Serving the Episcopal Community of Pacific Grove and the Monterey Peninsula since 1887

Terminology of the Episcopal Church

For a complete listing of all the terms used by the Episcopal Church, take a look at the Episcopal Dictionary of the Church. Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.  Click Here to Order


                 Liturgical and ceremonial cleaning of the paten and chalice with water, or with water and wine, following the communion of the people at the Holy Eucharist.


A salutation or greeting in the opening dialogue of the eucharistic liturgy arranged by versicle and response and varied according to the liturgical season. The memorial acclamation is a congregational response that may follow the institution narrative in the eucharistic prayers. 


In contemporary Anglicanism, a general term which covers not only servers, torchbearers, and lighters of candles but also crucifers, thurifers, and banner-bearers.


A long white garment with narrow sleeves, which is the basic garment worn by ordained and lay ministers at the eucharist and at other church services.


A verse sung before and usually after a psalm, canticle, or hymn text. It is often drawn from scripture (especially the psalms) and is appropriate to the liturgical season or occasion.


From the Greek word for "hidden." It normally refers to fifteen books not found in the Hebrew canon of the OT and includes the following: Tobit, Judith, Additions to the Book of Esther, the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (the Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach), Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Children, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 1 Esdras, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 2 Esdras.


Semicircular or polyhedral construction at the end of the chancel, containing the altar and sanctuary, and roofed with a half dome. The apse was a standard feature of the architecture of the early church. 


A case of two squares of stiff material, hinged or bound together at one end, which contains the corporal and purificators for use at the celebration of the eucharist. The burse is covered in the liturgical color of the day, and placed on top of the veil which covers the chalice. 


A non-metrical song used in liturgical worship. Canticles are drawn from biblical texts other than the Psalter. The term is derived from the Latin canticulum, a "little song." In practice, canticles are sung or said in worship.


A long, close-fitting garment with narrow sleeves worn by clergy and other ministers. Cassocks are typically black but also may be blue, gray, or red. Bishops may wear purple cassocks. It may be worn under a surplice.


Area of the church set apart for the altar, lectern, pulpit, credence table, and seats for officiating and assisting ministers. It may also include the choir. The chancel is typically raised somewhat above the level of the nave, where the congregation gathers.


The sleeveless outer vestment worn by the celebrant at the eucharist. The chasuble and cope are both derived from the outdoor cloak worn by all classes and both sexes in the Greco-Roman world. The chasuble may be oval or oblong, with an opening for the head. It typically reflects the liturgical color of the day.


Consecrated oil used for anointing the newly baptized person with the sign of the cross at baptism. Chrism is olive oil mixed with a fragrant ointment, usually balsam.  Chrism must be consecrated by a bishop.


A cord or sash that serves as a belt for an alb or cassock. Also called a girdle. 


A short liturgical prayer, variable according to the day, the season of the church year, and the occasion. It is typically a single sentence. Collects appear in all the BCP services, and may "collect" and draw together the themes appropriate to the day. Collects have a consistent form, including an invocation to God, a petition, and a conclusion.


A vault or structure with niches (openings) for the burial of urns or other containers of ashes of the dead. Many parishes have a columbarium. It may be located in an undercroft or chapel or elsewhere on the church grounds.


A white vestment that typically reaches to the hips. It has a square-yoke neck, and sleeves that are less ample than the surplice. The cotta is a shorter version of the surplice.


The acolyte who carries the cross in processions. The crucifer often assists in other ways, such as holding the altar book for the presider and serving at the altar.


The Spanish word means "little course" (in Christian life). The Cursillo is normally a three-day weekend. It includes fifteen talks on Christian faith and living by laity and clergy, along with a variety of shared prayer activities and celebrations.  It is open to men and women. The character of the Cursillo weekend may vary greatly from diocese to diocese. Many Episcopalians have experienced a renewal of active faith on these weekends. 


A large cloth or piece of fabric that is hung on the wall behind the altar. Its color may match the liturgical color of the day, and it may be decorated with religious symbols. 


Words of glory (from the Greek doxa logos) or praise to God, usually in a trinitarian form. Christian tradition contains three main forms of doxology: 1) the Greater Doxology, the hymn "Glory to God in the highest," originally sung at Morning Prayer in the eastern church and now, in the west, used in the entrance rite of the Eucharist on many Sundays and other festal occasions; 2) the Lesser Doxology, the verse beginning "Glory to the Father," sung at the opening and at the end of psalms and canticles in the Daily Office; and 3) metrical doxologies, such as the familiar verse beginning "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," sometimes used at the presentation of offerings. 


The sacrament of Christ's body and blood, and the principal act of Christian worship. The term is from the Greek, "thanksgiving." Jesus instituted the eucharist "on the night when he was betrayed." At the Last Supper he shared the bread and cup of wine at a sacred meal with his disciples. He identified the bread with his body and the wine with his blood of the new covenant. Jesus commanded his disciples to "do this" in remembrance of him.

