burial. See also Catechumenate.

Catechumenate: An extended period of time during which catechumens are given pastoral formation and guidance in the life and faith of the Catholic Church. The catechumenate includes suitable instruction in the Church's beliefs and practices, the adoption of those beliefs and practices by the catechumens, liturgical rites that indicate a deepening union of the catechumens with the Church, and involvement of the catechumens in the apostolic and evangelical work of the Church. Assisting this process are sponsors, godparents, and the members of the community of faith. See also Catechumen, Godparent, Sponsor.

Cathedral: The chief church in a diocese. While the cathedral may not necessarily be the largest church around, it is the chief church because it is the bishop’s church—the one where his cathedra (teaching chair) is located. When it is large enough, the cathedral is the site for major liturgies that affect the whole diocese, such as ordinations or the annual Chrism Mass.

CCM—see Contemporary Christian Music.

Cecilia (St. Cecilia): The patron saint of musicians. She lived during the fourth century and was buried in Rome in the Catacomb of Callistus. Later, her body was removed from the catacomb and placed in a basilica named for her. According to legend, on her wedding night she “sang in her heart to God alone.” Her feast, celebrated on November 22, is often the occasion for parishes and dioceses to honor their pastoral musicians.

Ceremonial of Bishops: The official ritual book that describes aspects of various liturgies unique to bishops or ceremonies at which only a bishop may serve as the ordained celebrant.

Chalice: From the Latin word for "cup" or "drinking vessel," the word is used to identify the cup in which the wine is placed at the Eucharist. Because of its special role as the container for the Blood of Christ, chalices are usually made of precious metals, and some are highly decorated.

Chant: Unaccompanied vocal music with a single melody line that is “text-driven,” that is, the music is designed to deliver a text, so its stresses usually accord with the accents of the words. Chant may be very simple (e.g., a psalm tone) or very elaborate (e.g., the introits, graduals, and Communion chants of the Gregorian repertoire).

Chasuble: From the Latin word for “little house,” the chasuble is the outermost vestment worn by a bishop or priest at Mass. Originally shaped like a poncho that covered the person from shoulders to shoes, with a hole in the middle for the head, the chasuble is now cut away on the sides, to make it easier to wear during the liturgical action. The color of the chasuble is usually the liturgical color of the feast or event.

Children, Initiation of: Children are brought into the communion of the Church in two ways. If they have not been baptized as children but have reached the use of reason and are old enough to be catechized, children follow an adapted form of the pattern and process laid down in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults . Otherwise, they are baptized as infants and, at appropriate ages, celebrate the sacrament of confirmation and share fully in Eucharistic Communion.

Chironomy: Choir direction using hand movements to indicate melodic curves and rhythmic emphases. Usually used to identify choir direction of chant.

Choir: A trained group of singers who perform during worship. They usually sing a specialized repertoire or support the singing of the rest of the liturgical assembly. As a space within the church, the choir is a space traditionally reserved for clerics or other representatives of the community who chant the daily prayer of the church—the liturgy of the hours or the divine office as well as Mass. The space traditionally separates the altar area from the area for the congregation, and the pews or seats in this space face one another to promote the chanting back and forth of alternate verses of the psalms and canticles in the various hours of daily prayer.

Chorister: A member of the choir. This word is usually used to identify the member of a children’s choir or a youth choir.

Choristers Guild ( Choristers Guild is a Christian organization that assists leaders of communities and choirs to nurture the spiritual and musical growth of children and youth. It provides training and educational opportunities and publishes appropriate music, periodicals, and educational materials.

Chrism Mass: A Mass celebrated once a year by the bishop, clergy, and baptized members of a diocese during which the oils used in sacramental celebrations (oil of catechumens and oil of the sick) are blessed and sacred chrism—used for baptism, confirmation, ordination, and the dedication of altars and churches—is consecrated. Traditionally celebrated on Holy Thursday, it may be celebrated on some other day during Holy Week between Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion and the beginning of the Triduum on Holy Thursday evening.

Christmas: A combined form of “Christ’s Mass,” the major celebration in Western Christianity of Christ’s incarnation. This celebration on December 25—nine months after the Solemnity of the Annunciation on March 25—focuses on the historical birth of Jesus, a human being who is also the Second Person of the Trinity. (Note that the Church does not treat Christmas as “Jesus’ birthday” but as a celebration of the mystery that, in his person, Jesus combines humanity and divinity.) This mystery is expressed in a key phrase of the Nicene Creed: “By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.” (We bow at this phrase when the creed is proclaimed during Mass.) See also Christmas Season, Epiphany.

Christmas Season: A set of feasts and solemnities that celebrate aspects of the incarnation. The season runs from Christmas (December 25) through the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord in mid-January. It includes the Feast of the Holy Family; the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God; and the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

Code of Canon Law—see Canon Law.

Ciborium: A container for the consecrated host when it is reserved in the tabernacle or carried from the tabernacle. Plural: ciboria.

Cincture: A long knotted cord (sometimes a long strip of cloth) used to tie an alb at the waist.

Clergy: From the Greek word for “heritage,” based both on the ancient process of selection (“casting lots” or placing pottery shards in a particular pile) or the assignment of special responsibilities for worship to the tribe of Levi as their heritage (see Numbers 1:48–54), this is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religious tradition. In Roman Catholic practice, clerics are those who have been ordained.

Collect: A short prayer spoken or chanted by the priest (sometimes by a deacon) that “collects” the unspoken prayers expressed by other members of the assembly. The collect is usually preceded by an invitation to pray and a brief period of silence that allows people to express their prayers in their minds and hearts. A collect prayer has a recognizable shape: Usually addressed to the First Person of the Trinity, it often begins with a title (Father, Creator, Lord) and a short reference to salvation history (who...). There is a petition (grant us..., hear us...) and then a final Christological reference, since all Christian prayer is “through Christ our Lord.” The collect is, in fact, a condensed form of a longer prayer such as the Eucharistic Prayer.

Common of the Mass—see Order of Mass.

Compline—see Night Prayer.

Confirmandi: Candidates for sacrament of confirmation who have completed the formation process and have been accepted by the Church. From the Latin for "those to be confirmed."

Confirmation: The second sacrament of initiation, following baptism. In confirmation, the minister of the sacrament (bishop or priest) invokes the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen the person being confirmed for a life of Christian witness. It is not the “sacrament that bestows the Holy Spirit,” since the Spirit is at work in all the sacraments and in the whole of the Church’s life, but it is the sacrament that focuses on a particular role of the Holy Spirit in Christian life. In the Eastern Churches, it is always administered as part of a unified rite of initiation that begins with baptism and concludes with Eucharistic Communion. In the Western Churches, it is sometimes celebrated as part of such a unified rite or, if the person to be confirmed was baptized as an infant, for example, it is celebrated separately when the person is old enough to understand what’s going on.

Congregation: In the liturgy, that part of the liturgical assembly which has no specialized ministry—the people whose sole responsibility in the liturgy is “conscious, active, and full participation... in body and mind, a participation burning with faith, hope, and charity, of the sort which is desired by the Church and demanded by the very nature of the celebration, and to which the Christian people have a right and duty by reason of their Baptism” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 18).

Congregation for Divine Worship: Full title: Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Congregation is part of the Vatican Curia (official offices of the Roman Catholic Church). It oversees the publication of official Latin texts of the various rites (called editiones typicae “typical” or “standard” editions) and translations of those texts prepared for liturgical use. It also responds to questions of interpretation of the guidelines for worship and of the canon and liturgical law that deals with the Church’s liturgical life. The Congregation grants indults and dispensations from certain aspects of international liturgical law when conferences of bishops or individual bishops request those.

Consecration at Mass—see Words of Institution.

Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: The first major document approved during the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). Made public on December 4, 1963, Sacrosanctum Concilium described the central role of liturgy in Catholic Church life: It is the “summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time, it is the fount from which all the Church’s power flows” (SC, 10). The Constitution also described a plan for reforming Church practice to make that central role of liturgy evident, and it laid down guidelines for revising the rituals in accord with that goal. The central and most important goal of liturgical renewal and ritual reform, according to the Constitution, is full participation of all believers in the act of liturgical worship: “The Church earnestly desires that all the faithful be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations called for by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people... is their right and duty by reason of their baptism. In the reform and promotion of the liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else” (SC, 14).

Contemporary Christian Music: A generic name for contemporary popular music that emerged out of the evangelical Protestant tradition and the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. While the lyrics focus on matters associated with the Christian faith, the music is derived primarily from country (Nashville) sounds and, in some instances, various forms of rock. While not originally intended for use in worship, some forms of contemporary Christian music have been incorporated into Protestant and Catholic worship. This is especially the case with “praise music” or “praise anthems.” Contemporary Ensemble: A liturgical music ensemble that incorporates voices and various instruments not a part of traditional Catholic liturgical music, such as pianos, drums, electronic keyboards, and other instruments. While some contemporary ensembles use a repertoire limited to contemporary compositions (usually music composed since the 1970s for such ensembles), many others do not restrict their repertoire to such compositions but use music from the whole treasury of sacred music—from chant, hymnody, and choral music.

Cope: Not to be confused with the ability to do something (“Yeah, I can cope with that”), this word comes from the Latin word for cape and is a liturgical vestment that looks like a full-length cape, open at the front and fastened with a clasp or hook. Worn over an alb and stole, it adds dignity to the presence of a priest or deacon at services like Benediction.

Corporal: Not to be confused with a military rank, this word comes from the Latin adjective for something pertaining to a body. The liturgical corporal is a square white linen cloth on which the bread (in a paten) and wine (in a cup or chalice) are placed in preparation for the Eucharistic Prayer. The corporal is placed on top of the white altar cloth, usually during the preparation of the gifts at Mass.

Credence Table: A small work table, kept to one side of the sanctuary area and even out of sight of the congregation, on which various things are kept which are to be used at Mass. The chalice and related cloths (corporal, purificator) are kept here before they are placed on the altar, as are the extra vessels to be used for distribution of Communion to the faithful, the vessels used to wash the priest’s hands, and other necessary items. The name comes from a medieval Latin word which has roots in the old Latin word for belief (to “give credence to”).

Creed: A formal statement of doctrine, usually approved by a council of bishops. The major creeds in use in Roman Catholic liturgy are the Apostles’ Creed—an early baptismal creed—and the Nicene Creed—approved by the Council of Nicaea in 325, revised by the First Council of Constantinople in 381, and (in Roman Catholic use) modified by the Second Council of Lyon in 1274 to include the “filioque” clause (affirming that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son).

Cult: Though often used negatively as a name for a cohesive group of people devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture or society considers to be far outside the mainstream, the original meaning of the word, derived from the Latin word cultus (a work, cultivation, or act of honor) is used more neutrally to name a set of rituals based on a system of beliefs.


Dalmatic: A long-sleeved tunic (loose-fitting garment that reaches to the knees) worn by a deacon. Based on clothing worn in the Byzantine Empire, the dalmatic is a liturgical vestment that serves as the deacon’s outer garment and usually matches the bishop’s or priest’s chasuble in color and decoration.

Dance, Liturgical: There are many references in the First (Old) Testament to the use of dance in worship. Miriam danced in thanksgiving before the Israelites as they were delivered at the Sea (Exodus 15:20–21), and people were exhorted to praise God with “dancing, making melody to him with timbrel and lyre” (Psalm 149:3), and to “praise God with timbrel and dance” (Psalm 150:4). The types of dance used in Israelite society included the circular or ring dance as well as the processional dance. These were often used to celebrate specific events, as when David and the people of Israel danced before the Ark of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14). While there is some evidence that formal and stylized dance were also part of early Christian worship, there was strong opposition to any uncontrolled movement, and dance soon became reduced to processional movement and formal gestures and postures (standing, sitting, kneeling, raising arms in prayer, bowing), with some round or circle dances performed by the clergy on special occasions. In the liturgical renewal of the twentieth century, dance was re-introduced into worship, but it was often used more as performance than as congregational movement, and so it was discouraged by the Vatican except in those cultures for which dance is a common—and communal—form of cultic expression.

