Compiled by Father John Forman, Priest in Charge, St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church, Burien, Washington
Holy Objects, Holy Actions, Holy Moments
Ablutions: Ceremonial washing of communion vessels after communion or the ceremonial washing of the presider’s hands.
Absolutions: A declaration by a bishop or priest, or provisionally by a deacon or lay minister, pronouncing forgiveness by God to those who have confessed their sins and repented. Absolutions can be made collectively at the Eucharist or Daily Offices, or individually at the Reconciliation of a Penitent.
Acolyte: (Middle English acolit, from Greek akoloutho, “follower, attendant”) Also called a server, the term refers to those who carry a candle in processions and at other times during the liturgy. In Roman Catholicism, the term applies to a minor clerical order but it is a lay function in the Episcopal church.
Acclamation: A versicle and response of praise at the beginning of the Eucharist and other services. The “memorial acclamation” is the response of the people during the Eucharistic Prayer.
Advent: (Anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.”) The four-week season that opens the church year. Advent concludes with Christmas.
Agnus Dei: Latin for “Lamb of God.” The Agnus Dei is the invocation to the Lamb of God sung or recited during the fraction of the blessed bread or host. The English versions we use most frequently are “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.” Or “Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us. Jesus, bearer of our sins, have mercy on us. Jesus, redeemer of the world, grant us peace.”
Alb: (from the Latin albus, meaning “white.”) An ankle-length, white, sleeved vestment. Originally a Roman under-tunic, Christians adopted the alb, which was given to the newly baptized as they stepped out of the water. Consequently, it is a reminder of the priesthood of all baptized, making it appropriate garb for all ministers, lay or ordained, including acolytes. Clergy often wear vestments over the alb, but subdeacons (also called Eucharistic ministers) may also wear certain vestments while serving at the Mass.
Alleluia: An exclamation of praise and joy, used in various parts of the liturgy. Derived from the Hebrew, meaning “Praise ye Jah,” a short form of “praise Yahweh.” Most Episcopalians and other Catholics “fast” from using the Alleluia in Lent.
Alleluia Verse: A passage of scripture with the acclamation “alleluia” or simply the thrice-repeated “alleluia” sung or said before the proclamation of the Gospel. The “alleluia verse” is also not used in Lent.
Altar: Also called the Holy Table. In the 1st c., Christian altars were wooden tables in private homes. Later, people celebrated the Holy Eucharist on the tombs of martyrs, which led to the use of stone altars also reminiscent of our Jewish heritage.
Altar book: (Also called a sacramentary) Similar to the Orthodox or Roman Catholic missal, the book containing prayers and music needed by the celebrant for the regular celebration of the Eucharist. In addition to prayers and chants for the various Eucharistic services, the Altar Book includes materials for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week services, along with a Musical Appendix that provides optional settings for parts of the service that may be sung.
Altar stone: Many wooden altars have a stone set inset where the Holy Eucharist is actually consecrated. The stone typically features five crosses and a place for a saint’s relic.
Anglican: Refers to the English origins of the Episcopal Church USA, which is a national church in communion with other national or collective churches in the Anglican Communion, such as the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church of Scotland and the Anglican Church of Korea. Full communion means, ideally, that there is mutual agreement on essential doctrines and that full participation in the sacramental life of each church is available to all communicant Anglicans. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the presiding bishop of the Church of England and the honorary spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, and who is recognized as primus inter pares, or first among equals. Anglicans generally consider themselves to be both Catholic and Reform. All 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion are autonomous, each with its own primate and governing structure. These provinces may take the form of national churches, such as in Australia, Uganda, or Japan, or a collection of nations, such as the West Indies, Central Africa or Southeast Asia.
Aspergillum: A liturgical implement used to sprinkle holy water, used at Baptismal Eucharists, requiem Masses, or house blessings. The priest puts the aspergillum in a container of Holy Water, and then walks through the sanctuary, blessing the congregation by sprinkling them using the Aspergillum. Ours is fashioned from broom corn, but others are long-handled instruments with a ball reservoir at the end. Other churches use bundles of plant cuttings, such as rosemary.
Aspersorium: A small bucket for holy water. Ours is a cast-iron 16th c. C.E. French aspersorium with images of the baptism of Jesus on the sides. Others are ceramic or metal.
Aumbry: (From the Latin, armārium referring to a chest for storage, especially for arms) A recessed cupboard in the wall or a container affixed to the wall of a church near the altar used to store sacred vessels, Reserved Sacrament, chrism and holy oils. An aumbry is affixed to a wall, unlike a tabernacle, which is free-standing. If the aumbry is used only to store chrism and oil, and Reserve Sacrament is not kept in a tabernacle, no Sanctuary Lamp is lit.
Baptism: The sacrament of initiation by which a person is born anew by Water and the Holy Spirit and made a member of Christ’s Body. We baptize both infants and adults because we believe that the grace conferred by the Sacrament of Baptism is not and should not be reserved only for “informed believers.” Similarly, a person may take communion at any age. We do not believe that a certain understanding of the proceedings is necessary for the sacrament to be valid. We leave decisions about when to take communion up to children and their parents. Any person baptized with water in the name of the Trinity has been received by adoption into the family of Christ, not into a particular denomination. “Re-baptism,” therefore, is not only unnecessary, but should not be done. We do routinely over the course of the liturgical year renew our baptismal vows, and there are options for publically reaffirming baptismal vows, even after confirmation, if a person chooses, but this is a highly personal matter, and not in any way required.
