Glossary of Episcopal terms
|1979 Prayer Book||The version of the Book of Common Prayer in use in the Episcopal
|Abbot||The superior of a monastery.|
|Ablutions||The cleansing of the chalices, paten and other vessels after the
administration of the Eucharist.
|Absolution||The remission of sins pronounced by a priest. See “reconciliation”
|Acclamation||A response of praise at the beginning of the Eucharist.|
|Acolyte||Originally a minor clerical order but now a group of lay people
who assist priests in the service. Acolytes can be children, teens, or
|Advent||The season of the church year in which we prepare for Christmas.
It begins with the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Its liturgical color is
purple or blue.
|Altar||The table on which are placed the vessels for holding the bread,
wine and water used in the Eucharist.
|Altar cross||A cross that stands upon the altar or hangs above it.|
|Altar guild||A lay group that maintains and prepares the altar and its
furnishings for services.
|Altar rail||The rail or kneelers where the people kneel or stand to receive
|Amen||From the Hebrew for “verily,” “it is so” or “I agree.” Response
said or sung at the end of prayers and some hymns and anthems.
|Anglican||The word simply means “English.” Members of the Anglican
Communion, including the Episcopal Church, are those that derived their
origins from The Church of England, which split from the Roman church in the
|Anglican Communion||An assembly of churches throughout the world, including the
Episcopal Church, which derived their origins from The Church of England and
that are in communion with it.
|Anthem||Sacred vocal music sung by a choir.|
|Archbishop||A bishop who heads a group of dioceses or a national church. The
Episcopal Church does not have an archbishop; its chief bishop is called the
|Archbishop of Canterbury||The primate of The Church of England, who is acknowledged as the
spiritual, but not governing, head of the Anglican Communion. He is not an
Anglican “pope” but is considered “first among equals” by other heads of
Anglican Communion churches.
|Archdeacon||A priest on a bishop’s staff who has some administrative duties.|
|Ascension||The feast commemorating the ascension of Christ to glory. This
feast is 40 days after Easter and always occurs on a Thursday.
|Ash Wednesday||The day that marks the beginning of Lent, a period of spiritual
discipline, fasting and moderation in preparation for Holy Week and Easter.
In the Ash Wednesday service, ashes are placed on the foreheads of
parishioners by the priest.
|Collect||A prayer sung or said on behalf of the people by the celebrant or
officiant at liturgical celebrations. Pronounced with the stress on the
|Columbarium||A series of niches, as in a wall or other structure, for the
repose of cremated remains.
|Communicants||The members of a local church; those who are eligible to receive
|Cross||Used in ancient times for executions. Christ was executed on a
cross, or crucified, and the cross became a universal symbol of
|Crossing||In church architecture, the main intersection of aisles at the
front of the church; if viewed from above, the aisles form a large cross.
Sometimes the altar is located at the crossing. In a service, crossing
refers to a hand gesture of making a cross pattern on one’s body; also a
gesture made by a priest or bishop over a congregation or upon a person for
a blessing, at death or at baptism.
|Crozier||A staff resembling a shepherd’s crook carried by bishops and
abbots as a symbol of office.
|Crucifer||A person in a religious procession who bears the cross and who
leads the procession into the church.
|Crucifix||A Christian symbol; a cross with a likeness of the body of Christ
|Cruets||Glass pottery or metal containers for the wine and water used at
|Dalmatic||Vestment worn by a deacon. Corresponds to the priest’s chasuble.
|Deacon||The initial level of ordination in the Episcopal Church and other
apostolic-succession churches. In some protestant churches, it is a lay
order, but in the Episcopal Church, it is a clerical order. Deacons
represent the church in the world and, by tradition, the Gospel is read by
the deacon if one is on the staff of a church or chapel. See “diaconate.”
|Dean||A title used for the resident clergyman of a cathedral; also used
for the chief academic officer of a college or seminary. If the dean is
ordained, the title “The Very Reverend” is used.