Deacon: A member of one of the three sacramental orders (deacon, priest, bishop). The ministry of the deacon in the Roman Catholic Church is described as one of service in three areas: the Word, the altar, and charity. The deacon's ministry of the Word includes proclaiming the Gospel at the Eucharist, preaching, and teaching. His ministry at the altar includes various parts of the Mass that are proper to the deacon. The ministry of charity involves service to the poor and marginalized and working with parishioners to help them become more involved in such ministry. Deacons, like priests and bishops, are “ordinary ministers” of the sacrament of Baptism; they may also serve, like priests and bishops, as the Church's witness at the sacrament of matrimony. Deacons may preside at funerals, celebrations of the liturgy of the hours, and various services such as Eucharistic exposition and benediction, and they may give blessings. They may not grant sacramental absolution, anoint the sick, or preside at Mass.

Diocese: An administrative division of the Church. A diocese is usually a particular territory with clearly defined boundaries in which the people are governed and served by a bishop and in which certain services are provided that cannot be provided by a parish. Some dioceses, such as the U.S. Military Ordinariate or the Opus Dei Prelature, are set up for particular groups of people and not for a particular territory.

Divine Liturgy: In the Byzantine Christian tradition and some other Eastern traditions, the title for the celebration of the Eucharist. The most common form of this ritual in the Byzantine tradition is the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, used on most Sundays and holy days as well as on some weekdays. (Unlike the tradition of the Roman Rite, the Byzantine tradition does not celebrate the Eucharist on most weekdays.) The Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great is used in Byzantine churches during Great Lent, on the vigils of Easter, Christmas, and Theophany (Epiphany), and on the feast of St. Basil. Both forms are related to the Divine Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem, traditionally attributed to the first bishop of Jerusalem. The Divine Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, used during Holy Week, is a celebration of vespers with a Communion service.

Divine Mercy Sunday: An alternative name for the Second Sunday of Easter, added to the liturgical calendar in 2000. In a series of visions, Sister Faustina Kowalski (1905-1938, declared a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2000) came to embrace an image of Jesus as divine mercy. According to Faustina's visions, Christ told her to name the Second Sunday of Easter the Feast of Divine Mercy and to promise that anyone who confessed sins in preparation for that day and received sacramental Communion on that day would receive "complete forgiveness of sins and punishment"-a "complete pardon." This promise is the positive side of the Church's requirements that everyone in serious sin go to confession at least within a year of the sin and that everyone able to share in sacramental Communion should do so at least once a year, preferably within the Easter Season. The prayers and other acts associated with the Divine Mercy devotion may be prayed on that day, but they should not be incorporated into parish Masses.

Divine Office—see Liturgy of the Hours.

Doxology: Greek for “a word [or “song”] of praise,” it identifies formulas—usually Trinitarian—that conclude prayers and, in the liturgy of the hours, psalms and canticles. Some hymns also contain a final doxological verse. The “short” doxology, in its most familiar form, is: “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.” Another fairly short doxology concludes the Eucharistic Prayer: “Through [Christ], with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.” The Gloria is a longer doxology. A non-Trinitarian doxology follows the Lord’s Prayer at Mass: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever.”


Easter: The English name for the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, the most important feast in the calendar. In most languages, the day is usually named by some variation of “Pascha” (from the Hebrew “Pesach,” Passover). The origin of the word in English and German (Ostern) is uncertain, but it may refer to Eostre, a Celtic goddess of spring, for whom the month of the spring equinox (April) was named in English and German (Eostremonat and Ostaramanoth). The date of Easter is determined, with some modifications, by the date of Passover. Easter is always celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox, but there is some variation among the churches on how that date is computed.

Easter Season: The fifty days (more or less) between Easter Sunday and Pentecost. It is designed to be an extended celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

Easter Vigil: The major celebration of Easter that concludes the Paschal Triduum. It is celebrated after darkness on Holy Saturday but before dawn on Easter. The Vigil has four major parts: the service of light, focused on the lighting of the Paschal Candle as the symbol of the risen Christ bringing light to the world; the liturgy of the Word, in which several readings trace the history and meaning of salvation; the liturgy of initiation, in which new members are baptized and confirmed and the whole community renews its baptismal commitment; and the liturgy of the Eucharist, in which all the baptized commit themselves once more to live in Christ and share in the sacramental presence of the risen Christ.

Eastern Catholic Churches: Those Catholic churches in communion with the bishop of Rome who follow rituals, law, and other practices that differ from those of the Roman (Latin) Rite. They are called “Eastern” because their ritual practices and law are related to ancient Christian centers (also called partriarchates) that were located in the eastern half of the Roman Empire, particularly in the areas known to day as the Middle East and Far East. There are twenty-one Eastern Catholic Churches. The Coptic and Ethiopian Churches are derived from the patriarchate of Alexandria in Egypt. The Maronite Church descends from the patriarchate of Antioch in Syria, as do the Syrian, Chaldean, Malabar, and Malankar Churches. (The last two are centered in India.) Byzantium (Constantinople, today’s Istanbul), once the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, is the patriarchate from which fourteen Catholic churches descend: Belarusan, Bulgarian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Krizevci, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Rusyn (Ruthenian, (known as the “Byzantine Catholic Church” in the United States), Slovak, Ukrainian, Armenian, and Georgian. Many of these Catholic churches have parallel communities in the Orthodox Churches.

Ecumenical Councils: A church meeting convoked by a pope that draws representative bishops from the whole world (“ecumenical” comes from a Greek word meaning “worldwide”) and whose decisions are intended to be binding on all Christians. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes twenty-one ecumenical councils, beginning with Nicaea I (325) and ending with the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). Other churches, particularly the Orthodox Churches, acknowledge the early ecumenical councils (Nicaea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus, Chalcedon) but not later ones. The first ecumenical council convoked in the West, without the participation of the Eastern bishops who had separated from Rome, was Lateran Council I (1123).

Elect: As used in churchspeak, "elect" may refer either to the saints in heaven or to those adults and children old enough to be catechized, who have completed the catechumenate in the process of initiation and are chosen ("elected") to share in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. See also Catechumen, Catechumenate, Initiation.

Election, Rite of: The second step in adult initiation, preceded by the catechumenate and followed by the celebration of the sacraments of initiation. The rite of election usually takes place at the beginning of Lent, often at the cathedral, and the bishop is the usual presider at this rite. The ritual is also called the "enrollment of names" because one of the key parts of the ceremony occurs when the candidates write their own names in the Book of the Elect, which contains the names of those who have been chosen by the Church for initiation.

Elevation at Mass: The showing of the consecrated bread and wine after the words of institution are spoken or chanted over each element. This gesture, intended to evoke a reverent response from the people, is a simple showing in the present Order of Mass, though at some points in history it was a major moment in which the host and the chalice were held aloft for several minutes while bells rang.

Embolism: From the Latin for an “insertion,” an expansion of the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer spoken or sung aloud by the priest. It begs on behalf of the entire community of the faithful deliverance from the power of evil. The people respond with a doxology: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory...”

Ensemble: A group of music ministers that usually includes both voices and instruments. Many ensembles use the piano as a central instrument and include other instruments such as guitars, drums, string instruments, and brass.

Entrance Chant: The first song of the Mass. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (numbers 47–48), the entrance chant begins as the priest enters the liturgical assembly with the deacon and ministers while everyone else stands. “The purpose of this chant is to open the celebration, foster the unity of those who have been gathered, introduce their thoughts to the mystery of the liturgical season or festivity, and accompany the procession of the priest and ministers.” This first song may be sung in several ways—“alternately by the choir and the people or in a similar way by the cantor and the people, or entirely by the people, or by the choir alone.” In the dioceses of the United States of America there are several options for the text and music of the entrance chant: one of the official texts (in an official setting or another musical setting) from one of the liturgical books (the Roman Missal, Graduale Romanum, or Simple Gradual); a song from a collection of psalms approved by the conference of bishops or by a diocesan bishop; or a “suitable liturgical song” approved by the conference of bishops or a diocesan bishop.

Epiclesis: Transliteration of the Greek word for “calling down,” an invocation of the Holy Spirit, often expressed by an extension of hands over the person or object to be consecrated by the Spirit. With the exception of Eucharistic Prayer I (the Roman Canon), in the Eucharistic Prayer, there are two epicleses (plural): the epiclesis over the bread and wine before the words of institution, expressed by the priest holding his hands together, palm down, over the elements as he prays, and an epiclesis over the people (not accompanied by this gesture). Every current Catholic sacramental liturgy includes an epiclesis, and most include the “imposition of hands” in some form.

Epiphany: Based on the Greek word for “showing” or “appearance.” The Solemnity of the Epiphany is a key celebration of the Christmas Season (it is the major celebration of the incarnation in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches). Originally celebrated on January 6, twelve days after Christmas, it is now celebrated in the Latin Rite on the Sunday after the first Saturday in January. The focus of this feast in Western Christianity is on the appearance of the magi and Christ’s revelation to the nations. Other themes have included Christ’s baptism by John (now celebrated as the final feast of the Christmas Season) and the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus worked his first miracle.

Episcopal: Of or relating to a bishop. See Bishop.

Epistle: Based on the Greek word for “letter,” it refers to communications sent by the apostles or their disciples to the early churches. Some of these texts are included in the New Testament as inspired Scripture, and excerpts from them are among the texts proclaimed as the second reading at Sunday Mass (or the first reading on weekdays). Other epistles, while not considered inspired, are key documents of early Christianity. These include, for example, the epistles of Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Barnabas.

Eucharist: From the Greek word for “thanksgiving,” it identifies the chief form of Christian prayer; the central act of Christian communal prayer (“the Eucharist”), also known as Mass; and the second half of this central communal prayer, the “liturgy of the Eucharist” which follows the “liturgy of the Word.”

Eucharistic Prayer: The most important prayer at Mass. Spoken or sung by the priest in the name of the whole assembly, with interspersed acclamations by the people that incorporate everyone verbally and musically into the prayer, it is based on an ancient Jewish form of prayer called berakah which has four elements: an address to God that expresses human awe, a memorial that evokes God’s mighty deeds as the reason for human awe, a petition asking for divine help that follows from this memory, and a final doxology or exclamation of praise. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (number 55) identifies these elements of the Eucharistic Prayer: a thanksgiving for the whole work of salvation or for some special aspect of it (usually found in the Preface—the part of the prayer that precedes the Sanctus); the Sanctus acclamation sung by everyone; the first epiclesis that asks the Holy Spirit to consecrate the elements; the institution narrative (often called the “consecration”) which evokes the words and actions of Christ from the Last Supper; the anamnesis, which puts this prayer in the context of Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension; an offering to the Father of this Eucharist as part of Christ’s own self-offering to which the community is united by the work of the Holy Spirit and their own commitment; a set of intercessions for this community, the whole church, and those who have died; and a final doxology that concludes with the people’s Amen as an assent to what has been said and done in their name and in the name of the whole church.

Evangelical: Of or related to the Gospel. Some churches call themselves “evangelical” because they claim to base their belief and practice more closely on the Scriptures than do other churches, in their estimation.

