Glossary of Episcopal Terms

Term Definition
1928 prayer book The version of the Book of Common Prayer in use from 1928-79.
1979 prayer book The version of the Book of Common Prayer now in use. It retains some of the components of the 1928 book. Those components are differentiated as "Rite I" or "traditional."
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" and "sacrament."
Acclamation A versicle and response of praise at the beginning of the Eucharist.
Acolyte Originally a minor clerical order but now a group of lay people, usually children or teens, who assist priests in the service.
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 Marian 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 Communion.
Amen From the Hebrew for "verily," "it is so" or "I agree." Response said or sung at the end of prayers, 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 16th century.
Anglican Communion An assembly of churches throughout the world, including the Episcopal Church, that derived their origins from The Church of England and that are in communion with it.
Antecommunion Another name for the Liturgy of the Word, the first half of the Eucharist. The other half is Holy Communion, or the Liturgy of the Table.
Anthem Sacred vocal music sung by a choir but not the congregation.
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 presiding bishop.
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 smeared onto the foreheads of parishioners by the priest or bishop.
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 first syllable.
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 communion.
Cross Used in ancient times for executions. Christ was executed on a cross, or crucified, and the cross became a universal symbol of Christianity.
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 on it. Seen as a particularly "catholic" symbol.
Cruets Glass or metal containers for the wine and water used at the Eucharist.
Curate A deacon or other person not fully ordained who receives a fee for working in a small parish.
Dalmatic Vestment worn by a deacon. Corresponds to the priest’s chasuble. See "vestments" .
Deconsecration A ritual for returning a former sacred building or site to a nonsacred status; church buildings no longer in use as churches are deconsecrated before being sold or destroyed.
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; also, the life of deacon-like service in the church.
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 Christmas season.
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; also any reading from the Bible other than the Gospels or Psalms.
Epistle side The right side of a church when facing the altar. See "gospel side."
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 saint.
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 contemporary music.
Font A basin for water used in Holy Baptism. The Episcopal Church 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."
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".
General ordination exams Tests required of most seminarians before graduation from seminary.
Genuflection The bending of the right knee when reverencing the altar and at other times of solemn reverence. Episcopalians sometimes bow instead of genuflecting.
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. At Good Shepherd, the Gospel is proclaimed at the center of the nave.
Great Thanksgiving The major prayer of the Eucharist beginning with the salutation and preface and concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.
High church Describes a church that emphasizes theological or liturgical formality; such churches may use incense and sing the service rather than speak it. See "low church."
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 often on a single topic of devotion or morality.
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 Christ child. See "high church."
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, the chairman of the vestry, the governing body of a parish church. See "senior warden" and "vestry."
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 religious program.
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 year.
Lent The 40-day period of fasting, sobriety 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.
Low church Describes a church that is less formal; one that does not chant or sing its services. See "high church."
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."
Mission An Episcopal congregation that has not yet attained the status of a church with a full-time priest.
Monstrance A vessel in which the consecrated host is exposed for the adoration of the faithful. From the Latin "monstrare," or "to show;" a very high-church symbol. See "host" and "high church."
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. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States is the Most Rev. Frank Tracy Griswold.
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, including Good Shepherd, 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.
Pace A small aisle or passageway off the main nave aisle in a church.
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 church.
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 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. Also called an ambo. See "homily."
Purificator A linen cloth used for cleansing the chalice during the ablutions or for wiping the chalice during the administration of communion. See "ablutions."
Pyx A container for the reserved host; especially a small round metal receptacle used to carry the Eucharist to the sick. See "Eucharist" and "host."
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 "absolution."
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."
Reredos Decoration behind or above an altar.
Right Reverend A way of addressing a bishop of a diocese. The bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina is the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry.
Rite I A portion of the Book of Common Prayer that contains worship services using the older language of the 1928 edition; describes a service using that form of worship.
Rite II A portion of the Book of Common Prayer containing worship services that use more modern language incorporated into the 1979 edition; describes a service using that form of worship.
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 and confirmation.
Sacristan A liturgical assistant in charge of sacred vessels, vestments, etc.
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 is Raleigh.
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."
Warden See "junior warden" and "senior warden."
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 his resurrection.