Liturgical Terminology

At a recent workshop I conducted, participants were given the opportunity to ask about the meaning of terms related to the liturgy that they had come across. Here is a selection of those that were raised and a brief definition of each.

Acolyte: a server formally instituted by the bishop in the liturgical ministry of assisting at the altar during the liturgy. This role is currently open only to men. A person, male or female, who fulfils the function of acolyte but without being instituted in the role is called a server. An acolyte also acts as an extraordinary minister of communion.

Antiphon: a short text sung before and after a psalm or between the verses of a psalm. Antiphons are used in the Liturgy of the Hours and are provided for the entrance and communion processions at Mass.
Originally the word referred to texts sung alternately by two groups; antiphonal singing occurs when a cantor or choir alternates with the people.

Liturgy of the Hours: the official daily prayer of the church that reflects the rhythm of the day (morning, noon, evening, night) and the week. Also called the Divine Office or Prayer of the Church, it consists of psalms, canticles, prayers of intercession, hymns, and readings from scripture and church writings.
Morning and Evening Prayer constitute the two ‘hinges’ of the Liturgy of the Hours. There is also a brief Daytime Prayer and Night Prayer, and an Office of Readings that may be prayed at any time of day.

Canticle: a song primarily used in the Liturgy of the Hours that comes from scripture but is not a psalm. The three best-known are found in the gospel of Luke: the Benedictus (the song of Zechariah), the Magnificat (Mary’s song), and the Nunc Dimittis (the song of Simeon), sung during morning, evening and night prayer respectively.

Breviary: the book(s) containing the official Liturgy of the Hours.

Chasuble: the liturgical vestment worn as an outer garment by bishops and priests at the celebration of the Eucharist. Its colour varies according to the liturgical season or observance.

Pall: Two items used in liturgy bear this name. One is a white cloth that covers the coffin at the funeral liturgy as a reminder of the deceased’s white baptismal robe and as a sign of our life in Christ. The other is a small square of linen or cardboard used to cover the chalice during Mass.

Credence table: a small side table in the sanctuary. Liturgical objects such as cruets, chalice, corporal, and altar missal are kept on it, ready to be used. Why this table was given a name which comes from the Latin credo, meaning I believe/trust is unclear.

Cruets: the vessels, usually of glass, for holding the water and wine to be used at Mass.

Corporal: the square piece of white linen unfolded in the centre of the altar for the chalice and paten.


Elizabeth Harrington