A Glossary of Church & Episcopal Words

Acolytes: Laypersons (usually young people aged 10-18) who assist in a variety of ways in worship processions and at the altar along with clergy and eucharistic ministers.

Advent: The four Sundays in late November and into December that celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ into the world.

Apostles Creed: The ancient baptismal confession of the Church.

Ascension Day: The the day marking the ascension of Christ into heaven after his resurrection.

Ash Wednesday: A day of prayer, worship and devotion that begins Lent.

Bishop: A successor of the apostles; the chief pastor of a diocese.

Book of Common Prayer (BCP): Originally published by the Church of England in 1549 under the direction of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, it is the collection of liturgies authorized for use in the Anglican/Episcopal Church. In the Episcopal tradition, we employ “liturgical prayer” instead of making up our own, as a sign of the truth that worship is common to the people and belongs not to an individual, but to the entire faith community.

Burse: One of the items on the altar during the celebration of the Eucharist; it is a seasonally colored square that is placed over the veil on the altar; it contains the corporal.

Catechumen: One receiving instruction in the basic beliefs and doctrines of Christianity before admission to membership in the church. The process of teaching and learning is called catechesis.

Chalice: The large, often silver, cup from which the wine is served during the Eucharist.

Chapel: The small worship space on the lower level of the All Souls building. There is also a chapel to the right of the main altar in the sanctuary.

Collect: A brief prayer that “collects” or sums up the petitions of the people.

Communion (or Holy Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper): The Christian sacramental meal, the Eucharist.

The Confession: A confession and repentance to God for wrongdoing and a request for forgiveness.

Confirmation: A ceremony in which someone who has been baptized is confirmed as a member of the Episcopal Church by the bishop.

Corporal: A square piece of linen kept in the burse that is placed under the paten and chalice for the celebration of the Eucharist (quite literally the Body of Christ is placed on top of it).

Creed: A statement of the basic tenets of Christian faith that is said or sung in unison by the congregation and clergy.

Deacon: One of the three orders of ordained ministry. A deacon’s primary calling is to bring the Church to the world and the world to the Church, serving those in need and assisting in the liturgies.

Diocese: A geographical designation of a collection of Episcopal parishes under the direction and guidance of a bishop.

Easter Day: A celebration of the resurrection of Christ that continues for the seven following Sundays.

Easter Vigil: An evening service held the night before Easter Day that begins with a period of darkness, marking Christ’s time in the tomb. An important occasion for baptism and renewal of vows, the vigil is the first proclamation of Easter, ending symbolically in light.

Epiphany: A feast day on January 6 (12 days after Christmas Day) that marks the Three Wise Men’s visit to the infant Jesus.

Episcopal: Of or pertaining to a bishop; we are called “Episcopal” because we have bishops (episkope is Greek for overseer).

Epistle: Generally, a letter, and for Christians, those books of the New Testament such as Ephesians, Thessalonians, Colossians, etc., that were written as letters to congregations to encourage and shape them in their faith.

Eucharist: Also known as Holy Eucharist or Holy Communion; the sacrament of the blessing and partaking of the bread and wine in remembrance of Christ’s resurrection and his ongoing presence at work among us. “Eucharist” literally means thanksgiving.

Eucharistic Ministers (EMs): Members of the congregation who are trained to assist at the altar and to carry consecrated sacraments from the Eucharist to homebound parishioners.

Godly Play: The Montessori-based experiential Sunday School curriculum that is used at All Souls.

Good Friday: The day of Christ’s crucifixion and death, commemorated by afternoon and evening services.

Gospels: The first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) that are the main narratives of the life of Jesus. The word “gospel” literally means “good news.”

Great Thanksgiving: The time during the Eucharist when we approach the table to give thanks for all of creation, for the gift of Jesus Christ, and for God’s presence in the bread, the wine, and ourselves.

Holy Saturday: The day after Good Friday.

Holy Week: The week between Palm Sunday and Easter, which includes Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Day.

Homily: A short sermon.

Hymn: A religious poem set to music.

Intercessor:The person who leads the prayers of the people in Sunday services.

Intercessory prayer: Prayer in favor of or on behalf of another, i.e., the church, the country, the world, individuals.

Kyrie: Short for Kyrie Eleison, a Greek phrase meaning “Lord, have mercy.”

Lector: A person who reads one of the lessons (selected readings from the Old and New Testament) during Sunday services.

Lent: The 40 days before Easter (minus the Sundays which are considered feast days), beginning with Ash Wednesday, that mark Christ’s sojourn in the wilderness after his baptism.

Lesson: A reading from the scriptures, usually done by a layperson. Episcopal liturgy customarily includes readings from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Gospels.