Evening Prayer: One of the two major acts of prayer in the liturgy of the hours (the other one is morning prayer). Formerly called “vespers,” this is a formal act of thanksgiving for the day just passed. It is normally celebrated at or before sunset, and it uses a hymn, psalms and canticles, a brief reading from Scripture, the Canticle of Mary (also known as the Magnificat), and intercessions.

Ex opere operantis: A Latin phrase that means “from the work of the one performing it,” it identifies the disposition with which a person participates in a sacrament. The more open one is to the work of God in this sacrament, the more fully one shares in the grace of the sacrament. See ex opere operato.

Ex opere operato: A Latin phrase that means “from the work having been performed,” it means that sacraments are effective because God has promised that they would be, not because of the piety or good standing of the minister of the sacrament or the people who participate. While an openness to receive what God has to offer is required for the sacrament to be effective in a particular individual (see ex opere operantis), such openness is not the cause of divine grace in the sacrament. God is present in and through the sacramental action because of God’s own gracious will (ex opere operato); to the extent that we open ourselves to that divine presence (ex opere operantis), we share in the divine presence and God’s gracious gift.

Exorcism: From a Latin word based on a Greek word meaning to repudiate or renounce, exorcism is the ritual for expelling demons or other evil spirits from a person, place, or thing. The New Testament tells of Jesus expelling demons (see Matthew 12:22–32 and other places), and the church followed his example in the practice of exorcism. Today, with the development of psychology, we have come to understand that many occurrences considered to be demonic possession in past times are actually severe mental problems. Still, the Catholic Church and other churches practice exorcism, and movies like The Exorcist revived interest in this phenomenon at the end of the twentieth century. The official ritual for this practice was revised in 1999. Today, solemn exorcisms can only be exercised by an ordained priest (or higher prelate) with the express permission of the local bishop and the consent of the person suffering possession and only after a careful medical examination to exclude the possibility of mental illness.

Exsultet: A Latin word that comes from the verb to “rejoice,” sometimes spelled “Exultet,” this word names the long hymn of praise sung during the service of light at the Easter Vigil, which is also known as the Easter Proclamation, from the Latin title “Paschale Praeconium.” The Exsultet is an expansion of a form of thanks for the gift of light that was used at other evening services when the lights were lit in churches. It relates the gift of light to the risen Christ as the light of the world.


Feast: A celebration during the liturgical year that commemorate important mysteries of the Lord and major saints. Feasts are less important that solemnities but more important than memorials.

Final Commendation: The last part of a funeral Mass. It includes time for silent prayer, possibly a sprinkling of the casket or remains with holy water to recall the person’s baptism, the “Song of Farewell”—one of several special texts used at this time—and a prayer commending the deceased person to God’s mercy. Sometimes, under special circumstances, the rite of final commendation is celebrated with the rite of committal (the final part of the funeral liturgy, usually celebrated at the cemetery).

First Communion: The first time a person shares in sacramental Communion with the rest of the Church. This first sharing usually takes place when a child is about seven or eight, which means that they have been going to Mass and sharing in the Eucharistic Prayer for several years before they complete that participation in the Eucharist by receiving Communion. Adults who are initiated at Easter or received into the Church share in sacramental Communion for the first time, usually, at the Mass in which they are baptized or received.

Forty Hours: A special time of devotion focused on the reserved sacrament. Today it usually includes special Masses, devotions, and times of prayer, and it frequently includes a public procession with the Blessed Sacrament. The name comes from the extension of this devotion across four days, usually from Sunday morning to Wednesday evening, during which people took turns to pray continually before the tabernacle or the exposed sacrament. The practice began in Milan in the sixteenth century as a form of constant devotion; when the Forty Hours celebration ended in one church, it began immediately in another.

Fraction Rite: That part of the Communion rite at Mass during which the consecrated bread is broken to be shared and the consecrated wine is prepared for distribution in several cups. In certain eras and places, the whole celebration of the Eucharist was known as the “breaking of bread”—another name for this rite. During the fraction rite, the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) litany is sung, and it is repeated as long as needed to accompany the action.

Funeral Rite: The Catholic funeral rite usually has three “stations” or individual parts: the vigil for the deceased, the funeral Mass, and the rite of committal. The vigil (also known popularly as the “wake service”) is modeled on evening prayer and is often celebrated at a funeral home. It includes songs, psalms, readings, prayers, and opportunities for reflection. The funeral Mass is celebrated in a church. It begins with the reception of the body, in which the casket is covered with a white cloth and sprinkled with holy water as a reminder of baptism. The readings, prayers, psalms, and songs of the funeral Mass focus on God’s mercy and the hope of the resurrection. The Mass ends with the final commendation of the person to God’s mercy. (If Mass is not celebrated, the funeral liturgy with readings, prayers, songs, and final commendation may still be celebrated.) The third station is at the grave, where the rite of committal is celebrated. This rite usually includes a blessing of the grave, prayers by those gathered, a final plea for God’s mercy, and a blessing of the community. It may also include songs or psalms. The three stations of this rite may be connected with other processional prayers and songs that lead people from one station to the next, particularly if the places are close together. The rite is adapted to take account of special circumstances, such as cremation of the body or special needs of the family or the community.


Gaudete Sunday: The Third Sunday of Advent. The title comes from the first word of the Latin introit for the day: "Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete" ("Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!"). Rose vestments may be worn instead of Advent purple. At a time when the preparatory season of Advent was observed with strict fasting and abstinence, Gaudete Sunday was a break from the strictures of Advent.

Gelineau Psalms: Before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Father Joseph Gelineau, SJ, a French Jesuit liturgist and musician, composed psalm tones in traditional Gregorian modes for use with a French translation of the psalms to encourage congregational singing. They were first published in 1953, and in the early 1960s these tones were also used with the Grail English translation of the psalms and biblical canticles. The Grail is a society of men and women, headquartered in England, which promotes “a sharing of talents and a deepening of Christian values.” The Ladies of the Grail form a secular institute of women who make a more radical commitment to shared Christian living within the society of the Grail.

General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours: The guidebook for celebrating the daily prayer of the Roman Rite, which consists of hymns, psalms, canticles, biblical readings, non-biblical readings, and intercessions. The two “hinges” of the liturgy of the hours are morning prayer and evening prayer.

General Instruction of the Roman Missal: The guidebook for Mass. Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments at the Vatican, it provides a description of the structure and meaning of the Order of Mass plus detailed directions on how to celebrate Mass properly under various circumstances. Since it was first published in 1969, there have been several versions of the General Instruction. The current one, first published in 2000, appears in several versions, since it may include adaptations for particular countries or language groups. The edition for the United States, for example, was finalized in 2002 with certain adaptations that apply only to Mass celebrated in the United States or for U.S. citizens in communities served by Catholic priests from the United States.

GILH—see General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours.

GIRM—see General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

Gloria: An ancient hymn that is usually part of the introductory rites at Mass. In its earliest form, it was part of prayer in the Eastern Churches from the early fourth century, and it entered the Roman Rite by the early sixth century. The current Latin text of this hymn dates from the ninth century. It is a hymn of praise sung immediately after the act of penitence (or the sprinkling rite) at Mass except during the seasons of Advent and Lent. By its placement after the act of penitence, it serves as a hymn of praise for God’s forgiveness and for divine mercy throughout our lives and in the very fact that we are permitted to gather and celebrate this Mass together.

Godparent: Also identified in canon law as a sponsor, a godparent is someone who is already fully initiated into the Catholic Church and who is appointed by the person receiving the sacrament of baptism or confirmation (or, in the case of infants, by the parents or whoever stands in the place of the parents or, if necessary, by the pastor) to represent the community of believers and, in the process of adult initiation, to "accompany the candidates on the day of election, at the celebration of the sacraments of initiation, and during the period of mystagogy" (RCIA, 11). The general role of a godparent is to "help the baptized lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism and to fulfill faithfully the obligations connected with it" (Canon 872). A person to be baptized or confirmed must have at least one godparent/sponsor. A baptized and believing member of another Christian community may also stand with the Catholic godparent but is referred to as a "Christian witness." See also Sponsor.

Gospel Acclamation: By this acclamation, “the assembly of the faithful welcomes and greets the Lord who is about to speak to it in the Gospel and professes its faith” in the presence of Christ in the proclaimed Word. It is a rite in and of itself, though it is often sung to accompany the procession with the Gospel Book. The classic form of this acclamation is Alleluia, followed by a verse of Scripture, Alleluia. In contemporary practice, a cantor or choir usually intones the Alleluia, the whole assembly repeats it, and then the cantor or choir sings the Scripture verse, followed by everyone singing a final Alleluia. During Lent, this acclamation is replaced by the verse before the Gospel, an acclamation that does not include Alleluia.

Gospel Book—see Book of the Gospels.

Gospel Music: A style of music that developed in African American (particularly Baptist) churches in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Thomas A. Dorsey (1899–1993), composer of such standards as “There Will Be Peace in the Valley,” is considered by many Gospel devotees to be the “Father of Gospel Music” since he seems to have been the first musician to combine religious themes with jazz rhythms and blues flavoring. The music, drawing on the heritage of spirituals, blues, ragtime, jazz, and shouts, is marked by a freedom of vocal and instrumental improvisation.

Gradual: A musical setting of a psalm text, once sung after the epistle at Mass, which may be used in place of the responsorial psalm. Since the texts are Latin and the music is complex Gregorian chant, it is rare that the gradual is used this way. The chant takes its name from the fact that it was originally led by a cantor on a step (Latin: gradus) of the ambo (reading desk) from which the readings were proclaimed, and the rest of the assembly responded in song. As the music became more complex, the choir took over both the cantor’s and the congregation’s roles. The word gradual is also used to name the book which contains the texts and their chants: the Graduale Romanum.

Graduale Romanum—see Gradual.

Gregorian Chant: The music that has “pride of place” as the traditional music of the Latin Rite of Roman Catholicism. Its origins are in ancient forms of chant, particularly those forms used in the Roman Church that were adopted and adapted in the Frankish Church, mixed with and modified by local musical practice. Codified in about the ninth century, it spread under the influence and power of the Holy Roman Empire and largely displaced other repertoires and styles of singing in Western Europe. It remained the dominant form of music in Latin Rite Roman Catholic worship from about the ninth century through the sixteenth. Various revivals of chant were attempted in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries; the most successful attempt to restore chant to its original form and use it in Catholic worship was the twentieth century chant revival led by Pope St. Pius X and the scholars of the Abbey of St.-Pierre in Solesmes, France.


Handbells: Tuned bells held in the hand for ringing. As used in liturgy, these bells are played alone or together (in a “handbell choir”). They are usually played on festival occasions or at large celebrations. Most handbell choirs use between two and five octaves of bells, which are usually played by a stroke to sound the bell, though several other ways to use handbells are also employed.

Holy, Holy, Holy—see Sanctus.

Holy Week: The traditional name for the week between the final Sunday of Lent (Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion) and Easter Sunday. It includes the end of Lent (through midday on Holy Thursday) and the Easter Triduum (from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening through solemn evening prayer on Easter Sunday).

Host: From the Latin word for “sacrifice,” a word used liturgically to identify the consecrated bread as the sacramental presence of Christ, the living sacrifice offered “that sins may be forgiven.”

Hymn: In the Western churches, “hymn” refers to strophic religious poetry set to music. (The poetic form is much freer in Eastern church hymnody.) Some hymn texts are metrical translations or paraphrases of Scripture or other liturgical texts, while others are original compositions which may be based on images or phrases from the Scriptures or the liturgy. In the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, the use of hymns at Mass has traditionally been restricted to the Gloria and a few sequences, though in current practice hymns may also be used as processional music at the entrance, procession with gifts, and Communion.