Baptismal Font: The basin or tub for the administration of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Some Episcopal Churches practice baptism by “sprinkling,” but the trend is increasingly toward a preference for a fuller immersion if possible. Holy water is also kept in a stoup at the entrance to some Episcopal Church naves.
Baptismal Water: The water blessed by a bishop or priest for use at Baptism or for the renewal of baptismal vows.
Bishop: A successor of the apostles, the chief pastor of a diocese and (when present) the principal celebrant at sacramental liturgies.
Benediction: From the Latin roots bene, meaning “well” and diction meaning “to speak,” the term refers to any ceremonial blessing. As a term of liturgy, benediction also refers to a specific form of ritual devotion. Often preceded by a chanted Evening Prayer, or Evensong, the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament tends to consist of the singing of a set of hymns and the lighting of a set of candles before the priest places a blessed Host into a monstrance on the altar. In recognition of the Real Presence of Christ, the congregation then sits in prayerful contemplation before the exposed host for a period before chanting a series of devotional hymns, including the Tantum ergo Sacramentum. The priest is then vested with a humeral veil and makes the sign of the cross before the people. A litany of Divine Praises follows, the host is returned to the tabernacle, a psalm is sung and the people leave in silence.
Blessed Sacrament: The consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist which has become the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
Book of Common Prayer: The official liturgy of the Episcopal Church in the USA. The book is a collection of prayers, readings, Psalms, devotions and services used by the Episcopal Church, forming the primary worship book used by Episcopalians. Nearly all services in any Episcopal Church will be printed in this book, although it may be supplemented by a series of books, such as “Enriching Our Worship,” that offer alternatives approved by General Convention.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer produced the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, and revised it in 1552. Further revisions occurred in 1559 and again in 1662, which is still the official Prayer Book of the Church of England. The book was intended to facilitate worship in English rather than Latin and to bring the rites of the church together into one book for use by both clergy and lay people. Each national church in the Anglican Communion has its own adaptation of the Prayer Book. The American version, used by most churches in ECUSA, was last revised in 1979. The BCP contains the orders of service for the various rites of the church, the Daily Office, prayers for use within the context of the liturgy and prayers for use in home devotions, the Lectionary (i.e., the Scriptural readings to be used in corporate worship, organized so as to carry the congregation through the entire Bible in a three-year period), the Psalter, the Calendar of the Church Year, the Catechism and various historical documents.
Bread: Representative of a foundational aspect of life: Food. Through the process of fermentation, plain wheat is transformed into bread and grape juice into wine. Through the Eucharistic feast, we are transformed as well. Leavened or unleavened bread is commonly used in the Eucharist in most of North America and Europe, but in many churches in Asia, where wheat is not the staple grain, rice bread is blessed for the Eucharist. Many Episcopal churches in North America are moving away from the pressed wafer version of bread and returning to bread that is more recognizable as a mundane everyday staple.
Burse: From the Greek byrsa, meaning, “a bag.” A burse is one of the furnishings of the altar for communion, and is a pocket case made from two squares of some rigid material covered in cloth. The burse sits on top of the chalice, paten and veil, and serves to hold a corporal. Often, the burse also serves to hide an extra purificator. It also may refer to the small leather purse/wallet-like receptacle containing the pyx for taking the Sacrament to the sick and shut-ins.
Cassock: The word “cassock” comes from Middle French casaque, meaning a long coat. An ankle-length garment related to the habit worn by monks and nuns. The robe is worn by priests, deacons or other liturgical officiants, especially for non-Eucharistic services such as morning or evening prayer. Lay readers, choir members and acolytes can also wear cassocks. Anglicans typically wear double-breasted version, which is then more correctly called a “sarum cassock” that fastens at the shoulders on the opposing side of the breast and at the waist with one concealed button. The Sarum usually has a single, small stem-button sewn just below the center-front neck line, which is used to secure an academic hood. Most are black, but bishops may wear purple, and canons may wear black with red piping. Deans and archdeacons may wear black with purple piping.
Cathedra: The Greek word meaning “seat.” A cathedra is special sanctuary chair only used by a bishop. The chair remains empty except during bishop’s visitations and serves as a visible reminder that the parish priest represents the bishop, who is the spiritual head of the diocese.
Catholic: Literally, “universal” or “found everywhere,” but in common usage tends to refer to the Roman Catholic Church. The term also includes the Anglican and Orthodox traditions. Anglicanism is often referred to as a “bridge tradition.” When the Church of England separated itself from Rome, it did not consider itself to be a “Protestant” tradition. Rather, it saw itself returning to the original organization of the church, with local/national congregations organized under the rule of their own bishops. As the church evolved in England, certain elements of the Reformation (such as worship in the vernacular, an emphasis on Scriptural authority, and a broader view of what happens during the consecration of the Eucharist) became a part of its tradition. In an attempt to reconcile the views of the Reformers with the tradition of the Catholic Church, the Anglican tradition became a home for both. Thus you will find very traditional Anglo-Catholic parishes and very reformed parishes throughout the Anglican Communion. Most parishes probably fall in the middle of the two extremes.
Chancel: From the Latin cancelli, meaning “a grating” or “lattice.” Chancel is the name for the area surrounding the altar beyond the front pews, often behind an altar rail (or where an altar rail would be) that separates it from the nave. It is also usually a few steps higher than the nave.