Fraction Anthem:

The anthem at the "fraction", which is the breaking of one bread into many pieces for communion. Normally "Chirst Our Passover" or "Agnus Dei".

Frontal, or Frontlet:

Covering for the front of an altar, often made of silk or brocade cloth and matching the liturgical color of the season of the church year.


A psalm, hymn, or anthem that is sung or read between the OT reading and the epistle at the eucharist. The term comes from the Latin gradus, "step," on which cantors stood. The gradual serves as a meditation or response to the reading, and the gradual psalm has sometimes been called the "responsorial psalm."

Great Thanksgiving:

Title used by the BCP for the eucharistic prayer, the central prayer of the Eucharist. It is also known as the prayer of consecration. It begins with the dialogue called Sursum corda and continues through the Great Amen at the end of its doxology. It gives thanks for creation, redemption, and sanctification. The bread and wine are consecrated in the context of giving thanks over them in the eucharistic prayer. The institution narrative, oblation (anamnesis), invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis), intercessions, and the angelic hymn Sanctus are included in the eucharistic prayers of Rite 1 and Rite 2.


One who prays on behalf of another or others. An intercessor is one who prays an intercessory prayer. The term may indicate one who leads the prayers of the people, which are prayers of intercession


Administration of the consecrated bread and wine of the eucharist at the same time, typically by dipping the bread in the wine and placing the moistened host in the mouth.


A hymn, psalm, or anthem that is sung as the ministers enter to begin the eucharist. The term is from Latin, "to go in" or "enter."


An intercessory prayer including various petitions that are said or sung by the leader and fixed responses by the congregation. The Great Litany may be done before the eucharist, or after the collects of Morning or Evening Prayer, or separately. The BCP also includes a Litany of Penitence in the Ash Wednesday service, a Litany at the Time of Death, a Litany for Ordinations, and a Litany of Thanksgiving for a Church.


The church's public worship of God. The term is derived from Greek words for "people" and "work." The church's public worship of God is the work of the Christian people. The life of Christ active in the church by the Spirit is expressed through liturgy. Liturgy is sacramental. Outward and visible realities are used to express the inward and spiritual realities of God's presence in our lives.  The term "liturgy" may refer to the rites or texts that order the church's worship. It may indicate in particular the eucharist, which is also known as the Divine Liturgy (BCP, p. 859).

Movable Feast:

A feast of the church year that is not celebrated on a fixed date. The date of the movable feast's celebration in each year is determined by other liturgical rules. The church year has two cycles of feasts and holy days, one dependent on the movable date of Easter Day and the other dependent on the fixed date of Christmas, Dec. 25.


An entry space, foyer, or anteroom of a church between the door and the nave. The term is from the Greek for a "small case." It may serve as a place for the gathering and formation of processions and a place for people to wait before services begin. 


The place in the church building for the congregation. It is between the sanctuary and the narthex or entry of the church building. The term may be derived from the Latin navis, "ship," which was an early symbol of the church. 

Nunc dimittis:

Canticle based on the words of Simeon, who recognized the infant Jesus to be the Messiah at the Presentation of Jesus in the temple by Mary and Joseph (Lk 2:29-32). It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. When Simeon saw the child Jesus he took him up in his arms, blessed God, and said, "Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised."


Prayer of self-offering. Oblation is "an offering of ourselves, our lives and labors, in union with Christ, for the purposes of God."  Christian oblation is based in Christ's one offering of himself for our salvation. In reference to the eucharist, oblation has a broad and generic meaning as well as a narrow and technical meaning. In both cases, oblation is a kind of offering. In the broad sense, oblation refers to any offering-money, bread and wine, self, soul and body-made at the eucharist.


A square, stiffened white linen cloth that is used to cover the chalice at the eucharist. There may be a design on the side of the pall that does not touch the chalice. Also a cloth used to cover the coffin at the Burial of the Dead.

Paschal Candle:

A large candle that symbolizes the risen Christ. It is often decorated with a cross, symbols of the resurrection, the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, and the year. The term "Paschal" concerns Easter or Passover. At the Easter Vigil, the Paschal candle is lit from the new fire. After the Easter season, the Paschal candle is typically placed near the font. It should burn at baptisms, representing the new life in Christ that we share in baptism.  It may also be carried in procession at burials and placed near the coffin as a symbol of resurrection life. 


A shallow dish or small plate for the bread at the eucharist. The bread is placed on the paten for consecration and distribution. It typically matches the chalice. The paten should be large enough to hold all the wafers or pieces of bread that will be distributed at communion. 


The biblical books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The term is from the Greek for "five" and "book." The Pentateuch is traditionally called the Five Books of Moses. The Hebrew term Torah is also used to indicate the Pentateuch. It recounts the history of ancient Israel from Creation to the death of Moses in Moab just before the entrance of the Hebrew people into the promised land under Joshua.


Decorations behind or above the altar. The reredos is typically a wooden screen, hanging, or panel. It may consist of stone, wood, jeweled metalwork, or drapery. The reredos may contain biblical scenes, scenes from the lives of the martyrs, statues of apostles and saints, panels inscribed with the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments, or other Christian symbols. 


