Catholic Dictionary


Here are some explanations and definitions related to our Roman Catholic Faith, how we worship, the objects and paraphernalia used along with churches and other religious buildings.


Absolution - the act by which a priest, acting as an agent of Christ, grants forgiveness of sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Acolyte (or Altar Server) - person who assists in the celebration of Mass.

Alb - a long, white garment that can be used by all liturgical ministers; it is a reminder of the baptismal garment worn when the new Christian "puts on Christ."

Ambry - a recess that holds holy oils that are blessed and consecrated at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week.

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

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Benediction Veil - also called the humeral veil; a long, narrow shawl-like vestment used at Benediction.

Blessed Sacrament - The Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, either at Mass or reserved in a special place in the Church - normally the Tabernacle.

Biretta - A square cap with three ridges or peaks on its upper surface, worn by clerics of all grades from cardinals downwards. The use of such a cap is prescribed by the rubrics both at solemn Mass and in other ecclesiastical functions. Note: be careful with the spelling of “biretta!” A “birretta” is Italian for some sort of beer. And “Beretta” is a gun manufacturer.

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Catechesis (cat-UH-key-sis) - religious instruction and formation for persons preparing for baptism and for the faithful in various stages of spiritual development.

Cassock - The cassock, is a long, close-fitting, ankle-length robe worn by clerics of the Roman Catholic Church. The cassock derives historically from the tunic that was formerly worn underneath the toga in classical antiquity. The word cassock probably comes from the word "casaque" which means cloak;

Chalice - a chalice is the cup used for the consecration of the wine into the blood of our blessed lord Jesus Christ. The inside is gold-lined and the outer silver.

Chasuble (CHAZ-uh-buhl) - the sleeveless outer garment, slipped over the head, hanging down from the shoulder covering the alb and stole of the priest; it is the proper Mass vestment for the main celebrant and its color varies according to the feast.
Green - worn during "Ordinary Time." Ordinary does not mean ordinary in the sense of common or normal. Ordinary means counting, as in the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Red - worn on Passion (Palm) Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, and on the Feast Days of Martyrs, including the Apostles and Evangelists. White - worn during the Christmas and Easter seasons and celebration of Mary, the Angels, the Saints who were not martyrs, All Saints, Birth of John the Baptist, Chair of Peter, Conversion of Paul, and St. John the Evangelist. Violet - worn during Advent and Lent Rose - worn on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) and the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday).

Ciborium - this is the cup that contains the hosts which are given out at Holy Communion. It is not used for the actual consecration of the bread and wine

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Deacon - an ordained minister who assists the celebrant during the Liturgy of the Word and at the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Deacons can also provide assistance to the pastor in baptismal and/or marriage ministry.

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Eucharistic Prayer - the prayer of thanksgiving and sanctification. It is the center of the celebration. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the Church believes that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

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Friar - a member of a mendicant community, such as Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites. They live a rule of communal poverty, living primarily from the freewill offerings of the faithful, engage in various forms of pastoral ministry, and belong to a religious order that is a wider community beyond the local house, in contrast to a monastery, which is self-contained, even if in federation with others. 

Franciscan -

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Gloria - ancient hymn of praise in which the Church glorifies God. It is used on all Sundays, except for those during Advent and Lent, and at solemn celebrations.

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Homily (or Sermon) - a reflection by the celebrant or other minister on the Scripture readings and on the application of the gospel and other religious texts on  our daily lives.

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Ministry of the LectorLectors have a critical role in the celebration of the Mass. Since the Lector proclaims not just any word, but the Word of God, it is essential that they develop the skills required to communicate God’s message competently. The ministry of the lector calls for a person to grow in a warm and loving knowledge of Scripture, the living word of God. He or she is invited to enter into a relationship with a Word that is creative, powerful and effective.   