Chalice: A cup for the consecrated wine in the Holy Eucharist. Most were glass, until the 4th c. C.E., when precious metals came into use. Some of the earliest chalices depicted in the catacombs were bowls with two handles. We use silver most of the year and glass or stoneware in Lent to represent the unsettledness of life.
Chasuble: From Latin, casula, meaning “little house.” A chasuble is a type of vestment worn by the presider during the Holy Eucharist. It is often oval in shape, with a hole for the head to pass through. Chasubles came back into major use beginning with the Oxford Movement in England, having been largely in disuse since the Reformation. If a chasuble is unadorned, the stole is worn outside the chasuble. If adorned, the stole is worn under the chasuble. If a cope is worn, the presider may exchange it for a chasuble for the liturgy of the table.
Celebrant: This term has fallen out of use in recognition that the liturgy (literally, “the work of the people”) is celebrated by the entire congregation. The more common term for the person acting as the principal officiant at the Eucharist and other sacraments is “presider.” The bishop is the normal presider, or, if the bishop is not present, a priest. Among other functions, the presider at the Eucharist pronounces the forgiveness of sins, consecrates the bread and wine, and blesses the people, and may be assisted by other priests, deacons, chalice bearers, acolytes and so forth.
Ciborium: A cup that often resembles a chalice, except that it has a removable lid. A ciborium is used to hold communion wafers during the Eucharist and for storing blessed host or sacramental bread after the Mass.
Collect: A prayer that the presider or officiant says or sings at the opening of the liturgy to “collect” the themes of the season, readings and liturgical focus.
Communicants: Anyone who has been baptized with water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and whose baptism has been recorded in a particular church is a member of that church. All those who have received Holy Communion three times over the course of the year are considered to be communicants. A communicant older than 16 is an adult communicant and a person who has been faithful in corporate worship as well as working, praying and giving for the spread of the Kingdom of God, is considered a communicant in good standing. The term also applies to each individual who received Holy Communion at a specific Eucharist.
Communion: The Christian sacramental meal that is central to Anglican worship, more commonly referred to as Eucharist or somewhat less regularly, as Mass.
Compline: A remnant of the Anglican Communion’s ancient roots, compline (the word is derived from the Latin, completorium, indicating completion) is the last office of the day in Benedictine monasteries. Benedictine and Celtic monastic rhythms had a powerful influence on the early formation of the church in England. The often chanted service consists of opening sentences, confession of sins, a set of psalms and other Bible lessons, the canticle of Simeon, and prayers, including a benediction. Compline may be led by a lay person or clergy.
Confession: A public and collective prayer of penitence followed by absolution in the Eucharist, the Daily Offices and other times or the private, individual ritual sacrament of confession and absolution called the Reconciliation of a Penitent.
Confirmation: Many clergy in the Episcopal Church consider this to be a sacrament without a home as it effects little that has not already been done in baptism. Perhaps confirmation is best understood as a rite of passage, but until the church changes its teaching, confirmation is the rite in which a person expresses a mature commitment to Christ, and receives strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop. To be confirmed, a person (called a “confirmand”) must confirm (hence the name of the rite) that they have been baptized, that they are sufficiently instructed in the Christian faith, that they are penitent for their sins, and are ready to affirm their confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Cope: From the cappa or “cape.” (Also known in Latin as pluviale or “rain coat.”) A long cloak worn by clergy in liturgy. The cope is open in front and fastened at the breast with a band or clasp, which is often highly ornamented, called a morse. If worn by a bishop, it is generally accompanied by a mitre.
Corporal: From Latin: corpus, meaning “body.” A square piece of linen laid on top of the altar cloth at Communion, upon which the body and blood of Christ are placed. They have been in use since at least the 4th c. C.E.
Cassock: The word “cassock” comes from Middle French casaque, meaning a long coat. An ankle-length garment related to the habit worn by monks and nuns. Anglicans typically wear double-breasted version, which is then more correctly called a “sarum cassock” that fastens at the shoulders on the opposing side of the breast and at the waist with one concealed button. The Sarum usually has a single, small stem-button sewn just below the center-front neck line, which is used to secure an academic hood. Most are black, but bishops may wear purple, and canons may wear black with red piping. Deans and archdeacons may wear black with purple piping.
Credence table: A small table or shelf (generally on the epistle side of the altar) that holds some of the objects such as bread, wine and water, or additional chalices or patens before consecration.
Creed: A statement of faith. The Episcopal Church uses two. The Apostles’ Creed, which was originally used for baptismal instruction and for outlining the faith of the Apostles, is currently used in the Daily Office. The Nicene Creed, dating from the 4th c. C.E. and is used regularly at the Eucharist.
Crucifer: A server who carries the processional cross into and out of the nave, and in some instances, with the Gospel procession.
Cruet: A glass or metal vessel in which wine and water used for the Eucharist is brought to the altar. The top is called the stopper.
Deacon: An ordained minister whose functions at the Eucharist are to proclaim the Gospel, to lead the Prayers of the People, prepare the gifts at the Offertory, to assist with the administration of Communion, help with the ablutions, and dismiss the people. The deacon should also preach occasionally. A deacon reports directly to a bishop while serving a particular parish, and works to be a bridge between the congregation and a community in need outside the church. Deacons are involved in homeless ministries, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgendered/Queer ministries, Veterans ministries, minority or undocumented worker ministries, women’s shelters, and other social justice ministries or points of marginalization.