Hymn Tune: The musical setting of a hymn text. Many hymn tunes have names and are identified by their meter (see Hymn Tune Meter). Some tunes are used to set various texts.

Hymn Tune Meter: The number of syllables in each line of a hymn text set the meter for that hymn. Hymn meter differs from poetic meter because hymn meter counts every syllable, while poetic meter usually counts the number of stressed syllables. So a hymn with eight syllables in a line followed by a line with six syllables is given the meter 86 86 (this is also known as “Common Meter” or CM). Hymnals note the meter of a hymn by numerals printed with the hymn; there is also usually an index of hymn tunes by meter, so that a text that fits one meter might be sung to another tune of the same meter. Other “named” hymn tune meters are CMD (Common Meter Double), LM (Long Meter, 88 88), and LMD (Long Meter Double).


ICEL—see International Commission on English in the Liturgy.

Imposition of Hands: A gesture that invokes the Holy Spirit, especially in rites of consecration but also in blessings. In this gesture, a bishop or priest (and sometimes a deacon) extends one or both hands over a person or object and prays that the Holy Spirit will act to make this person or object share in a special way in divine grace and in the mission of the Church. Usually the gesture is accompanied by a prayer of blessing that names the intention of the gesture. However, in ordinations, the gesture in done in total silence, and the prayer of ordination follows that gesture. This gesture is part of every sacramental rite in current Roman Catholic practice.

Initiation: The process or rite of becoming part of something or a full member of an organization. Initiation into all Christian churches involves baptism. The Roman Catholic rite of initiation includes three sacraments: baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. Sharing in all three of these rituals brings a person fully into union with the Roman Catholic Church. The model for all Roman Rite initiation is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, which describes a process of gradual initiation within the community of believers. The process includes four periods of initiation—inquiry, catechumenate, election, and mystagogia—separated by certain rituals and capped (between election and mystagogia) by the celebration of the three sacraments of initiation. Other Roman Catholic forms of initiation are not so clearly defined and described. These would include the baptism of infants and their subsequent admittance to the Eucharistic community and their confirmation.

Inquirer: A person who has not been baptized and is interested in becoming a Catholic Christian. During the time of inquiry, known as the "precatechumenate," a person seriously explores the Church, its faith, and its practice. If inquirers reach the point of initial conversion (they're pretty sure that they'd like to become Christians), then they are accepted as catechumens and enter the catechumenate to prepare for sacramental initiation.

Institution Narrative—see Words of Institution.

Institutes of Consecrated Life—see Orders (Religious).

International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL): A mixed commission of representatives of English-speaking bishops’ conferences organized in 1963 to oversee and approve the translation of liturgical texts from Latin into English. The bishops of ICEL are assisted in their work by the professional staff of ICEL’s Secretariat, which is located in Washington, DC. The Secretariat coordinates the work of specialists throughout the English-speaking world in the preparation of translations. When an ICEL translation has been completed and approved by the bishops of the commission, it is sent to the member and associate member conferences for their consideration. Once the bishops’ conferences have approved a translation, it must receive final approval from the Vatican before it can be used in worship.

Introit: The first chant of Mass, from the Latin word “introitus” (“entrance”), usually referred to in English as the “entrance chant” or “entrance song.” The classic form of the Latin introit (antiphon, psalm verse, antiphon, Gloria Patri, antiphon) is a reduced version of an original form which used all or part of a psalm to accompany the procession at the beginning of Mass. In contemporary practice, the introit or entrance chant may take several forms. In the United States, it may consist of the classic form found (in Latin) in the Graduale Romanum; in the ancient form (all or part of a longer psalm) found in the Graduale Simplex or its vernacular equivalents; in some other psalm and antiphon approved by the bishops; or in a vernacular hymn or song.


Kyrie: The Greek word translated as “Lord,” used as shorthand for the penitential litany “Kyrie [Christe] eleison”—“Lord [Christ], have mercy.” In its classic form, dating from about the eighth century in Western Christianity, this litany had nine petitions, all directed to Christ either under that title or as Lord. In contemporary practice, in the act of penitence at the beginning of Mass, the ninefold chant is reduced to six petitions, alternated between the cantor (or some other minister) and the congregation, or to three petitions which are expanded by tropes, to which the congregation responds. This set of petitions also appears at the beginning of longer litanies such as the Litany of the Saints.


Laetare Sunday: The Fourth Sunday of Lent. The title comes from the first word of the Latin introit for the day: "Laetare, Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam" ("Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her"). Rose vestments may be worn instead of Lenten purple. At a time when the preparatory season of Lent was observed with strict fasting and abstinence, Laetare Sunday was a break from the strictures of the Lenten fast.

Laity: From the Greek word for “people,” the laity (or lay people) are those who share through sacramental initiation in the priestly, prophetic, and sovereign ministry of Jesus Christ but who are not set apart through ordination to perform support functions for the Church’s work. Lay people, in other words, are those on the “front lines” of the Christian mission, living the Gospel in ordinary circumstances until the reign of God comes in its fullness.

Latin Rite—see Roman Rite.

Lauds: The prayer at dawn in the liturgy of the hours, known today as “morning prayer.” With vespers (“evening prayer”), it is one of the “hinges” or major office of the Church’s daily prayer. See liturgy of the hours.

Lectern: A reading desk, the place from which the Word is proclaimed in the liturgical assembly. As befits its use, the lectern is usually suitably decorated as the key ritual place for the liturgy of the Word. See ambo.

Lectionary: A ritual book that contains all the Scripture texts to be proclaimed at Mass or at other services. Although each ritual of the Roman Rite has a proper lectionary, the word is used most often to refer to the Lectionary for Mass.

Lector: Someone who proclaims a reading at Mass or at another service. The title comes from the Latin word for “reader.”

Lent: In the Western Church, a period of approximately forty days from Ash Wednesday to the beginning of the Easter Triduum on Holy Thursday evening. Its Latin title is Quadragesima (“forty”); the origin of the English word “Lent” is unclear, though it may come from an Old English word for spring. It is the final period of preparation for those to be initiated at Easter; for those who have been baptized, it is a special time to review how they have lived out their baptismal commitment during the previous year before they renew their baptismal promises at Easter. As befits a time of introspection and repentance, the atmosphere of the Lenten liturgies is spare and even somber.

Litany: A call-and-response form of prayer in which a petition announced by the prayer leader is responded to with a set formula by the rest of the community. Though the petitions and the responses are usually brief, the litany itself may be a fairly long prayer with numerous invocations or petitions. Traditionally, because of the short form of each petition and response, which make this an easy prayer to pray while walking, litanies have accompanied processions. The Order of Mass includes several short litanic prayers such as the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei. The prayer of the faithful (general intercessions) may also be considered a litany. The most familiar longer litany is the Litany of the Saints. The word “litany” comes from a Latin word (litania or letania) based on a Greek word (lite) for prayer or supplication.

Liturgical Books: Officially approved books for use in the liturgy. In Roman Rite practice, there are several liturgical books for Mass: the Missale Romanum, which contains all the texts that the bishop or priest needs for Mass; the Lectionary for Mass, which contains the text of the Scripture readings and responsorial psalm as well as some other texts; the Book of the Gospels, which contains the texts of the Gospel readings used at Mass; and the Graduale Romanum, which contains the texts and processional chants used at Mass (often a hymnal or other music resource is used instead of the Graduale). Other sacraments and liturgical services have their own official books.

Liturgical Color: The color of vestments and other decorations that is assigned for a particular season, solemnity, feast, or memorial. Originally, vestments were simply more or less festive clothing: You wore your best outfit for a more important occasion. But as ordinary clothing changed while church vestments retained the look of Roman and Byzantine formal court clothing, certain colors were assigned to certain seasons and occasions. These are based on a traditional Roman sense of which colors are more or less festive. White is the color of joyful celebration (though it is the color of mourning in some Asian nations), so it is used for celebrations of the Easter and Christmas seasons, other celebrations of the Lord, and solemnities and feasts of the saints who were not martyrs. Because of its associations with blood, red is used on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Good Friday, other celebrations of the Lord’s Passion, and celebrations of the martyrs. Because red is also associated with fire, and thus with the Holy Spirit, it is worn on Pentecost and on feasts of the apostles and evangelists. Violet or purple was a color once restricted to Roman nobility, but perhaps because Christianity valued poverty over noble family heritage, it became associated with penitence and mourning, and so it came to be used during Advent and Lent and at funeral liturgies. (Because of the sources for purple dyes, there are several shades of purple, from one that is close to blue to one that is close to red. It became the custom, particularly in the British Isles, to use a bluer purple for Advent and a redder purple for Lent.) Green, the color of spring and new life, is used during Ordinary Time. Black may also be used at funeral services and at other Masses for the dead in the United States of America; rose may be used on the Third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday of Lent (traditionally, when fasting and other disciplines were very severe in these seasons, these were days to mark a break and note that the severe seasons were soon to be over); and gold or silver vestments may be worn in the United States on more solemn occasions. Because of the earliest layer of our tradition, and because some cultures have other associations for some of these colors than those found in European tradition, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal says that you may wear your best clothes for more important celebrations: “On more solemn days, sacred vestments may be used that are festive, that is, more precious, even if not the color of the day” (GIRM, 346g).

Liturgical Families: Groups of churches that follow similar ritual structures. By the mid-fourth century, there were four major Christian centers that shaped these liturgical families: Constantinople (Byzantium), Rome, Antioch in Syria, and Alexandria in Egypt. Rome shaped the Roman (Latin) Rite family of liturgies. The Byzantine liturgical family—by far the largest liturgical tradition in Eastern Christianity—traces its origins to the liturgical practice of Constantinople. Antioch’s tradition split into two streams: West Syrian (Maronite, Syriac, Syro-Malankar) and East Syrian (Chaldean and Syro-Malabar). The Alexandrian liturgical family includes the liturgies of the Coptic (Egyptian) and Ethiopian (Geez) churches. Some western liturgical families, such as the Gallican and Celtic, are derived from or draw heavily on Eastern traditions.

Liturgical Music Today: A 1982 statement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy published as a supplement to the 1972 statement Music in Catholic Worship. This statement highlights the implications for music of liturgical structure and provides directives for certain rites that were not covered adequately by the earlier document. It discusses additional concerns that came to light in the ten years between the two statements.

Liturgical Year: The calendar year divided according to liturgical priorities and emphases. The two main aspects of the Christian mystery are the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in Jesus of Nazareth and the redemption of humanity through the suffering, death, and resurrection of that same Jesus. The two great feasts of the liturgical year, therefore, are Christmas, with its preparatory season of Advent and its associated feasts in the Christmas Season, and Easter, celebrated in the three days of the Paschal (Easter) Triduum, with its preparatory season of Lent and its celebratory fifty-day Easter Season that concludes on Pentecost. The rest of the year is “Ordinary Time,” honoring the continuing presence of God-in-Christ among us working through the Holy Spirit. There are major feasts during Ordinary Time as well, including celebrations of the mysteries of Christ, Mary, and the saints.

Liturgy: The official public worship of the church. In Eastern usage, the word refers to the celebration of the Eucharist (the Divine Liturgy); in the West, it refers to any formally approved rite for public worship. While devotions of one kind or another usually require some sort of official approval, they are considered “private” and not “public” prayer, and so they are not usually included in the category “liturgy.”

Liturgy of the Eucharist: Though this phrase is sometimes used to identify the Mass, it is used formally to name one of the two major sections of Mass. The liturgy of the Eucharist includes the preparation of the altar and gifts, the Eucharistic Prayer, and Communion. The liturgy of the Eucharist follows the liturgy of the Word.