|Diaconate||The state of being a deacon.|
|Diocese||A unit of church organization; the spiritual domain under a
bishop. A diocese may contain many parishes and churches.
|Dismissal||Words said or sung by a deacon or priest at the conclusion of the
Eucharist. An example: “Let us go forth in the name of Christ.” The answer
from the people is: “Thanks be to God.” During the 50 days of Easter,
alleluias are added.
|Doxology||Words said or sung in praise of the Holy Trinity.|
|Easter||The season of the church year, in March or April, when the
resurrection of Christ is celebrated; the liturgical color of Easter is
white or gold. See “Good Friday.”
|Epiphany||One of the seasons of the church year; Jan. 6; a feast celebrating
the visit of the wise men, or Magi, to the infant Jesus; the end of the
|Episcopal||From Greek, meaning “government by an overseer.” See “episcopos.”|
|Episcopos||The Greek word from which the English word “bishop” is derived.|
|Epistle||A reading from the New Testament other than from the Gospels.|
|Epistle side||The right side of a church when facing the altar. See “gospel
|Eucharist||A “good gift” or thanksgiving; the sacrament synonymous with Holy
Communion, the Lord’s Supper or Mass, the act of following the Lord’s
commandment of consuming the consecrated elements of bread and wine, the
body and blood of Christ.
|Eulogy||A speech or homily in praise of a deceased person; brief remarks
about the deceased at a funeral. See “requiem.”
|Evensong||An evening worship service, often featuring a choir.|
|Father||A familiar way of referring to a male ordained priest. Formally,
he should be referred to as “the Reverend.” A female priest may be referred
to as Mother, depending on her preference.
|Feast||A day of celebration associated with the life of Christ or a
|Folk Mass||Communion in which the music is provided by instruments other than
the organ, such as a guitar; a less-formal service that may incorporate
|Font||A basin for water used in Holy Baptism. The Episcopal Church
usually practices baptism by “sprinkling” rather than by full immersion.
|Fraction||The point during the Eucharist when the bread is broken; the
priest says, “Alleluia, Christ our passover is sacrificed for us,” and the
people respond, “Therefore, let us keep the feast. Alleluia.” The word
Alleluia is usually omitted during Advent and Lent.
|Frontal||A covering for the altar, usually of the same material as the
vestments or of the liturgical color of the season or feast. The altar cloth
is spread over the frontal. See “altar”.
|Genuflection||The bending of the right knee when reverencing the altar and at
other times of solemn reverence. Episcopalians sometimes bow instead of
|Gloria in excelsis||Latin; a liturgical hymn having the verse form of the Psalms.|
|Good Friday||The Friday before Easter; observed as the anniversary of the
crucifixion of Christ. See “Easter.”
|Gospel||Any reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John in the New Testament.|
|Gospel side||The left side of the church facing the altar. See “epistle side.”|
|Gradual procession||The movement of the deacon or celebrant to the place of the
proclamation of the Gospel.
|Great Thanksgiving||The major prayer of the Eucharist beginning with the salutation
and preface and concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.
|Holy orders||The sacrament of ordination, which marks the entry of the
candidate into the ordained ministry. The orders of bishops, priests and
deacons are termed holy orders.
|Holy water||Water blessed by a bishop or priest.|
|Holy Week||The period from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday.|
|Homily||A short sermon.|
|Host||The Eucharistic bread. From the Latin word for sacrifice. See
“Eucharist” and “wafer.”
|House of Bishops||All the bishops of the Episcopal church sitting as a legislative
and judiciary body of the church.
|House of Deputies||The lay and presbyter delegates to the General Convention sitting
as a legislative body.
|Hymn||Sacred words set to music; church vocal music involving the
congregation and distinguished from the psalm or anthem; sacred poetry set
to music and sung during the liturgy.
|Incarnation||The Christian doctrine that Christ took human form from his human
mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was at once fully human and fully God.
|Incense||Powder burned in a small dish or pot; used during the service or
in the procession to recall one of the three gifts of the wise men to the
|Introit||The hymn, psalm, or anthem sung (or said) at the entrance of the
ministers at the Eucharist.