Diaconate: The state of being an ordained deacon, which carries the title “Reverence.” The term also refers to the charism of any deacon-like impulse, outreach and service from a church to its surrounding community.
Diocese: A unit of church organization, typically geographically boundaried in some way. A bishop is the head of a diocese that may contain many parishes and churches. Larger diocese have staff devoted to various areas of focus and ministry.
Dismissal: The words said or sung by the deacon or celebrant at the conclusion of the Eucharist. The response to the dismissal is “Thanks be to God” during Lent and from the Easter Vigil through the day of Pentecost, the response may also include “alleluia, alleluia.”
Doxology: Words said or sung in praise of the Holy Trinity, such as the conclusion of each Eucharistic Prayer or the Gloria Patri.
Elements: This term is falling out of use, along with its still more obscure “species,” in the Episcopal church, but it referred to the bread and wine to be consecrated at the Eucharist, and unblessed water.
Episcopal: “Episcopos” is the Greek word for “bishop.” Thus “Episcopal” means “governed by bishops.” The Episcopal Church maintains the three-fold order of ministry as handed down by the Apostles – deacons, priests and bishops – in direct descent, through the laying on of hands, from the original Apostles. “Episcopal” is an adjective, as in “I belong to the Episcopal Church.” The noun is “Episcopalian” as in “She is an Episcopalian.”
Epistle: (From the Greek, epistolē, “letter”) The second lesson at the Eucharist preceding the Gospel taken from one of the Letters of the New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles, or the Book of Revelation.
Eucharist: (From Middle English eukarist, Late Latin, eucharistia, earlier from Greek, eucharistos, meaning “gratitude” or “to show favor.”) The principal act of worship on Sundays and other Feasts. The Holy Eucharist is our central rite and is so much like the Roman Catholic Mass that many Episcopalians also use the term “Mass.” The Eucharist is a thanksgiving comprising two main parts: The first, the Liturgy of the Word, consists of prayers, scripture readings and a sermon or homily. We follow this with an Affirmation of Faith by reciting the Nicene Creed. Then we offer the Prayers of the People, Confession of Sin and Absolution, and exchange the Peace of Christ. The second part of the liturgy, the Liturgy of the Table, begins with the offerings of the people—money, bread and wine—and then proceeds with one of the Eucharistic Prayer forms from the BCP or “Enriching Our Worship,” the consecration of the bread and wine, Communion, the Post-Communion Prayer, Blessing and Dismissal.
Flagon: A container that is larger than a cruet and is used to bring the wine up the aisle to the altar as part of the gifts of the people at the offertory.
Fraction: The moment in the Eucharist just after the Our Father and prior to the Agnus dei where the presider breaks the blessed bread. The sanctuary is as still as possible in this moment, although many Christians continue the ancient practice of silently praying the words of St Thomas, when Jesus invited him to touch the Sacred Wounds: “My Lord, and my God.” When the presider brings the bread down to break it apart further (the fractio panis), the congregation sings or says the Agnus dei.
Genuflection: From the Latin words genu, meaning “knee,” and flectere, meaning “to bend.” A genuflection is a sort of deep curtsey where the right knee touches the ground (the left knee touches the ground in the presence of the King or Queen of England!). The appropriate times for genuflection (if you do it at all) are when passing before the Reserved Sacrament, when entering or leaving your pew when the consecrated bread and wine are on the altar.
Gloria Patri: Latin for “Glory to the Father…” which is the beginning of the prayer that concludes the recitation of a psalm at the beginning of the Eucharist or at the end of the psalms in the Daily Offices and at other times listed in the BCP.
Good Friday: The last Friday of Holy Week on which the church recalls the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. A specific liturgy is found in the BCP and many churches include an Adoration of the Cross.
Gospel: A reference to the four books in the New Testament attributed to Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the Eucharist, the Gospel is the final lesson in the liturgy of the Word of God following the appointed lectionary. At Morning and Evening prayer and other non-Eucharistic offices, the Gospel may be read by a lay-person and concluded with “Here ends the lesson” (or “the reading”) or it may be concluded with the reader saying “The Word of God,” to which the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” In the Eucharist, the Gospel should be proclaimed by a deacon, or if one is not available, by a priest. As a sign of reverence, the people and assisting ministers stand when the Gospel is proclaimed. The deacon or priest announces the passage by saying “The Holy Gospel of our Lord (and Savior) Jesus Christ according to (St.)_______,” to which the congregation responds “Glory to you, Lord Christ” in recognition of the presence of Christ in the Word. After the Gospel proclamation, the deacon or priest says, “The Gospel of the Lord,” to which the congregation responds, “Praise to you, Lord Christ.”
Gospel Procession: The movement of the deacon or priest into the midst of the nave, often with an altar server to hold the Gospel book and possibly with torches, a thurifer and a processional crucifer to the place of the proclamation.
Gospel book: Also called an Evangeliary. The book is a bound volume containing portions of the four Gospels of the New Testament used in the Mass and other services, arranged in their order following the liturgical calendar. Ordained clergy do not read, but proclaim the Gospel from this book in the midst of the people. The use of the book is a recovered practice with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Holy Water: Water blessed by a bishop or priest for use in blessing the people or liturgical objects or images in the setting apart of those objects for use in the church, or for other liturgical purposes. Holy Water is often used at the Burial of the Dead, at Weddings, on Baptismal feast days and at other times at the discretion of the priest.