Liturgy of the Hours: The official daily prayer of the Church, formerly known as the divine office. Designed to be celebrated at certain hours of the day, this liturgy gives thanks for the gift of time itself, asks God to bless our use of time, and links our time with the eternal liturgy of heaven, in which the saints and angels praise God for ever. The two “hinges” of this liturgy are morning prayer, traditionally celebrated at or near dawn, and evening prayer, traditionally celebrated at or near sunset. The other “canonical hours” include the office of readings (a traditional vigil service during the night), midday prayer (with variations for mid-morning, noon, and mid-afternoon), and night prayer. Everyone in religious orders and all ordained ministers are required by law to pray the liturgy of the hours each day, except in emergency circumstances, but all Christians are encouraged to pray this official daily prayer or at least the two major hours.

Liturgy of the Word: One of the two major sections of Mass. The liturgy of the Word includes the proclamation of the assigned Scriptures for the day (two or three readings plus the responsorial psalm and related ritual music), the homily, the creed or profession of faith (when assigned), and the prayer of the faithful or general intercessions. Sometimes other ritual or sacramental actions follow the homily. The liturgy of the Word is followed by the second major section of Mass: the liturgy of the Eucharist. Lord’s Day: Sunday, the first day of the week, so named because it is in Genesis the first day of creation (the day of light and dark—Genesis 1:1–5) and, in the Christian Gospels, the day of the resurrection. Early Christians also understood Sunday as the “eighth day,” that is, the first day of the new creation in Christ.

Lord’s Prayer: The “Our Father.” It is called the “Lord’s Prayer” because it is the one prayer that the Gospels tell us Jesus taught his disciples. The form of the Lord’s Prayer used in the liturgy most closely echoes the version found in Matthew 6:9–13 (but see also Luke 11:2–4). Some manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel add the doxology (“For the kingdom, the power, and the glory...”) which many Protestant churches include as part of the Lord’s Prayer and which the Order of Mass includes after the embolism. This prayer has been part of the Eucharist since at least the fourth century.


Magnificat—see Canticle of Mary.
Mantra: From a Sanskrit word, a mantra is a short formula that is chanted or repeated as a way to invoke the divinity or create a sacred focus. For meditation, some people use liturgical texts, such as the memorial acclamations in the Eucharistic Prayer, as a mantra. Others use a familiar ostinato text in similar ways. See also Ostinato
Maronite Church: An Eastern Catholic Church that traces it origins to the hermit St. Maron (or Maroun) in the fifth century. Primarily a monastic community for many centuries, the members of the church settled in the mountains of Lebanon, where they were protected from attacks by other Christians who did not agree with their theology and, later, by Muslims. Despite its monastic origins, the church eventually incorporated families living in the world. They are Antiochene Christians (within the traditions of Christianity rooted in Antioch in Syria), and their leader is the Maronite patriarch of Antioch. Their liturgy and other traditions are within the West Syro-Antiochene family of churches, and their official liturgical language is Syriac. See liturgical families.
Maronite Rite—see Maronite Church.
Mass: The celebration of the Holy Eucharist. As a title for this liturgy, the word “Mass” is probably derived from the dismissal by the priest in the Latin Mass: “Ite, missa est” (literally, “Go, it has been sent,” possibly originally a reference to distribution of Communion to the sick which was sent directly from the celebration in some places, though it might have simply meant “Go, this is the dismissal.”).
Masses with Children, Directory for: A document published in 1973 by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship that presents guidelines for adapting the Order of Mass for congregations that are largely composed of children younger than about twelve years old. It also offers guidelines for celebrating Mass with adults in which a large number of children also participate. This section suggests the possibility of a separate liturgy of the Word with children—a practice that many parishes have adopted.
Matins—see Office of Readings.
MCW—see Music in Catholic Worship.
Memorial: A day in the liturgical calendar that commemorates a saint who is of universal importance. (Optional memorials commemorate saints of importance in particular countries or to particular communities.) A memorial is less important that a solemnity or a feast.
Memorial Acclamation: One of the three acclamations in most Eucharistic Prayers. (The other two are the Sanctus and the Amen.) This acclamation follows the words of institution and is usually introduced by the invitation: “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.” In the United States, there are currently four possible texts for this acclamation. All of them refer to the dying, rising, and future return of Christ—the core “mystery of faith” that we celebrate in every Eucharist.
Messiah: The English version of a Hebrew word meaning “anointed.” Used of Jewish kings, who were literally anointed with oil, it also came to have a symbolic meaning: People specially chosen by God to perform certain tasks on behalf of the nation or Israel’s religious beliefs and practices were called “anointed” by God. So, for example, Cyrus, king of Persia, was called a “messiah” because he allowed the exiled people to return to Israel from Babylon. At the time of Jesus, particularly in the area of Jerusalem, there was an expectation that such an anointed person would appear to liberate Israel from Roman domination and to restore the reign of the family of David in a new and eternal form that would bring divine justice and peace to earth. Some people applied the title “messiah” to Jesus, though he would not accept it. “Messiah,” translated into Greek, is “Christos” or, in English, “Christ.”
Metrical Psalm: A psalm text translated into a modern language and paraphrased in strophic verse, usually sung as a hymn. Collections of metrical psalms approved for liturgical use by a bishop or a conference of bishops provide one option for singing the entrance chant, responsorial psalm, offertory chant, and Communion chant at Mass.
Minister: From the Latin word for a servant or representative, in the liturgy a minister is someone who acts on behalf of someone else (God, the community) or who assists someone else in performing sacred acts. Ministers may be "ordinary"-the people who usually perform a certain action-or "extraordinary"-people appointed to perform an action under unusual or unexpected circumstances. "Ordinary" ministers usually perform their function because of their role in the community. Bishops, priests, and deacons, for example, are ordinary ministers of baptism, but any baptized Christian with the right intention can serve as an extraordinary minister of the sacrament in an emergency.
Ministry: Dedicated service to the Christian community. Often, the word “ministry” is restricted to forms of service that have official church approval, though the word is often used more widely to identify any form of dedicated service.
Missal: The liturgical book that contains the texts and official musical settings that the priest needs for celebrating Mass. It also includes the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which describes how Mass is to be celebrated, and other necessary instructions (rubrics). The Roman Missal contains these texts and musical settings for the Roman (Latin) Rite. It also contains some other texts which are not solely for the priest’s use but which may be important in preparing the liturgy (e.g., the texts of the processional chants).
Monstrance: A special vessel for displaying the consecrated host for veneration by the faithful, also called an ostensorium. (Both titles come from Latin words meaning “to show” or “to display.") The central part of a monstrance is a glass case - usually circular - in which a large host is visible. This central glass case is often surrounded by a metal sunburst design, and the whole display is mounted on a stemmed base to raise it so that the host is more visible. Monstrances may be very elaborate or very simple, and they are usually made of or plated with gold. They are used most often for services of Eucharistic benediction, for personal veneration, and for carrying the host in procession.
Morning Prayer: One of the two major acts of prayer in the liturgy of the hours (the other one is evening prayer). Formerly called “lauds,” this is a formal act asking God’s blessing on the day just beginning. It is normally celebrated at or near sunrise, and it uses a hymn, psalms and canticles, a brief reading from Scripture, the Canticle of Zechariah (also known as the Benedictus), and intercessions.
Motet: A short choral work using a sacred text and usually intended for use during communal worship.
Motu proprio: A statement by a pope issued on his own authority, without official consultation.
Music in Catholic Worship: A statement by the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, first published in 1972 and revised in 1983, which offers guidelines for the use of music in the liturgy. It contains a theology of celebration and principles for selecting and using music appropriately, especially the threefold judgment that includes musical, liturgical, and pastoral aspects: Is it good music, does it fit this place in the liturgy, and is it appropriate for this celebration, that is, does it “enable these people to express their faith, in this place, in this age, in this culture?” The document also applies these principles in detail to the Order of Mass.
Musicam Sacram: An instruction issued in 1967 by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship. It applies the principles and instructions for music in worship found in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Though written before the Order of Mass was revised in 1969, many of its principles and directives are still applicable to current celebrations, especially its focus on singing acclamations and dialogues and its description of the principle that, while Roman Rite liturgy is essentially musical, it may be appropriate to sing more or less depending on the solemnity of the occasion, the group gathered for worship, and the resources available. In later documents, this would be called the principle of “progressive solemnity.”
Mystagogy: From the Greek word "mystagogia," with roots in the same Greek word that gives us "mystery," the words "mystagogia" and "mystagogue" (someone who conducts another in this process) came into Christian use from the "mystery" religions that flourished in the Eastern Mediterranean section of the Roman Empire in the first centuries of Christian development. Because Christianity held a core set of beliefs, centered on a savior, that was revealed fully only to initiates, it came to be considered by outsiders to be like similar cults that developed in the same area. Christianity did indeed borrow some words from the mystery religions, but it adapted the meaning of those words to its own use. Among those words is "mystagogy," which names both a style of teaching and a period of the adult initiation process. As a style of teaching, mystagogy reflects on experience-particularly the experience of the initiation process-to draw out the implications of the rites for belief and practice. As the final period of the initiation process, mystagogy is "a time for the community and the neophytes together to grow in deepening their grasp of the paschal mystery and in making it part of their lives through meditation on the Gospel, sharing in the Eucharist, and doing the works of charity" (RCIA, 244).
Mystery: From the Greek word mysterion , it is the term used throughout the Eastern Church to describe the rites that the Western Church calls "sacraments." The word "mystery" is also used to identify some core beliefs of Christianity, such as the paschal mystery (what happened in the dying and rising of Jesus), the Eucharistic mystery (what happens when the bread and wine at Eucharist become the sacramental body and blood of Christ), and the mystery of the Trinity (how there can be three persons in one God).


NAB—see New American Bible.
National Association of Pastoral Musicians: The National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) fosters the art of musical liturgy. The members of NPM serve the Catholic Church in the United States as musicians, clergy, liturgists, and other leaders of prayer. Founded in 1976 by Rev. Virgil C. Funk and Sister Jane Marie Perrot, CBS, NPM is associated with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a “related organization,” and it is affiliated with similar organizations in other Christian traditions and with MENC: The National Association for Music Education. There are approximately 8,500 to 9,000 members in NPM, mostly Roman Catholic and mostly in the United States.
Nave: From the Latin word for a “ship,” this word was applied to the central, open space of a church building—the place where the congregation usually gathers—beginning in the early Gothic era, because the vaulting for this space resembled the upside-down keel of a ship.
Neophyte: From two Greek words (you're surprised?) that mean "new plant," a neophyte is someone who is new to a particular way of life or form of work. The word is used in adult initiation to identify new initiates who have just been baptized and confirmed and have share in Eucharist for the first time.
Neume: A graphic sign indicating the movement in pitch of a melody and sometimes its rhythmic and expressive qualities. Individual neumes over syllables represent all of the notes (one or many) on which that syllable is sung. Neumes first appeared in Western liturgical books in the ninth century, but at first they were only placed over texts where the melody was not well known. Neumes were eventually replaced by signs for individual notes.
New American Bible: An English translation of the Bible prepared by members of the Catholic Biblical Association of America and first published in 1970. A revised version of this translation is the basis for the English translation used in the Lectionary for Mass in the United States.
Night Prayer: Also known as compline, this is the final prayer of the day in the liturgy of the hours, prayed before bedtime.
Nunc dimittis—see Canticle of Simeon.
NPM—see National Association of Pastoral Musicians.


