Liturgical Terms

Some of the words used in liturgy are rather strange. “Ambo”, “anamnesis”, “embolism”, and “epiclesis”, for example, don’t crop up very often in everyday conversation! Many of these unusual terms derive from Greek or Latin, the languages used in early church writings. In addition, quite familiar words are sometimes used in an odd way by the church – for example, the “proper” of the Mass or the “ordinary” of the Mass.
I am often asked about the meaning of such liturgical terms. Below are some of the ones that crop up most frequently, together with a definition:
An AMBO is a raised platform from which the scriptures are read. It is usually combined with a lectern for holding the book.
ANAMNESIS means memorial (Do this in memory of me). It refers to that part of the Eucharistic Prayer which begins with the Memorial Acclamation and which recalls especially Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.
An ANTIPHON is a seasonal verse or sentence which is sung before and after a psalm or between the verses of a psalm. Antiphons are given in the Missal for the entrance and communion processions. Originally the word referred to texts sung alternately by two groups; antiphonal singing occurs when a cantor or choir alternates with the people.
The CATHEDRA is the bishop’s chair or throne, sign of his leadership of the local Church. The “cathedral” is the church which contains the official seat of the bishop of the diocese.
CHRISM is oil consecrated by the bishop for use in baptism, confirmation and ordination.
DOXOLOGY is the giving of praise and glory to the persons of the Trinity. The Gloria, Glory be, and Through him, with him, in him… are all examples of doxology.
An EMBOLISM is an insertion or interpolation. In liturgy, it usually refers to the prayer Deliver us…which is inserted between the Our Father and the For the kingdom…..
EPICLESIS means invocation. It refers to the invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine and upon the assembled people during the Eucharistic Prayer. The Holy Spirit is also invoked in other sacramental rites and rites of blessing.
The LECTIONARY is a book containing the passages of Scripture or pericopes to be read during the Liturgy of the Word.
The SACRAMENTARY is the presider’s book which contains the prayers for the Mass: the texts for the Order of the Mass including Prefaces and Eucharistic Prayers, as well as the prayers for each day of the liturgical year (Opening Prayer, Prayer over the Gifts, Prayer after Communion). It does not contain any readings.
A MISSAL is a book that contains both the prayers of the Mass and the Scripture readings. Today missals are only published in small format to help people to participate in the liturgy or to prepare for it.
The ORDINARY of the Mass or the ORDER OF MASS refers to those common Mass texts which are used whenever the Mass is celebrated.
The PROPER of the Mass refers to those texts that change according to the feast or season.
More useful definitions next week!


Elizabeth Harrington