Host: The sacramental bread used in the Eucharist. In the Episcopal Church, the reference tends to be to the unleavened wafer. In the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the Host is often a larger wafer also known as a “priest’s host” as it is large enough to be seen by the congregation at the fraction.
Incense: From the Latin word, incendere, meaning “to burn.” We use a unique blend of frankincenses from Somalia, the Middle East and Russia that are almost pure, hardened plant and wood resins burned on a coal in a thurible. Scripture commends its usage, particularly in Psalm 141, where prayers are likened to incense. The incense is stored in a container called a “boat” or a navicula that has a small spoon for transferring the incense to the coal. The incense is blessed by the presider before it is burned. Used in early Judaism to cover the odor of animal sacrifice, it carried over into early Christian worship where worshippers used it to freshen the air in dank caves. Some Episcopal churches use incense every Sunday at the principle service, while others set apart its use for feast days, requiem masses and other special occasions. Some never use it.
Jesus Prayer: Borrowed from the Orthodox Churches, the full prayer in English is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Used by many Anglicans in conjunction with a contemplative practice, some people edit the prayer to fit breathing patterns or to more closely reflect their own theology.
Lavabo: From Latin, meaning “I will wash,” the word refers to the ceremonial washing of the presider’s hands before he or she begins the liturgy of the table. The presider prays during while a server pours the water over the presider’s fingers and catches the water in a small bowl, often while the presider prays saying the words similar to: “I will wash my hands in innocency and so go about your altar.” (Psalm 26:6). The name lavabo also refers to the small towel used to dry the hands and the bowl into which water is poured during the washing.
Laity: The non-ordained members of a church. A lay minister is a non-ordained person who serves as an Officiant at Morning or Evening Prayer, or who works closely with a church or religious program. Some lay ministers are un-paid volunteers. Some lay people are paid staff members of a church.
Lay Eucharistic Minister/Visitor: Non-ordained people who participate in the Eucharist by administering the chalice are LEMs. Those who take communion to sick or shut-in parishioners are LEVs. Lay people in these roles are licensed by the Bishop. Some diocese refer to lay people who read scripture other than the Gospel as lay readers.
Lectern: A book-stand or podium from which the lessons are read at the Eucharist and other Offices. The Gospel is also read from a lectern at Morning and Evening Prayer. In the early days of Christianity, officiants used a portable version called an Ambo, which became a fixture by the Byzantine and early Romanesque periods but was replaced by the pulpit and faded from liturgical use. Some churches still use a lectern, many of which are identifiable by an eagle, the back of whose outstretched wings provided support for a book.
Lectionary: The book that contains the Old Testament and New Testament scriptural readings. The readings are arranged according to a three-year cycle, beginning with the new church year on the first Sunday of Advent.
Lent: The solemn religious observance of fasting, moderation and reflection beginning on Ash Wednesday and ending at the Easter Vigil. In days past, Christians associated Lent with self-denial in the form of “giving something up.” Episcopal churches, for example, refrain from using festive vestments, remove flowers from the chancel and “fast” from using the word “Alleluia” in liturgy. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional, increasing their almsgiving or engaging a contemplative prayer practice to draw themselves nearer to God. During Lent, many Episcopal churches add the practice of praying the Stations of the Cross, a devotional commemoration of Jesus’ Passion and execution. Most churches vest their altars and presiders with purple or plain linen to symbolize the pain and suffering of Jesus on the cross as well as the suffering of humanity from sin. The purple also represents royalty in anticipation of the resurrection. Some also veil religious symbols with purple throughout Lent. Originally, Lent was the time for preparing catechumenates, people studying and praying in anticipation of baptism at the Easter Vigil.
Litany: Forms of prayer with a series of petitions and responses usually recited by a priest, deacon or cantor and responded to in a recurring formula by the people.
Maundy Thursday: Thursday in Holy Week and the first of the three days of the Triduum. From the Latin, mandatum, referring to Christ’s commandment: “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos.” (“A new commandment I give unto you; that you love one another as I have loved you”) Maundy Thursday is frequently the date for the Chrism Mass at which the Bishop blesses Holy Oil for parish use. Parishes often host an Agape Dinner in remembrance of the Last Supper, which is followed by a unique Eucharist. After the Gloria, all bells and musical accompaniment are silenced. Foot-washing is a common element of the Eucharistic liturgy for this day, followed by a somber stripping of the altar and the chancel in anticipation of Good Friday. Blessed host is often carried to an altar of repose for use on Good Friday, which is a continuation of the Triduum. Some Episcopal Churches also encourage parishioners to meditate on the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night.
Monstrance: From the Latin, monstere, “to show.” A vessel first created in the medieval period for the display of saints’ relics, but now more commonly used in Episcopal churches for the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
Narthex: literally, “small case,” to indicate the room, also called the “vestibule,” that provides transitional space for leaving the world to entering the nave. The new fire of Easter is frequently lit in the doorway between the narthex and the nave. Nave: The name literally means “ship” and refers to the main body of the sanctuary between the narthex and the chancel. This is the central part of the church building, intended to accommodate most of the congregation and is surrounded by aisles. In our church, the nave is separated from the chancel by steps and rails.