O Antiphons: Also known as the “Great Antiphons,” these are seven antiphons for the Canticle of Mary (Magnificat) at evening prayer on the days preceding Christmas Eve. Each antiphon begins with the acclamation “O” followed by a title applied to Jesus Christ drawn from the history of Israel and the First Testament: Wisdom, Adonai, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Rising Sun, Ruler of the Nations, and Emmanuel. They are the source of the text for the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Offertory: Another name for the preparation of the gifts at Mass and the name for the chant (song) that accompanies the procession with gifts.
Office of Readings: Formerly known as “matins” or “vigils,” this part of the liturgy of the hours is essentially a meditative office with biblical and non-biblical readings. When celebrated in monasteries, convents, and other religious communities that celebrate the hours “in choir” (that is, formally and as a community), it is a night office of praise, celebrated before dawn. But those individuals and communities who do not celebrate the liturgy of the hours in this formal way may pray and meditate on these texts “at any hour of the day, even during the night hours of the previous day, after evening prayer has been said” (GILH, 58).
Order of Christian Funerals: The ritual book and the rites to be followed for Catholic burial. The normal funeral celebration includes three separate rites: the vigil service, usually held at the funeral home; the funeral Mass (or the funeral liturgy without Mass), usually held in church; and the rite of committal, usually celebrated at the cemetery or place of internment. These three rites may be connected by processions, and the Order may be adapted for various circumstances.
Order of Mass: The basic structure and texts of Mass, formerly called the “ordinary” of Mass. These are the texts, gestures, and songs used at every Mass. Each celebration of Mass is also enriched by “proper” texts—prayers, readings, songs—for every day of the year as well as for special solemnities, feasts, memorials, and other occasions.
Orders (Holy): The sacrament of orders. By the imposition of hands and the prayer of consecration, people are ordained to share in Christ’s mission of sanctification, teaching, and governance. There are three sacred orders, each having a share in this threefold mission: deacons, presbyters (priests), and bishops. Bishops link individual churches into a worldwide communion and maintain the historical link with the apostolic church; presbyters assist the bishops in ministering to the local church; and deacons assist bishops and presbyters especially by uniting preaching the Gospel and the ministry of service. The ritual by which people enter these three orders is called ordination.
Orders (Religious): Groups of people who live together with ecclesial approval, usually vowing to live under a common rule or way of life to achieve a particular purpose or serve a particular form of ministry. Religious are members of the laity, unless they are ordained to one of the three sacramental orders (deacon, presbyter or priest, and bishop). Other lay people may associate themselves with a vowed community as members of“third order” who follow certain aspects of the common rule and share the mission of the particular religious order. Religious orders are also called “institutes of consecrated life.”
Ordinandi: Latin for "those to be ordained"-candidates for ordination to the diaconate, presbyterate, or episcopate. Often used to describe the candidates during the ceremony of ordination but before the ordination itself.
Ordinary: The word “ordinary” may refer to the Order of Mass, the core and (mostly) unchangeable part of every Mass celebration, or to the person who exercises “ordinary” (that is, ordered) authority over a particular part of the worldwide church. So, for example, the bishop of a diocese is the diocesan “ordinary.”
Ordinary Time: The largest part of the liturgical year. “Ordinary Time” is that part of the year that is not focused on one of the two great Christian mysteries of incarnation (Advent-Christmas) or redemption (Lent-Easter). The liturgical color for Sundays in Ordinary Time is green.
Ordination: The ritual by which a person is set apart by prayer, the imposition of hands, and the work of the Holy Spirit for service within the order of deacon, presbyter or priest, or bishop. Each ceremony also involves an affirmation by the gathered assembly of the choice of these people for ordination, reflecting an ancient practice by which those serving in holy orders were elected by the community they served.
Ordo: “Ordo” is used in several ways. It may refer to a detailed liturgical calendar that describes how a particular day is to be celebrated with appropriate liturgical colors, optional parts of the Order of Mass (e.g., the Gloria and creed) and the liturgy of the hours (e.g., the Te Deum at the office of readings), and other details. The Latin word ordo is often the first word in the Latin title of ritual books, e.g., Ordo Missae (Order of Mass) and Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium (Order for Celebrating a Marriage). The Latin word also refers to the hierarchical orders in the Church: the order of bishops, of presbyters, of deacons, and of the Christian faithful (laity).
Organ: A musical instrument that produces sound by blowing compressed air from a windchest through pipes. Release of the compressed air is controlled by valves attached to keys on a keyboard. Electronic organs do not use pipes but mimic the sound either through the use of “sampled” (recorded) sounds or by other electronic means.
Orthodox Churches: Those churches associated with the Patriarchate of Constantinople that accepted the teaching of the early ecumenical councils (Nicaea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus, and Chalcedon) but who divided from Rome in their interpretation of Christianity in the ninth and eleventh centuries. They are called “orthodox” to distinguish themselves both from the Catholic Churches that are in communion with Rome and from members of other Eastern Churches that do not accept the teachings of the early councils.
Ostensorium—see Monstrance.
Ostinato: A persistently repeated figure or phrase in a composition. Some compositions use a vocal ostinato as a congregational chant which is repeated while a cantor or soloist sings verses.


Pall: From the Latin word for a covering, a pall may be either the white cloth spread over a casket during the funeral liturgy as a reminder of the white garment given at baptism or a linen square, stiffened with cardboard, used to cover the chalice to keep foreign matter out of it during Mass.
Pange lingua: A hymn attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, OP (1224 or 1225–1274) composed for the Feast of Corpus Christi (Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ—same occasion, different name). The hymn is also used in processions with the Blessed Sacrament, and the final two verses of this hymn (Tantum ergo) are often used at Eucharistic benediction. There is another hymn by the same title—Pange lingua gloriosi—composed by Venantius Fortunatus (530–609) and used, in the Latin liturgy, for Passiontide (the final two weeks of Lent), Good Friday, and Masses of the Holy Cross. Aquinas based his composition on this earlier text.
Paraphrase: A restatement of a text or passage in another form or other words. Many of the texts in the psalter section of contemporary Catholic hymnals are, in fact, paraphrases rather than exact translations of the psalm texts.
Parish Life Director - see Pastoral Administrator.
Pascha: A Latin word, from the Hebrew pesach (Passover), used to identify either the Jewish Passover or the Christian feast known in English as Easter. It is the root word for such phrases as “paschal mystery” and “paschal candle.” Paschal Feast: The Easter Triduum.
Paschal Mystery: The suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ understood as the fullness of human liberation through total self-sacrifice and divine mercy.
Paschal Triduum—see Triduum.
Passion Narrative: The account of Jesus’ final days leading up to his death. Though interpreted differently in each of the canonical Gospels, this unit of the Jesus story was complete in its basic outline before any of the Gospels were written.
Pastoral Administrator: A term used in some dioceses to identify lay people (sometimes members of religious orders) or deacons who direct parish life when no priest is available to serve as pastor. In canon law, only presbyters or bishops can be given the title pastor. In some dioceses, pastoral administrators are know as parish life directors or pastoral coordinators.
Pastoral Coordinator - see Pastoral Administrator.
Pastoral Music: Music for the liturgy understood from the perspective of the pastoral approach of the Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et spes, the Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, pointed out that Christians embrace what is good in the entire world because “nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in [Christian] hearts.” The document also points out that the Church is in the world as a servant. It is “interested in one thing only—to carry on the work of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, for he came into the world to bear witness to the truth, to save and not to judge, to serve and not to be served.” Pastoral music similarly embraces the best of human creativity and exists in the liturgy as a servant of the liturgical action.
Pastoral Musician: A minister of music who embraces liturgical ministry as a fully human act in service to the worshiping community. See Pastoral Music.
Patriarch: From two Greek words meaning “father” and “leader,” someone who exercises authority over an extended family. In Christian usage, a patriarch is the bishop who is in charge of one of the ancient dioceses that helped to shape early Christianity. See patriarchate.
Patriarchate: A “see” or diocese that has influence in shaping Christianity over a large territory. Often, an ancient patriarchate was associated with the preaching or presence of an apostle. The Council of Chalcedon (451) recognized five patriarchates: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch in Syria, Alexandria in Egypt, and Jerusalem. Since then, other dioceses have claimed the title “patriarchate,” and since the split between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, several dioceses have two or more patriarchs, each one serving as a representative of a particular version of Christian belief and practice.
Penitential Rite—see Act of Penitence.
Pentecost: A title, from the Greek word for “fifty,” for the final celebration of the Easter Season. Its placement is based on the Jewish festival of Shavuot or “Weeks,” celebrated seven weeks after Passover. Shavuot is a harvest festival that also commemorates the giving of the Torah (Law) to Moses. The Christian festival celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church to enable it to continue the mission of Christ in the world.
Plainchant: Unaccompanied vocal music with a single melody line that is “text-driven,” that is, the music is designed to deliver a text, so its stresses usually accord with the accents of the words. Though sometimes used synonymously with “chant,” “plainchant” (cantus planus, a title used since the thirteenth century) more properly denotes the simpler forms of chant. See also Chant and Gregorian Chant.
Polyphony: A style of musical composition in which two or more melodies or melodic strands are combined linearly in such a way that they make musical sense. While Gregorian chant holds pride of place as the proper music of the Roman liturgy, polyphony is also mentioned in liturgical documents as a special musical treasure to be preserved in Roman Rite worship.
Postlude: A composition played or sung after Mass has ended. Praise music: A form of contemporary Christian music that blends short, repeated Biblical texts with country or rock music.
Precatechumenate - see Inquirer.
Preface: The first part of the Eucharistic Prayer that begins with a dialogue between the priest and the rest of the assembly and concludes with the Sanctus. Coming from a Latin word for “proclamation,” the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer usually names reasons for giving God thanks, and it unites our prayer with the thanksgiving of the heavenly court:“With angels and archangels, and the whole company of heaven, we sing the unending hymn of... praise.”
Prelude: A composition played or sung before Mass begins.
Preparation of the Gifts: The act that begins the liturgy of the Eucharist at Mass and turns people’s attention from the ambo, center of the liturgy of the Word, to the altar, focus for the liturgy of the Eucharist. During this rite, the altar is prepared for use, the offerings of bread and wine are brought forward and prepared while the offertory chant (song) is sung, money or other gifts for the poor are collected, and people prepare themselves to participate in the Eucharistic Prayer and sacramental Communion.
Presbyter: From the Greek word for “elder,” it is an official Latin title for a priest in the Roman Rite. (The other Latin title, sacerdos, has no English equivalent, though it is usually translated as “priest,” a word which also derives from “presbyter.”) The Latin title for the ordination of priests is Ordo presbyterorum ordinis. See also Priest.
Priest: English translation of the Latin word “sacerdos.” An ordained minister whose responsibility, according to the ordination rite, is to be a “co-worker with the order of bishops” whose is also charged “to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God,” “to celebrate the mysteries of Christ... for the glory of God and the sanctification of Christ’s people,” “to exercise the ministry of the Word [by] preaching the Gospel and explaining the Catholic faith,” and “to lead [God’s] holy people in love.” See also Presbyter.
Procession: An orderly, formal movement of people from one place to another. Roman Rite liturgy is processional liturgy: It either includes processions as part of the ritual structure (there are three or four in the Order of Mass); or it has several stations united by processions (as is the case in the funeral rite); or it concludes a procession (such as the Forty Hours procession) with an appropriate ritual.
Processional Chant: A chant or song that accompanies a procession. Such chants or songs are usually very simple with a repeated refrain for the congregation.
Profession of Faith—see Creed.
Progressive Solemnity: A principle determining how much of and how richly the liturgy should be sung on a particular occasion. Though the principle was described in general terms in several documents immediately after the Second Vatican Council, it received this title in the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (1971): “The principle of ‘progressive solemnity’ therefore is one that recognizes several intermediate stages between singing the office in full and just reciting all the parts... The criteria are the particular day or hour being celebrated, the character of the individual elements comprising the office, the size and composition of the community, as well as the number of singers available in the circumstances” (GILH, 273). Liturgical Music Today comments on this principle and applies it to other celebrations (LMT, 13).
Proper of the Mass: Those parts of a Mass liturgy that are proper to a particular celebration. These usually include the processional chants (entrance, offertory, Communion), the readings and responsorial psalm, and sometimes other special texts.
Psalm: A religious hymn or poem, usually one found in the Book of Psalms or composed in a form similar to the poetry found in that collection. The Greek word psalmos means something that is struck or plucked, like a stringed instrument. The word was applied by the translators of the Greek Bible (the Septuagint) to the collection known in Hebrew as the “Book of Praises” (sefer t’hilim).
Psalm Tone: A melodic formula composed for use with non-metrical poetry. Psalm tones are usually fairly simple compositions, frequently with a mediant cadence, to mark the division between phrases, and a final cadence to mark the end of a sentence or verse.
Psalmist: Someone who composes or sings a psalm. In Roman Rite liturgy, the psalmist or “cantor of the psalm” proclaims verses of the responsorial psalm from the ambo or another appropriate place, and the rest of the assembly sings a response. A liturgical psalmist may also lead psalms at other times during Mass and at other rites and devotions.
Psalter: The Book of Psalms in the Bible or a collection of psalms published as a separate book or included in some other collection such as a hymnal.
Purificator: From the Latin words to “make clean,” a small towel made of linen that is used to wipe the lip of a chalice after someone has drunk from it and also to clean the chalice after use. The cloth is usually folded into thirds so it is easier to hold and use.