Ceremonial gestures to express reverence. In some parishes, it is customary to reverence the altar or the consecrated elements of the eucharist with a genuflection or a solemn bow. A gesture of reverence may be made as one approaches or departs from the altar or at other times. A gesture of reverence may also be made by the celebrant at the conclusion of the eucharistic prayer. These gestures are not required by the BCP. 

Rites 1 and 2:

The Rite 1 liturgies reflect the language and piety of the Elizabethan era and the first BCP, although the structure of these liturgies also reflects the influence of modern liturgical scholarship. The Rite 2 liturgies reflect more fully the influence of the liturgical movement and contemporary theology. Rite 2 liturgies tend to reflect greater sensitivity for inclusive language issues.

Rite 3:

The nickname given to "An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist" (BCP, pp. 400-405). This rite is in the form of an outline that allows the participants to prepare many of the liturgical texts that will be used in the eucharistic celebration while maintaining the same basic structure of the eucharistic liturgy that is found in other rites.  "Rite 3" liturgies are "not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist" (BCP, p. 400). The outline format of the rite allows flexibility that may be very appropriate for special occasions such as small weekday celebrations of the eucharist, and liturgies with a particular thematic emphasis or concern.


A person who works in the sacristy, the room for storing and working with the various items needed for the liturgies and worship of the church. Such items may include the vessels, vestments, books, bread and wine, and candles.


The room adjoining a church where vestments, altar hangings and linens, sacred vessels, and liturgical books are kept until needed for use in worship. Clergy typically vest in the sacristy. 


A sleeveless garment that hangs from the shoulders to the ankles. The term is derived from the Latin for "shoulder-blades." The scapular is a wide band of material, usually black, with an opening for the head. It forms part of the regular monastic habit for many religious orders. It is typically worn over a cassock or other similar garment.


A long narrow strip of material that is the distinctive vestment and insignia of the clergy. It is typically worn with other vestments. Its color usually reflects the liturgical color of the day. It is worn over an alb or surplice, and may be worn under or over a chasuble or dalmatic.  Bishops and priests wear the stole around the back of the neck, with equal ends hanging down in front.  If a cincture is worn, the ends of the stole are usually placed through it. Deacons wear the stole over the left shoulder, with the ends of the stole falling diagonally across the front and back of the body. The deacon's stole is tied near the right hip.


A full white vestment with wide sleeves. It has an opening for the head at the top and typically reaches to the knees or beyond. The term is from the Latin superpelliceum, meaning "over a fur garment." It was an oversized alb that was worn as a choir vestment over a fur coat in the drafty and cold churches of northern Europe. It is usually worn over a cassock by clergy at non-eucharistic services such as the Daily Office.

Sursum corda:

The Latin term for the versicle and response of celebrant and congregation, "Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord" (BCP, p. 361). It follows the salutation in the dialogue at the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving of the eucharist. It is a universal element of the eucharistic liturgy, and appears in all BCP eucharistic prayers. It calls for the people to stand. The celebrant's hands may be raised up as a gesture to give emphasis to this moment in the liturgy.


A small metal pot on chains in which incense is burned during the eucharist and other liturgies. The thurible is also known as a censer.


The server or acolyte who carries and swings the thurible in which incense is burned during the eucharist and other liturgies.


In a cruciform or cross-shaped church building, the parts of the building which are the two lateral arms of the cross. The transepts extend from the nave and chancel. 


An ancient hymn of the eastern church. "Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, Have mercy upon us" (BCP, p. 356). The term is from the Greek, meaning "thrice holy." The Kyrie or Trisagion are normally used at the opening of the rite in Advent and Lent, when the Gloria in excelsis is not used. They may be used on other occasions. The Trisagion may be sung or said three times, or antiphonally.

Vestments (or Vesture):

The distinctive garments worn by leaders of the church's worship. Many of the church's vestments are descended from the ordinary dress of the imperial Roman society in which the early church came into being.

Vestments worn by the celebrant at the eucharist typically include a stole and chasuble. These vestments usually reflect the liturgical color of the day or season of the celebration. The celebrant also usually wears an alb and may wear a girdle and amice. The officiant at the Daily Office or other non-eucharistic services may wear a cassock and surplice. A tippet may also be worn. A stole indicates that the wearer is an ordained person. Bishops and priests wear the stole over both shoulders, and deacons typically wear the stole over the left shoulder. Bishops may wear distinctive episcopal vestments, including the rochet and chimere, and the miter. A purple shirt with a clerical collar usually indicates that the wearer is a bishop, and a black shirt with a clerical collar usually indicates that the wearer is a member of the clergy. 


A traditional English name for the Feast of Pentecost. The term is a corruption of "White Sunday." It is associated with the white robes of baptism which were worn by the newly baptized at the Pentecost service. The liturgical color for the Feast of Pentecost is red. 
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