Offertory: The moment in the Eucharistic worship service where the gifts of the people are collected and brought to the altar. The gifts include money, bread and wine to be consecrated for God’s use. Often, a parishioner bakes the bread and the wine is collected from parish-members so that they more truly represent the gift of the people. The blessed bread and wine are then given back to the people as the gifts of God for the people of God, signifying the reciprocal nature of the human-Divine relationship, sometimes marked by the presider’s prayer, “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” The name also refers to a hymn, chant or musical accompaniment to the moment.
Offices: A term borrowed from Benedictine roots to refer to the daily services of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline.
Officiant: A person who officiates, especially at the Daily Offices. The term carries no implications as to whether the person is ordained or not.
Oil, Holy: The three oils used by the church for sacramental anointing to signify the work of the Holy Spirit. All three are olive oils blessed by the Bishop at a Chrism Mass and distributed to individual parishes. The three holy oils are: The Oil of Catechumens (“Oleum Catechumenorum” or “Oleum Sanctum”) used in Baptism along with water and in the consecration of churches or the blessing of Altars. The Holy Chrism (“Sanctum Chrisma”) or “Oil of Gladness,” which is olive oil mixed with a small amount of balm or balsam. It is used in Confirmation and Baptism. The Oil of the Sick (“Oleum Infirmorum”), which is used in Unction. The oils are kept in metal or glass bottles called “chrismatories,” “chrismals,” or “ampullae.”
Pall: the name refers to a covering, often a funeral cloak. These were originally simply a loose cloth, but later became a linen stiffened with cardboard or plastic. The pall sits atop the dressed chalice.
Parish: An established, self-sustaining congregation in which day-to-day matters are handled by a panel of elected lay people called a “vestry.” The head priest, or “rector”, handles spiritual and worship-related matters, and usually serves in an advisory capacity on church committees. Depending on the size of the congregation, the rector may have one or several ordained assistants, sometimes referred to as “curates,” or a deacon. Often there will be other lay or ordained people in charge of specific areas, such as a music director who coordinates worship music for the congregation or a “sexton” who handles physical maintenance of the church building and grounds. The term also refers to the geographic region around a church. In England, one identified which parish they belonged to by which church bells they heard calling them to worship. In the US, people are far less likely to choose a church based solely on location.
Pascha: From the Hebrew word Pesach, meaning literally “Passover;” the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. The term refers to the 40-day season of celebration which begins on the Sunday of Resurrection and concludes on Pentecost. The name “Easter,” while more commonly used, is a reference to a pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn named Ēostre, with whom some theorists have proposed a connection to Germanic Easter customs involving rabbits and eggs.
Paschal candle: A large candle, often decorated, that stands in a tall holder and is placed in a prominent display in the epistle side of the sanctuary. The candle is lighted throughout the Easter season, traditionally with the new fire kindled at the beginning of the Easter Vigil and celebrated in the chanted Exultet. The candle is also lit during baptismal feast days and funerals.
Paten: From Greek, patane: a shallow vessel. A plate or shallow bowl on which the bread is placed for the celebration of Holy Eucharist. Some are large enough to hold a loaf of bread, like the earliest patens, while others used for wafers are substantially smaller. The smaller patens also feature a slight depression that allows it to sit securely on the dressed chalice.
Peace, the: Also known as Passing the Peace. A moment in the Eucharist in which members of the congregation, including the clergy, greet one another in the name of Christ. Having heard the Word of God proclaimed, having stated our basic beliefs, and having confessed our sins to God, we are at peace with God and each other. The presider says, “The Peace of the Lord be always with you,” to which the congregation responds, “And also with you.” We then briefly pass the Peace with a handshake or in some cases a brief embrace and often with some version of the phrase “Peace be with you” or simply “Peace.” The Passing of the Peace takes its origin from the Kiss of Peace often mentioned by St. Paul and while a certain enthusiastic energy is welcome, the Passing of the Peace is not intended to be a conversational fellowship.
Predella: (Also sometimes called a footpace) The Italian word literally means “a footstool” and refers to the raised area or platform on which some altars or Holy Tables stand.
Prie-dieu: From the French, meaning “pray to God.” The term refers to a type of prayer desk often used for private devotions, such as praying the Rosary or icon gazing, but they can also be found in some Episcopal sanctuaries. A prie-dieu consists of a sloping shelf and a kneeler, and may be ornamented or padded. Some feature shelves for devotional books.
Priest: A special term for an ordained minister of a Roman Catholic or Anglican or Orthodox Church. In Roman circles, the term refers to those who recite the Mass, but the Anglican Church traces the word’s origin to a Celtic corruption of the official term for Clergy: Presbyters. The duty of a priest, according to the prayer book, is to baptize, preach the Word of God, to celebrate the Eucharist, and to pronounce Absolution and Blessing in God’s Name.
Pulpit: From the Latin, pulpitum, meaning “a platform.” A raised platform or podium used for the sermon or homily; generally located in the front of the gospel side of the nave. It is also known by its original name, ambo, from the Greek.
Purificator: From the Latin purus (pure) and facare (to make). The small linen cloth that the Eucharistic minister and presider use to clean the edge of the chalice. They have been in use at least since the 13th c. C.E. and entered into common use in the 16th c.
Pyx: A small container used for transporting blessed bread or wafers commonly used by clergy or a Lay Eucharistic Visitor when taking communion to a sick person or shut-in. Our gluten-free hosts are kept in a pyx to avoid contact with wheat.