|Junior warden||The assistant to the senior warden, who is the chair of the
vestry, the governing body of a parish church. See “senior warden” and
|Kneeler||A cushioned pullout or fold-down stool at a pew onto which the
people kneel for prayer.
|Laity||The nonordained members of a church; ordained members are referred
to as clergy.
|Lavabo||A ceremony during the Eucharist at which the celebrant washes his
or her hands. From the Latin “lavare”or”I shall wash.”
|Lay||From the Greek laios, meaning “the people.”|
|Lay minister||One who is not ordained but who works closely with a church or
|Lay person||Any nonordained person.|
|Lay reader||A nonordained person who reads part of a church service, who reads
the prayers and who also may administer the chalice at the Eucharist.
|Lectionary||The series of biblical readings used in the church throughout the
|Lent||The 40-day period of fasting and meditation following Ash
Wednesday; ends on Palm Sunday. See “Ash Wednesday” and “Palm Sunday.”
|Liturgy||A word that means “the work of the people;” generally refers to
the full text of the words of a worship service or any ritual order for
holding a church service.
|Magnificat||The Song of Mary. Luke 1:46-55.|
|Mass||Synonymous with the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper or Holy
Communion; the holy meal of bread and wine. See “Eucharist.”
|Maundy Thursday||The Thursday of Holy Week; the name is from the Latin word
“mandatum” and refers to Christ’s commandment concerning foot-washing; the
day on which the first Lord’s Supper was celebrated. See “Eucharist.”
|Morning Prayer||A morning worship service without communion.|
|Most Reverend, The||The way of addressing the primate or archbishop of an autonomous
member church of the Anglican Communion.
|Narthex||An enclosed space at the entry to the nave of a church; in some
churches, it is called the vestibule.
|Nave||The main part of a church where the people sit, called the
sanctuary in some denominations. It is derived from the Latin word for ship,
as in some churches the beams of the roof resemble the beams and timbers in
the sides of a ship.
|Nun||A woman who takes vows of poverty, obedience and chastity and who
lives in a convent.
|Nunc Dimittis||The Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29-32) normally used as one of the
canticles at Evening Prayer and Compline; also used at Candlemas.
|Oblations||Offerings to God at the Eucharist.|
|Offertory||The presentation, reception, preparation and offering of the gifts
at the beginning of The Holy Communion, the second part of the Eucharist.
|Offertory sentence||A passage of scripture that may be said or sung at the beginning
or during the Offertory.
|Offertory procession||At the Eucharist, the presentation of the bread, wine, and other
gifts by members of the congregation.
|Officiant||A person who officiates at the daily offices and other rites.|
|Ordination||A special service for inducting a person into holy orders; the
ritual that makes a person a priest or deacon.
|Ordo||A list of offices and feasts of the church for each day of the
year. From the Latin word for order.
|Pall||A stiffened square of linen placed over the chalice to keep
objects from falling into the wine. The term also may refer to the cloth
covering the casket or urn during the Burial of the Dead.
|Palm Sunday||The Sunday before Easter. In an Episcopal Church, members of the
congregation carry real palms during the service; in some churches, palms
from one year are saved, dried and burned to make ashes used at the next
year’s Ash Wednesday service. From the palm branches strewn in Christ’s way
on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. See “Ash Wednesday.”
|Parish||The group of people of a certain area organized into a local
church; sometimes the word also refers to the geographic region around a
|Parish hall||A gathering place for a local congregation.|
|Paschal candle||A large white candle decorated with a cross and other symbols. It
is lighted at the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter and burns for all
services during the 50 days of Easter. At other times, it may be kept near
the Baptismal Font and lighted for baptisms. It also may be placed near the
casket or urn during Burial of the Dead.
|Passover||A Jewish festival commemorating the escape of the Jews from Egypt.|
|Paten||A plate usually made of pottery precious metal and used to carry
the bread at the Eucharist.