RCIA - see Adult Initiation.
Reception into Full Communion: The process by which a person who has been baptized in another Christian tradition is received as a full member of the Roman Catholic Church. They are not treated as catechumens (who are unbaptized), but they may share as needed in the elements of catechumenal formation. After suitable preparation, those to be received into full communion profess their faith (using the Nicene Creed), affirm their belief in Catholic doctrine, are confirmed, and share fully in the Eucharist. The process of reception should make it clear that these people "are indeed Christian believers who have already shared in the sacramental life of the Church and are now welcomed into the Catholic Eucharistic community upon their profession of faith and confirmation, if they have not been confirmed, before receiving the Eucharist" (National Statutes on the Catechumenate, 32).
Recitative: Though some people describe it as “gossip set to music,” recitative is a musical form with roots in plainchant. The music follows natural speech patterns and is not limited by regular meter or tempo. Usually written for a single voice, recitative is accompanied music, though the accompaniment is often simple.
Reciting Note: In plainchant, particularly in psalm tones, this is the note on which most of the syllables are sung. It is preceded (at least in the first verse) by an intonation formula, and it concludes with a cadence.
Recto Tono: Non-inflected singing of a text on the same pitch.
Reproaches: Known as the Improperia in Latin, these are verses based on Scripture that have traditionally been used during the veneration of the cross during the Good Friday liturgy. Because they may be interpreted as anti-Semitic, though they are actually addressed to the Christian community, these texts are optional in current liturgical practice. There are two refrains; the first is taken from Micah 6:3 (“My people, what have I done to you?”), while the second refrain is a translation of the Greek trisagion (“thrice holy”): “Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy on us.”
Reserved Sacrament: The consecrated host kept in the tabernacle after Mass for Communion taken to the sick and for personal prayer and devotion.
Responsorial Psalm: The psalm or part of a psalm proclaimed between the first reading at Mass (usually chosen from the First [Old] Testament) and the New Testament readings; it “fosters meditation on the Word of God” (GIRM, 61). The psalm text usually reflects the theme or imagery of the first reading and the Gospel, though seasonal and common texts may also be used. It is arranged to be sung in responsorial form: A cantor—known as the psalmist or cantor of the psalm—proclaims the verses, and the rest of the assembly responds with the refrain. By joining in proclaiming this psalm, the congregation affirms its responsibility to hear and proclaim the Word of God.
Responsorial Singing: Singing that alternates between a soloist and a group. In the liturgy, this usually means singing that alternates between a cantor and the rest of the assembly. The soloist sings the more complex parts or the longer text (as the cantor would sing the verses of a psalm) and the group sings a shorter text with simpler music (as the congregation would sing the refrain).
Ritual Music: Music for the liturgy whose shape and text are determined by and/or are integral to the ritual action. “The term underscores the interconnection between music and the other elements of the rite” (The Milwaukee Symposia for Church Composers: A Ten-Year Report, 1992).
Roman Catholic: Of or relating to those churches and individuals who are identified with a particular form of Christian doctrine, ritual, and way of life (Catholic) and who are associated with the bishop of Rome as supreme pontiff (chief bishop) of the Church. Usually Roman Catholic churches use the Roman Rite for liturgy. Other churches that are part of the Catholic communion of churches use other ancient liturgies. See Ambrosian Rite, Byzantine Rite, Maronite Church, Ruthenian Church, Ukrainian Church.
Roman Missal: A liturgical book that contains all the texts and most of the chants that the priest or bishop needs to celebrate Mass. At one point, the missal (Latin: Missale Romanum) contained all the texts for Mass, which is why the current separate books are officially, for example, “The Roman Missal: Lectionary for Mass” or similar titles.
Roman Rite: The liturgy as practiced in the Church of Rome and in those churches that follow this form of liturgy throughout the world. Originally the Roman Rite was the liturgy as the pope—as bishop of Rome—celebrated it. That rite was imitated and adapted in various places, particularly in the Gallican churches (the churches in Gaul and Germany, which dropped their own liturgical practice to take up Roman forms of liturgy), and the adapted Romano-Gallican form was then used in Rome. This adapted version of the Roman Rite was reformed at the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century and by the Second Vatican Council in the twentieth century.
Rubrics: From the Latin word for “red,” rubrics are specific, practical directions on how to carry out certain actions or say or sing certain texts in the liturgy. They appear within the texts of the liturgy, and they were originally printed in red to distinguish them from texts that were to be spoken or sung aloud.
Ruthenian Church: The Ruthenian Church (the Latinized version of the Rusyn Church) is an Eastern Catholic Church in communion with Rome. Its full title is the Greek Catholic Church of the Ruthenians of Sub-Carpathian Rus’. The music of its liturgy derives from Znammeny and Kievan chant (two styles of Byzantine chant). Originally centered among the Rusyn people in the area around the Carpathian Mountains, to whom Saints Cyril and Methodius brought Byzantine Christianity in their ninth century mission to the Slavic people, Rusyn Christians fled to the mountains during the Magyar invasion of the tenth century. They sided with Constantinople after the split with Rome in 1054, by in the middle of the seventeenth century, after the Union of Uzhorod, part of the church united with Rome and was allowed to keep its Byzantine liturgical tradition and elect its own bishops, who would then be confirmed by the pope. The Ruthenian Church came to the United States with immigrants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and established communities especially in mining towns. The headquarters for the U.S. Ruthenian Church is the Byzantine Rite Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.


Sabbath: The seventh day of the week (Hebrew: Shabbat). In the first account of creation, it is the day on which God rested from the work of creation (Genesis 2:2–3). God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, and it is observed by Jews as a weekly holy day on which to honor God and rest from work, leaving creation in God’s hands. Beginning in the Middle Ages in Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, the weekly Shabbat was treated as a queen or a royal bride and welcomed with appropriate dignity.
Sacrament: A perceptible sign (words and actions) accessible to our human nature through which, by the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, divine grace is made available to us efficaciously. These visible and audible signs, in other words, are entrusted to the Church in a way that makes available to us, in ways that we can trust are effective, the action of the Holy Spirit that unites us to the saving mystery of Jesus Christ and thus brings us into union with God through Christ.
Sacramental: As an adjective, “sacramental” means of or relating to a sacrament. As a noun, “sacramental” means an object (such as a holy medal) or an action (such as giving alms) that reminds a person of holy things or that puts into action what we become through sacraments—the living and redemptive presence of Christ in the world. Objects that are sacramentals often receive a special blessing, and actions identified as sacramentals often include specifically sanctioned prayers approved by a bishop or other ecclesial authority.
Sacramental Minister - see Minister.
Sacramentary: A book that contains the texts and some of the music that the priest or bishop needs to celebrate Mass. See Roman Missal.
Sacred Music: The term (Latin, musica sacra) used in official Roman documents to describe the music used in the liturgy. The documents make clear, however, that the music is not sacred in itself but because of its intended use within a sacred action.
Sacrosanctum Concilium—see Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
Saint Cecilia—see Cecilia.
Sanctoral Cycle: The solemnities, feasts, and memorials of the saints that are celebrated over the course of a year. Some of these are important enough to replace Sundays in Ordinary Time.
Sanctuary: From the Latin for a holy or sacred space, in Roman Catholic practice it is the area (usually raised) that is immediately around the altar and ambo in a church. (Other churches refer to the whole space for worship as the sanctuary.) It’s also the Hunchback’s cry as he sweeps Esmeralda into protection in Notre Dame Cathedral in The Hunchback of Notre-Damebecause “sanctuary” also means “protection,” and the church was a place, in medieval practice, where anyone was protected from the law or secular government outside the church building.
Sanctuary Bell—see Altar Bell.
Sanctus: One of three acclamations used in every Eucharistic Prayer. It concludes the Preface and is composed of two elements. The first part quotes a hymn used in heavenly worship, according to the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:3). The second part unites earth to heaven by repeating an acclamation shouted at Jesus as he entered Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9). Both heaven and earth unite, therefore, in the Eucharistic Prayer. This acclamation, like the other two (memorial acclamation, Amen), should normally be sung by the whole assembly.
Schola: A trained choir who lead the singing at the liturgy or a small group of especially talented singers who perform particularly difficult compositions. The title comes from schola cantorum(“school of singers”), which was both a professional choir and a training school for singers originally developed in Rome in the late sixth century; the model soon spread across Europe.
Scrutinies: Three ceremonies that are key elements of the period of purification and enlightenment - the final period as the elect prepare for initiation, usually coinciding with Lent. Solemnly celebrated on Sundays, usually in the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent, and "reinforced by an exorcism," these "are rites for self-searching and repentance . . . ." They "are meant to uncover, then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good" (RCIA, 141). The shape of a scrutiny is an extended form of the prayer of the faithful (general intercessions): a series of petitions to which the congregation responds, a concluding prayer of exorcism, and the dismissal of the elect.
Second Vatican Council: A worldwide gathering of Roman Catholic bishops that met in four sessions (1962–1965) at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City State. By Roman Catholic reckoning, this was the twenty-first general (ecumenical) council of the Church. (The first was the Council of Nicaea in 325.) The aims of the Council were described in its first document, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium: “This Sacred Council . . . aims to impart an ever increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions that are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of humanity into the household of the Church.” The Council issued four major documents or constitutions: the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei verbum, and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et spes. The bishops also issued nine decrees and three declarations on various aspects of Church life.
Septuagint: A name derived from the Greek word for “seventy” (and often shown by the Roman numerals LXX) used to identify a Greek translation of the First (Old) Testament prepared by Jewish scholars in Alexandria, Egypt, between the third and the first centuries, BCE. The legend says that seventy-two (rounded down to seventy) scholars worked on the translation and that they prepared it for King Ptolemy Philadelphios of Egypt, but it was probably really prepared for Greek-speaking Jews who could no longer read Hebrew. In the course of the translation, some works and some parts of books not in Hebrew were added to the collection. These books are accepted as inspired Scripture by Catholics, though they are not considered inspired by Jews or Protestant Christians, though they are included as “deuterocanonical” books in many contemporary Protestant Bibles.
Sequence: A poetic composition in verse form sung before the Gospel Alleluia at some Masses. The earliest version of these poems probably entered Roman Rite liturgy sometime before the ninth century as an expansion of the text of the Alleluia. Of the hundreds that were in use before the Council of Trent, the Tridentine reform retained only four, though one was added later. The current Roman Missal has four of those five, though two are optional. The sequence for Easter (Victimae paschali) and for Pentecost (Veni, Sancte Spiritus) are required and therefore should be sung. The sequence for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem) and for Our Lady of Sorrows (Stabat Mater, September 15) are optional.
Simple Gradual: An official ritual chant book with Latin text (Graduale Simplex) that provides a selection of chants which can be substituted for those of the Graduale Romanum that are simple enough to be attempted by choirs with little expertise in chant; many of these settings are also suitable for the encouragement of congregational participation. An English version of the Graduale Simplex has been prepared by Paul Ford: By Flowing Waters: Chant for the Liturgy (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1999).
Solemnity: A liturgical day of the greatest importance. Solemnities of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and some saints take priority over almost all other celebrations outside the great feasts and Sundays in the major seasons (Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter). Other commemorations of the Lord and the saints in the liturgical calendar which are of lesser importance are known as feasts and memorials.
Sponsor (Sacramental): While sponsors are the same as godparents for some rites, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults sees the role of the sponsor as separate from-but related to-that of godparent. Sponsors stand with and testify on behalf of inquirers until they are enrolled as catechumens, then the catechumens are accompanied by one or more godparents. (Sponsors and godparents may, in fact, be the same people but do not need to be.) "A sponsor accompanies any candidate seeking admission as a catechumen. Sponsors are persons who have known and assisted the candidates and stand as witnesses to the candidates' moral character, faith, and intention" (RCIA, 10). See also Godparent.
Sprinkling Rite: A rite that is sometimes used at the beginning of Mass to recall our common baptism. It includes the blessing of water and the sprinkling of the congregation while an appropriate song is sung. This rite replaces the act of penitence, and it is frequently used during the Easter Season.
Square-note Notation: An early form of notation traditionally used for Gregorian chant. The shape of the notes was determined by the square nib of pens used in the Middle Ages. The staff for square-note notation usually has four lines. The clefs in square-note notation mark where Doh (C clef) or Fa (F clef) appear on the staff.
Station: In Roman military language, a statio was a post (like a sentry post) or a station (like an assignment). Roman Catholics use the word “station” in at least three different ways. (1) In papal liturgy, a statio was a place where liturgy was celebrated at the conclusion of a procession from the residence and papal offices known as the Patriarchium. (The old titles for Lenten liturgies often included a reference to these stations.) (2) As used to describe Roman Rite liturgy, “stational” liturgy means one rite with several stopping points or stations. The ritual for the baptism of infants, for example, includes four stations: at the door of the church, at the place for the liturgy of the Word, at the font, and at the altar. The funeral rite usually includes three stations: at the funeral home, in the church, and at the cemetery. (3) In Catholic devotions, “the stations” is shorthand for the Stations of the Cross (also known as the Way of the Cross), a procession that moves from one image to the next while participants remember and reflect on the movement of Jesus from Pilate’s court to Golgotha for his crucifixion and the placement of his body in the grave. In current practice, there are fourteen or fifteen stations on the Way of the Cross.
Stations of the Cross—see Station.
Stole: Not to be confused with the past tense of “steal,” a stola was a long Greek or Roman upper garment something like a shawl. In liturgical use, the stole was adapted from a neck cloth that was a sign of office in Roman imperial government. When the clergy were given benefits of similar rank, after the Empire became Christian, they adopted and adapted this scarf as a symbol of ecclesial office. Today, the stole (from two to six inches wide and about eighty inches long) represents someone who has been ordained. A priest or bishop wears the stole over both shoulders and hanging down in front. A deacon wears the stole over his left shoulder, and it is joined or tied at his right hip. The color of the stole usually matches the liturgical color of other vestments worn for the day or occasion.
Strophe: A unit of a poem or a hymn text that has the same rhyme pattern, meter, and length as all other units in the composition. Strophic hymnody is hymnody composed of such equal units.
Sunday Cycle: The texts, music, and gestures proper to Sundays over the course of a year. The assigned readings for Sundays and major solemnities in the Lectionary for Mass follow a three-year course: Year A, Year B, and Year C. The year of the Sunday cycle of readings changes on the First Sunday of Advent. Year A begins on the First Sunday of Advent in 2006, Year B begins on that Sunday in 2007, and so on.