Real Presence: A distinctively Anglican doctrine that emphasizes the actual presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. This is in contrast to theologies that hold that the Body and Blood are present only figuratively or symbolically. The Anglican doctrine of Real Presence stops short of Transubstantiation in defining how the presence happens. (Transubstantiation says that at a specified point in the liturgy the wine and bread become actual flesh and actual blood.)
Rector: Derived from the Latin, regere, meaning “ruler,” both in the sense of a leader and an instrument for producing straight lines. Rector refers to the head priest of a parish.
Reliquary: from the Latin reliquiae, meaning “remains” or “something left behind,” the same root as relinquish. (also referred to as a shrine or by the French term châsse) A container for reverently holding a relic—the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of the saint or venerated person preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial. Since the Council of Nicaea in 787, altars have contained reliquaries and today nearly all Roman Catholic and most Anglican altars contain a relic. A “first-class” relic is directly associated with the events of Jesus’ life or crucifixion, such as a splinter of the cross, the crown of thorns or a nail, or the physical remains of a saint, such as a bone, a hair, skull or a finger. A “second-class” relic is one that the saint used or wore, such as a rosary or a belt. A “third-class” relic is any object that has been touched to a first- or second-class relic.
Requiem: A funeral service or memorial service with the Holy Eucharist. Sometimes the word is preceded by the word “solemn” or “high,” which often indicates that portions of the service will be sung or chanted.
Reserved Sacrament: Consecrated bread and wine kept in the church building in an aumbry or tabernacle after Eucharist, often indicated by a lighted candle in the chancel. It is kept primarily for distribution to the sick.
Rosary: From the Latin, rosarium, meaning “crown of roses.” The term refers to both a form of prayer and a string of beads used in the form. Anglican rosaries consist for four sets, or “weeks,” of seven beads each. Some Anglicans use Roman Catholic forms of prayer, while others use the Orthodox Jesus Prayer and still others prefer something like an Ave Maria. Options are wide open.
Sacristy: A room or rooms where the vessels, vestments and other liturgical objects are kept, cleaned and maintained. The sacristy is often where the presider, officiants or servers vest and pray before the liturgy.
Sanctuary: From the Latin, sanctuarium, implying a container for keeping holy objects including holy people. The sanctuary is the consecrated area of the church.
Sanctuary Lamp: A lamp hanging somewhere in the chancel area. Sometimes there are three lamps, sometimes seven, but most often there is only one. A single, continuously burning sanctuary lamp indicates the presence of the Reserved Sacrament. Our sanctuary lamp hangs just over the cathedra. The lit lamp is a signal for anyone approaching the tabernacle to genuflect in respect for the Real Presence of Christ.
Sanctus: Latin for “holy,” the Sanctus is that moment of the Great Thanksgiving prayer in the Eucharist that beings with the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” either chanted or said. The Sanctus forms the final words of the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer, the prayer of consecration of the bread and wine. The preface, which alters according to the season, usually concludes with words describing the praise of the worshippers joining with the angels, who are pictured as praising God with the words of the Sanctus. The same word may also refer to the Trisagion.
Sedilia: From the plural of the Latin, sedile, meaning simply “seat.” Refers to the seats inside the chancel, used by clergy and acolytes.
Sign of the Cross: The tracing on one’s forehead, abdomen, left shoulder, right shoulder and chest in the outline of the Cross. Considered a form of physical prayer, some Anglicans also silently recite “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” as they cross themselves. At the Gospel proclamation, when the deacon or priest announces the Gospel, many Episcopalians also trace small crosses on their foreheads, lips and chests as a physical prayer signifying our hope that God will be on our minds, on our lips, and in our hearts. Generally Episcopalians cross themselves whenever the priest blesses them, such as at the Absolution after the Confession of Sin or the blessing after Communion in the Eucharist.
Simple Bow: The inclination of one’s head and shoulders as a sign of respect, done most often at the mention of the name of Jesus in the liturgy. Derived from Philippians 2:10, “…so that at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow…”
Solemn Bow: An inclination from the waist as a sign of reverence. Most often done when crossing before the altar at any time or at the reference to the incarnation in the Nicene Creed during the Eucharist. “…for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man.”
Stations of the Cross: Also known as “The Way of the Cross.” A powerful form of contemplative prayer done most often during Lent involving a procession and series of prayers commemorating the Passion, execution and burial of Jesus Christ. If done at times other than Lent, the Resurrection may be added to the end. Typically, images of key events in the last 24 hours of Jesus’ earthly life are used as focal points for prayer and meditation, each of which is called a “station.” During Lent, the 14 stations are some version of the following: 1) Jesus is condemned to death. 2) Jesus takes up his Cross. 3) Jesus falls the first time. 4) Jesus meets his afflicted mother. 5) The Cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene. 6) Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. 7) Jesus falls a second time. 8) Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. 9) Jesus falls a third time. 10) Jesus is stripped of his garments. 11) Jesus is nailed to the Cross. 12) Jesus dies on the Cross. 13) The body of Jesus is placed in the arms of his mother. 14) Jesus is laid in the tomb.
Stole: A long strip of cloth, adorned or plain, worn around the neck of the priest and allowed to hang down the front of the clerical vestments. Only bishops, priests and deacons are allowed to wear stoles. The stole is usually worn at all Eucharistic services, weddings and funerals, but never worn at Morning Prayer services. The stole is said to represent the yoke of obedience to Christ.