Liturgical Year: The cycle of seasons of the church year, including, in order, Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost (see specific definitions of each one).

Liturgy: The set words of the service. From the Greek, meaning “the work of the people.”

Maundy Thursday: An evening service in Holy Week before Easter that commemorates the last supper of Christ and his disciples; the service includes ritual footwashing, and shared bread and wine.

Narthex: The entrance hall of the church, also known as the foyer.

Nave: The main body of the church between the narthex and the sanctuary.

Nicene Creed: A doctrinal confession of the basic tenets of the Christian faith formulated by a council of bishops in response to doctrinal controversies in the 4th century.

Oblators: Two to four people who bring the wine and bread forward to be blessed for the Eucharist at each Sunday service.

Offertory: The offering of the bread and wine, the money offering, and other gifts.

Open Communion: Anyone of any age who seeks God may take communion, compared to some other traditions that mandate that one be of a certain age or status in order to receive communion.

Ordinary Time: The part of the church year which is outside the seasons, falling between Christmas and Lent, and between Easter and Advent. It is also known as the green or growing season.

Palm Sunday: The Sunday before Easter, marking Christ’s entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week.

Parish Hall: The large attached building next to the church that contains a kitchen and a hall where many parish events and dinners are held.

Pall: On the altar, a stiffened square of linen that is placed over the paten.

Paten: A small silver plate on which Eucharistic bread is placed.

The Peace: The point in the liturgy when the members of the congregation and clergy and all who serve greet each other in the name of Christ, in preparation for the Eucharist.

Pentecost: The seventh Sunday after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.

The Prayers of the People: A series of intercessory prayers on behalf of the church, the world, family and friends, and those who have died. An intercessor leads the prayers and members of the congregation to offer their own as well.

Preface: In the liturgy, the first part of the Great Thanksgiving up to the Sanctus.

Presider: The bishop or priest who officiates at the altar during the celebration of the Eucharist.

Presiding Bishop: The elected episcopal head of the Episcopal Church in America; the chief administrator and spiritual head.

Priest: A person called to serve and minister to a congregation as its practical and spiritual leader, who is ordained by the Episcopal church and authorized to perform sacred rites and rituals.

Procession, to Process: The point in the liturgy when the choir, acolytes, clergy, and Lay Liturgical Assistants enter and the church and proceed to or from the altar.

Psalm: A sacred poem of worship from the Old Testament.

Reception: A ceremony, usually celebrated by the bishop, in which someone who has been baptized in another Christian tradition is received as a member of the Episcopal church.

Rector: The priest in charge of a parish.

Rite I and Rite II: Rite I and Rite II are two forms of liturgy for celebrating Holy Communion. Rite I is a more penitential liturgy similar to that found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (the latest version before the 1979 revisions). Rite II is a more contemporary form created for the 1979 revision. All Souls uses Rite II.

Sacrament: Sacred rites which are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, including Holy Eucharist, Holy Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation of a Penitent, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Ordination.

Sacristans: A group of laypersons who are charged with the care and cleaning of all that goes on the altar (bread, wine, cloths, chalices, etc.) and with the decoration of the church (flowers, candles, clergy vestments, etc.).

Sanctuary: The area of the church around the altar.

Sanctus: The hymn that is sung or said at the conclusion of the Preface and begins “Holy, holy, holy…”

Sequence Hymn: The hymn that is sung while the clergy and acolytes process into the midst of the congregation in preparation for reading of the Gospel lesson.

Shrove Tuesday: The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, directly before Lent begins, on which Mardi Gras is also celebrated in several cultures.

Tenebrae: A service on Wednesday of Holy Week that begins the last three days before Easter, marked by the progressive extinguishing of candles in the church.

Trinity Sunday: The first Sunday after Pentecost, acknowledging the mystery and unity of the Holy Trinity (God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit)

Undercroft: The lower level of the All Souls building.

Ushers: Four members who gather offerings and invite people to the communion rail.

Veil: On the altar, a seasonally colored cloth that is placed over the pall.

Vestments: The outer robes and capes that clergy wear and whose colors follow the seasons of the church year. White is the color for major festivals such as Christmas, Easter and All Saints Day; red is the color of Palm Sunday, Pentecost, and the Feasts of Martyrs; green is the color for “Ordinary Time,” such as Epiphany; and purple is the color of Advent and Lent, although blue is common in Advent as well and unbleached linen is acceptable for Lent.

Vestry: Twelve members of the congregation that the congregation elects to serve with the rector as the spiritual leaders and governing board of the parish.

Warden: A senior warden is selected by the rector from members of the vestry to represent the interests of the rector. A junior warden is elected by the vestry to represent the interests of the people.