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Mass - the common name for the Eucharistic liturgy of the Catholic Church. Also referred to as Eucharist, Celebration of the Liturgy, Eucharistic celebration, Sacrifice of the Mass, Lord's Supper.Miter (MY-ter) - a headdress worn at solemn liturgical functions by bishops, abbots and, in certain cases, other clerics. Monstrance (Ostensorium ) - (From ostendere, "to show").  used at BENEDICTION

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Ordination - the act that enables a person to act on behalf of the Church through Word, Sacrament, and leadership. A bishop is ordained to represent Christ. Priests share in the bishop's role of representing Christ the Shepherd. Deacons collaborate with the bishop in his role as representative of Christ the Servant.

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Purificator - a white cloth used to cleanse the chalice.

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RCIA - The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults was set up and approved by the Church after the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) for people who wish to find out about Catholicism and what it means to be a Catholic. It is the process for formation which leads to reception into the Church. It is all about an individual’s call by God (vocation) and a lifelong journey of faith.

Responsorial Psalm - the psalm that is spoken or sung between the first and second readings. The response is repeated after each verse.

Roman Curia - the official collective name for the administrative agencies and courts, and their officials, who assist the Pope in governing the Church. Members are appointed and granted authority by the Pope.

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Saint: Many people have a false idea of what a saint is. For them saints are people who have never made a mistake or committed a sin in their lives. People who are always a shining virtue, humble, patient, pure. But this is false. You can be as pure as marble, but as cold as marble.
Our false image of saints can mean that we believe that they were born saints, but people become saints and are not born saints. At sometime in their life they had to come to a belief that God loved them unconditionally, not that they had to love God unconditionally.

I have had the privilege of knowing many saints in my life. For example, my grandmother. The most redeeming feature of this saintly women was that you never felt judged or condemned in her company. She always had a listening ear and a word of encouragement. That is a saint.

Sometimes we can model our saints in plaster, marble or stone. This would be wrong. The image of our saints is only there to help us to see their humanity, and give us encouragement that our humanity can be transformed like theirs. Mother Teresa was noted for her ferocious temper. In fact she tried to overcome this by getting up one hour earlier in the morning, before the rest of the sisters, to ask God to help her to keep her temper from exploding. I can understand that kind of a woman. John of the Cross on his deathbed asked his fellow monks to stop singing the Psalms and get him a bowl of strawberries. He said “I want to taste something sweet before I go to God.” He had known much suffering in his life and had overcome resentment and bitterness which are the number one offender in the spiritual life.

When we celebrate the Feast of All Souls,  perhaps it would be an idea to think of all those people who you have met in your life that gave you a glimpse of holiness and pray to them to assist you in your human frailty.

Henri Nouwen said “Holiness means living without division between our words and our actions”. This can be very hard to achieve, but it is achievable. It is a saintly act to speak the truth with love and compassion. Sometimes we live in an unforgiving world where mistakes are made. We can project our own inadequacies onto others. The saints had a deep understanding of their own humanity and they were very much aware that they were perfectly imperfect.
Father George. 

Sanctuary: This has two meanings for us 1) the safe refuge a church offers for those in need of protection and; 2) the place in the church where the altar is situated.

Second Vatican Council - a major meeting of the bishops of the world convened by Pope John XXIII to bring about a renewal of the Church for the second half of the 20th century. It ran from 1962 to 1965 and produced important documents involving liturgy, ecumenism, communications and other areas.

Stole - a long, cloth scarf; according to the manner in which it is work, it is the mark of the Office of the priest or deacon. A priest wears it around the neck, letting it hang down in front. A deacon wears it over his left shoulder, fastening it at his right side.

Surpli (SIR-plis) - a wide-sleeved garment, slipped over the head. Covering the shoulders, and coming down below the hips; it is worn over the cassock.

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Worshipping Community -  A worshipping community is a group of people who gather regularly to celebrate the Eucharist in a particular place e.g. church, chaplaincy, prison, school.

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Zucchetto (zoo-KET-oh) - the skull cap worn by the Pope (red), bishops (purple) and cardinals (red).