Stoup: A small, fixed receptacle for holy water at the entrance to the nave. Many Episcopalians dip their fingers into this water and cross themselves as a reminder of their baptism.
Surplice: From the Latin superpelliceum, consisting of super, “over” and pellis, “fur.” A white over-garment worn over other vestments, most often a cassock, comprising the traditional garments of the Anglican Church. A priest may also wear a black tippet, a ceremonial scarf that differs from a stole and is appropriate for non-Eucharistic offices such as Morning and Evening Prayer.
Sursum Corda: Latin for “Lift up your hearts.” The Sursum Corda is part of an antiphon that has been in the Eucharist since the 3rd c. C.E. This dialogue between the presider and the congregation is the opening to the preface of the Eucharistic Prayer and back to the Anaphora of the Apostolic Tradition.
Tabernacle: A small, free-standing, safe-like cabinet designed to contain the Reserved Sacrament. The tabernacle may be built into the altar, sitting on the altar or on the credence table or built into another part of the sanctuary. Ours sits in a niche in the wall just behind the altar and is dressed with veils that match the altar vestments and the liturgical season.
Thurible: (Also called a censer) A metal vessel suspended by chains in which incense is burned on charcoal. A thurible is often usually carried in processions and recessionals by a special acolyte called a thurifer. The presider uses the thurible to cense the altar in preparation for the liturgy of the table. Our thurible is an Eastern Orthodox version that has twelve bells attached to the chains, whose ringing symbolizes the teaching of the twelve Apostles.
Triduum: From the Latin, meaning “a space of three days.” The period of three days that begins with the liturgy of Maundy Thursday, goes on the vigil of Good Friday and ends with the Pascha (or Easter) Vigil on Sunday is considered to be one liturgy, not three separate liturgies. Consequently the people leave both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in silence. The three-day liturgy recalls the Passion, execution, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as portrayed in the canonical Gospels.
Trisagion: The 1979 Book of Common Prayer introduced the Trisagion into the Eucharist in both Rite One and Rite Two as part of the Word of God. The word means “thrice holy,” in reference to the three holy qualities of God called out in the thrice repeated: “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us” or some similar version. The Trisagion is often used in Advent and Lent as a part of the opening prayers of the Holy Eucharist.
Veil: From Latin vela, meaning “sail” or “curtain.” In the church, the veil refers to the solid cloth that covers the chalice and paten at the Eucharist, or the loose-woven netting that is draped over crosses, especially crucifixes, and sometimes icons during Lent and Holy Week.
Vestments: From the Latin word vestis, meaning “garment.” Vestments are clothing worn by clergy or people leading a worship service. A monk or nun’s clothing is usually named a “habit,” and the clothing worn by choir members is usually called a “robe.” Vestments started out as everyday clothing. In the Roman times, clergy wore street clothes, such as a chiton with a cloak. Sometime prior to the 9th c. C.E., secular fashion began to reflect the occupation of a person such that you could tell what a person did by what he or she wore. The church did not adopt this shift and, consequently, the vestments handed on to us are a result of clergy being unfashionable.
The color of our vestments helps express the mysteries of our faith along with the calendar for the church year:
- Green – Used during Ordinary time, symbolizing life, growth and hope.
- White – Masses of Easter, Christmas season, Feasts and Memorials of Jesus, Mary, the Angels, saints who were not martyrs, weddings and funerals. White symbolizes purity, holiness, joy, triumph and the resurrection.
- Red – Used on Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday), Good Friday, Pentecost, feasts of the Apostles, Evangelists and Martyrs. Red symbolizes the Holy Spirit and the blood of martyrs.
- Black – for funeral Masses, on All Soul’s Day, and on Good Friday. Black signifies mourning with the hope of resurrection and prayer for the dead.
- Blue – Used during Advent in recognition of the royalty of Christ, and in dedication to Mary the Godbearer.
- Purple – Used during Lent also to symbolize penance and atonement, but also royalty.
- Rose – Used by some Episcopal churches on Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent or on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent as a reminder to be joyful either in waiting of Advent or in the fasting of Lent.
- Gold or silver – More festive than white, gold (or sometimes, silver) is used on Pascha Sunday and Christmas, to symbolize joy, triumph and the resurrection, and to recognize the gold given to the Christ Child.
Vestry: The governing board of an Episcopal parish consisting of elected lay members. Originally the word referred to the room where the priest put on vestments, at which time lay people would meet to discuss the affairs of the parish. The room came to signify the people who governed a parish because it was where they met. While the vestry meeting location has changed, the name has remained the same. The vestry of an Episcopal church has three primary responsibilities. The first two are managerial: to take care of parish finances and the parish buildings. The third is to choose individuals to fill various positions of leadership and representation, such as the calling of a priest-in-charge or the creation of a call committee to find a new a rector and the nomination of replacement vestry members for members whose terms are due to expire. The vestry includes a Senior Warden, who is chosen by the Rector, who is the official presiding officer (although many rectors choose to pass that responsibility to the Senior Warden) and a Junior Warden, who is elected by the vestry. Frequently, the parish Financial Officer is also a vestry member. Vestry members serve a term of three years, unless circumstances arise that prevent them from continuing. The rector is the parish’s chief liturgical and pastoral officer, and the vestry serves as an advisory council. Conversely, the rector is an advisor to the vestry on financial matters, but vestry members have final responsibility in that area. A vestry secretary is present at the monthly meetings, but is often not a member of the vestry.