Tabernacle: From the Latin word for “tent,” a tabernacle is a solid container in which the consecrated host is kept to bring Communion to the sick and as a focus for personal prayer and devotions.
Tacet: A notation in music that means "don't sing or play here," even though the composition itself continues. If the voice or instrument has no further part in the piece, then the notation might say tacet al fine (keep quiet until this whole thing is over).
Taizé Music: One form of music used in worship at the ecumenical monastic community of Taizé, France. The name usually refers to simple, multilingual works (sometimes with a Latin refrain), often written in ostinato style.
Taizé Prayer: A reflective, meditative form of prayer that uses music from (or similar to) the simple, multilingual music in ostinato style developed in the Community of Taizé; it also uses long periods of silence. Such prayer is often conducted in a darkened space lit only by candles, with icons and a crucifix as a focal point for prayer.
Tantum Ergo: The last two stanzas of the hymn Pange lingua composed by St. Thomas Aquinas for Corpus Christi (now known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ). These two verses are often used at Eucharistic benediction services.
Te Deum: An ancient Latin hymn used at certain times at the end of the office of readings in the liturgy of the hours. Its origins are unclear, and it may actually combine two older hymns into one text. The Te Deum was often used outside the liturgy to celebrate great occasions, and there are many large-scale settings of this text.
Tenebrae: The name (Latin for "darkness") for a service formerly sung in the evening before Holy Thursday and on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. It combined the former daily services of matins (office of readings) and lauds (morning prayer) with dramatic visual and musical elements. One of the dramatic effects in this evening liturgy was a gradual extinguishing of candles, with the last candle representing Christ carried away, leaving the community in darkness. It was a popular service before liturgical reforms in 1955; the name has been applied to similar contemporary dramatic services using elements of the revised liturgy of the hours.
Theotokos: A Greek title for Mary. “Mother of God” or “God-bearer” was a title given to her by the Council of Ephesus in 431. Giving Mary this title was a way of affirming the divinity of her son. The Council said: “Emmanuel is truly God. The Blessed Virgin Mary is therefore the Theotokos, because she gave birth ‘according to the flesh’ to the incarnate Word of God.”
Trent, Council of: A council of European Catholic bishops that shaped the Church’s major response to the Protestant Reformation. Held in various sessions from 1545 to 1563 in the northern Italian town of Trento, it affirmed major aspects of Church teaching, structure, and worship. The Council mandated a major reform of Latin Rite Roman Catholic liturgical practice that codified the liturgical books, cleaned away some abuses, and shaped Latin Rite worship for the next four hundred years.
Tridentine: Derived from or related to the sixteenth century Council of Trent.
Triduum: A unified period extending across three days, usually counted according to the Jewish reckoning of a day from sunset to sunset (rather than from midnight to midnight). The history of Christian worship includes several such unified periods, though the only one remaining in Latin Rite worship today is the Easter (Paschal) Triduum.
Trope: A set of words or additional music added to an existing text or composition. In liturgical practice, tropes were often added to such parts of the Mass as the Kyrie or the Agnus Dei . Added texts expanded the titles used of Christ in those two chants. Other parts of the Mass that had tropes in the Middle Ages include the introit and Sanctus . Some tropes expanded into new kinds of ritual music, such as sequences. Today, litanic settings of the Kyrie and Agnus Dei often add new titles to those provided in the traditional threefold form of those acclamations .


Ukrainian Church: Full title: Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. An autonomous Catholic Church in communion with Rome that uses Byzantine-Slavic ritual forms. Legends say that St. Andrew the Apostle preached in the area of Kiev in about the year 50 CE, but it was not until 988 that Prince Volodymyr the Great established Christianity in its Byzantine form as the national religion of his country, Kievan-Rus’. After the Great Schism of 1054 divided Christian East from West, the Kievan Church, with the traditions of the Byzantine East, initially remained in full communion with the Latin West and its patriarch, the pope of Rome, though it became estranged after the rise of the patriarchate of Moscow. In 1596, at the Council of Brest, the Kievan Church formally accepted the jurisdiction of the see of Rome and was named the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The Ukrainian Catholic Church became (and still remains) the largest Eastern Catholic Church in communion with Rome.
Usage: A variation on a core set of liturgical practices. Usages of the Roman (or Latin) Rite, for example, currently include the Ambrosian Rite and some adaptations of Roman Rite liturgy in Africa (the Zaire Rite, for example). Other usages of this Rite have existed historically but have fallen out of use. The Sarum Usage, for example, was at least part of the resources on which Archbishop Cranmer drew to create the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in the sixteenth century.
Use—see Usage


Vatican II—see Second Vatican Council.
Versicle: From the Latin word for "a short verse," it is a short sentence spoken by a leader or sung by a solo voice that initiates a dialogue with the rest of the community, who answer back with a similarly short response (called a "respond" in some texts). In liturgical books, the versicle and its respond are sometimes indicated by the letters V and R.
Vespers: The prayer at or near sunset in the liturgy of the hours, known today as “evening prayer,” which gives thanks for the day that has passed. With lauds (“morning prayer”), it is one of the “hinges” or major office of the Church’s daily prayer. See liturgy of the hours.
Vestment: Though the Latin word simply means “a garment,” vestments are ritual clothing that follow specific guidelines in design, color, and placement. In Roman Catholic practice, liturgical vestments include the amice, alb, cincture, stole, dalmatic, chasuble, and cope.
Vigil: The evening before a holy day. Some vigils are celebrated with special texts for Mass and the liturgy of the hours. The greatest of all vigils is the Easter Vigil.
Vigil Service (Funerals): The first stage or service of the Catholic funeral rites. Modeled on evening prayer from the liturgy of the hours, it includes psalms, readings, songs, silence, and petitions. Many people often take time during the vigil service to share remembrances of the deceased. This part of the funeral rite is often celebrated in a funeral home and is sometimes called the wake service.


Wake Service—see Vigil Service (Funerals).
Words of Institution: The text drawn from the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper that repeat Jesus’ words over the bread and the wine. Considered the Scriptural warrant for the Church to celebrate the Eucharist, they are repeated at every Mass. In the Middle Ages, theologians considered the priest’s speaking of these words to be the moment of consecration, when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. Contemporary Eucharistic theology also considers the action of the Holy Spirit to be key to the act of sacramental consecration. As the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy says in its Introduction to the Order of Mass: “In the power of the Spirit, these words achieve what they promise and express: the presence of Christ and his sacrifice among his people assembled in his name.” The words of institution/consecration should also be understood as “part of the one continuous prayer of thanksgiving and blessing” which is the Eucharistic Prayer (Introduction to the Order of Mass [Washington, DC: USCCB Publishing, 2003], 90).
Worship: An act of humility that acknowledges a superior or, as in the case of a lover, an individual to whom you dedicate your life. (In the 1559 Book of Common Prayer, at the placing of a ring on the woman’s finger during a wedding, the man is told to say: “With this ring I thee wed: with my body I thee worship: and with all my worldly goods I thee endow. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”) In religious terms, worship is an act of praise, honor, or devotion directed to the Supreme Being. It may be performed by an individual or a group. In Christian theology, worship (adoration) is directed to God alone; other lesser acts of praise, prayer, and intercession (veneration) may be directed to the Blessed Virgin Mary or the saints.