|Peace, The||A ritual in the Episcopal Church in which members of the
congregation, including the clergy, greet one another. The priest says: “The
Peace of the Lord be always with you,” and the congregation responds: “And
also with you.” Immediately after, the people shake hands or embrace and bid
each other peace.
|Pentecost||The feast on the seventh Sunday after Easter commemorating the
descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles; also called Whitsunday; from the
Latin pentecoste, literally, “50th day.” The liturgical color of Pentecost
Sunday is red; the color of the season after Pentecost, the longest season
of the church year and commonly called “ordinary time,” is green.
|Postulant||A person admitted by the bishop into the formal preparation for
the ordained ministry. See “ordination.”
|Prie-dieu||An individual kneeling bench with shelf.|
|Priest||The ordained minister of a Roman Catholic, Episcopal or Orthodox
church; one who administers the sacraments. In the Episcopal Church, priests
may be male or female and may marry.
|Procession||The line of choir members, clergy and others walking down the
aisle of a church to begin a service. See “recession.”
|Proper||The scripture readings and collect appointed for the day or
occasion. See “collect.”
|Psalms||A portion from the ancient Jewish hymn book found in scripture
(the Book of Psalms) and in the Book of Common Prayer.
|Pulpit||A raised platform used for the sermon or homily.|
|Purificator||A linen cloth used for cleansing the chalice during the ablutions
or for wiping the chalice during the administration of communion. See
|Pyx||A container for the reserved host; especially a small round metal
receptacle used to carry the Eucharist to the sick. See “Eucharist” and
|Recession||The line of choir members, clergy and others walking out of the
church after a service. See “procession.”
|Reconciliation||The sacrament through which one may confess one’s sins in the
presence of a priest and receive absolution; commonly called confession. See
|Rector||The priest or minister of a local church or parish; the head
priest of a parish.
|Rectory||The residence of a rector.|
|Requiem||A funeral or memorial service. A High Requiem Mass is a funeral
service with communion and singing of parts of the service. See “eulogy.”
|Right Reverend||A way of addressing a bishop of a diocese.|
|Rosary||A string of beads anchored by a cross and used for prayer. An
Anglican rosary has 33 beads – one for each year of Christ’s life on Earth –
divided into four “weeks” of seven beads.
|Sacrament||A rite through which we receive God’s grace. In the Episcopal
Church, the “essential” sacraments are Baptism and Eucharist. The catechism
describes the sacraments as “outward and visible signs of inward and
spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we
receive that grace.” Other sacramental rites include matrimony, confession,
unction, confirmation, and holy orders.
|Sacristy||The room near the altar where priests vest, or dress, for the
service; the room where the communion vessels, vestments and other
liturgical objects are kept.
|Sanctuary||The portion of a church at the head of the chancel around the
altar; the space immediately around the altar. See “nave.”
|Sanctus||The acclamation “Holy, holy, holy …” sung or said at the
conclusion of the preface of the Great Thanksgiving.
|Sanctus bell||A bell or set of bells in the sanctuary rung or struck during the
sanctus, elevations, and at other times.
|See||The ecclesiastical residence of a bishop; the see of our diocese
|Seminarian||A student in a seminary.|
|Seminary||An academic institution for the study of theology.|
|Senior warden||The chairman of the vestry, the lay governing board of a local
church. See “junior warden” and “vestry.”
|Sexton||One who is in charge of a church building or grounds; the head of
maintenance and custodial services.
|Sign of the cross||The tracing on one’s forehead, chest and shoulders of the outline
of the cross.
|Stations of the cross||See “Way of the Cross.”|
|Wafer||The bread part of the Eucharist; an unleavened, thin cracker
imprinted with a cross. See “Eucharist.”
|Way of the Cross||A Procession with stations commemorating the Passion and Death of
Our Lord Jesus Christ. Also called the Stations of the Cross. The classical
stations correspond to 15 events that occurred in the last 24 hours Jesus
was on the earth, beginning with his condemnation to death and ending with