Terms Used In Roman Catholic Circles
This list is intended to help you understand the various terms used within Catholicism.
ABBOT. The superior of an abbey (a large, independent monastery).
ABSOLUTION. According to Catholic doctrine, during the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), a qualified Catholic priest can absolve Catholics from their sins. (Sacraments are rituals which use objects and actions in order to confer spiritual benefits. When the priest absolves sins, he makes the sign of the cross and recites a precise verbal formula.)
ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT. According to Catholic doctrine, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ are literally present in every crumb of consecrated bread and every drop of consecrated wine. Therefore, the custom of worshiping consecrated bread is encouraged. A consecrated Host (a large communion wafer) is placed in a monstrance (a special container for displaying the Host). Catholics worship the Host as if it was Jesus Christ Himself, in person, in front of them.
ALTAR. A special table on which the sacrifice of the Mass is offered. Fixed altars (the kind found in churches) contain an altar stone. This is a small, flat stone which is consecrated by a bishop. It has a cavity which contains the relics of two canonized martyrs. It is usually inserted into the center of an altar. During Mass, the ciborium (which contains the Host and smaller communion wafers) and the chalice (which contains the wine) are placed on top of the altar stone.
ANATHEMA. The most severe form of excommunication. It includes a solemn ecclesiastical curse. This can happen automatically. For example, according to the Council of Trent, any person who believes that Christians are saved by faith alone is automatically anathematized. It can also be done using a formal, written ritual during which the Pope or his representative "sentences" people to be cursed to damnation unless they "repent" and unconditionally submit their thoughts and actions to the Catholic Church.
ANOINTING OF THE SICK (Last Rites; Extreme Unction). A sacrament in which the priest anoints the hands and forehead of a sick Catholic, using olive oil which has been blessed by a bishop. He says a prayer which is a standard verbal formula. This is traditionally done when Catholics are in danger of dying.
APOSTOLIC. Papal; relating to the Pope. For example, an apostolic delegate is a man who represents the Pope.
APOSTOLIC SEE (Holy See). (1) The official residence of the Pope in Rome. (2) The offices of Vatican officials who assist the Pope. (3) The power and authority of the Pope.
APPARITION. "Mary," "Jesus," angels, or saints appear to people. Some apparitions have been officially approved by the Roman Catholic Church. In other words, Catholic Church officials have formally declared that the apparition is genuine and it has not said or done anything which is contrary to Catholic doctrine. Two well known apparitions which have been officially approved are apparitions of "Mary" at Lourdes, France and Fatima, Portugal.
ASH WEDNESDAY. The first day of Lent. Blessed palms are burned to make ashes. The priests put the ashes on the foreheads of the people. This is a sign of penance.
ATONE. To make amends for an offense; to expiate; to restore harmony between individuals. Jesus atoned for our sins.
ATONEMENT. When Jesus Christ voluntarily died on the cross, He atoned for the sins of mankind. When Jesus was on the cross, He said, "It is finished". However, according to the Catholic Church, when God forgives sins He may still require that the sinner atone for his or her sins by suffering either here on earth or else in Purgatory. According to this doctrine, the death of Jesus Christ was not sufficient to fully pay for our sins. We also have to atone for them.
AVE MARIA (Hail Mary). This prayer to Mary is associated with the rosary, but it is also used for other things. The words are, "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
BAPTISM. According to Catholic doctrine, the sacrament of baptism cleanses the person who is baptized from all sin. As a result, he or she becomes reborn (born again). It is the sacrament that is said to remove the sin, rather than God's response to the repentance of the person who is baptized. It is the sacrament that is said to cause a person to become born again, rather than the faith of the person who is baptized.
BAPTISMAL GRACES. According to Catholic doctrine, the sacrament of baptism supernaturally accomplishes the following things: (1) It removes all of the guilt of sin. (2) It removes all of the punishment due for past sins. (3) It infuses sanctifying grace into the person. (4) It infuses faith, hope and charity into the person. (5) It makes the person a member of the Mystical Body of Christ.
BAPTISMAL WATER. A special kind of holy water which is used for the sacrament of baptism. It is ritually blessed on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). Baptismal water is a sacramental (an object or action which is supposed to confer spiritual benefits, and which has been approved by the Catholic Church).
BEATIFICATION. An official declaration by the Pope that a deceased man or woman is in Heaven. People who have been beatified are given the title "Blessed". Catholics are allowed to publicly pray to them, invoke them, and venerate them.
BENEDICTION. A priest holds up a monstrance containing a consecrated Host (a large communion wafer). He makes the sign of the cross with the monstrance, and pronounces a blessing. Catholics perceive this as having been blessed by Jesus Christ Himself. (A monstrance is an ornate container for displaying a consecrated Host.)
BISHOP. According to Catholic doctrine, a bishop is a successor of the Apostles. A bishop has the authority to ordain priests.
BLESSED MOTHER. A term used to honor the Virgin Mary.
BLESSED SACRAMENT (the Eucharist; Holy Communion). Bread and wine which have been consecrated by a priest during Mass. According to Catholic doctrine, the bread and wine literally become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church uses real wine, but it usually uses communion wafers instead of regular bread.
BLESSED SALT. Salt which has been ritually blessed by a priest. Blessed salt is a sacramental. It is use to protect people from evil. Some people sprinkle blessed salt across thresholds or in cars for protection, or put it in food or drinking water for physical healing.
BREVIARY. A liturgical book which contains the Divine Office (a collection of hymns, written prayers, Psalms, and readings from Scripture).
BROWN SCAPULAR. According to tradition, in 1251 the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock. She carried a brown scapular and promised that people who are wearing the brown scapular when they die will not go to hell. Wearing the brown scapular also enables people to receive the benefits of the Sabbatine Privilege (a promise that Mary will get people out of Purgatory). The use of the brown scapular has been strongly recommended by many popes, including Pope Paul VI (1963-1978).
BULL (Papal Bull). A papal encyclical dealing with especially important matters. (An encyclical is a letter written by the Pope to the bishops.) The term "bull" comes from a special seal ("bulla") which is put on the encyclical because of its importance.
CANDLE. (1) A sacramental which is used in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Candles are blessed on Candlemas (February 2). (2) Objects used in private devotional practices such as votive candles placed in front of statues, and novena candles which are burned while praying novena prayers.
CANON LAW. The ecclesiastical laws which are used to govern the Roman Catholic Church.
CANONIZATION. An official declaration by the Pope that a deceased man or woman is a saint and is in Heaven. When people have been beatified, Catholics are allowed to pray to them and venerate them. It is optional. When people have been canonized, then Catholics are required to venerate them. Honoring canonized saints is mandatory.
CARDINAL. Apart from the Pope, cardinals hold the highest office in the Catholic Church. They assist the Pope with the government of the Catholic Church. Originally, men could become Pope through various means. Later, popes were (and still are) elected by cardinals. In order to qualify to be elected Pope, a man must first be a cardinal. Cardinals have the honor of being allowed to wear scarlet hats and scarlet cassocks.
CARDINAL'S PURPLE. A term for the color scarlet. Purple used to be a very expensive dye. The color was associated with wealth and power. Purple was worn by Roman Emperors and Roman Catholic popes. In the Middle Ages, scarlet also became associated with wealth and power. It was (and is) worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.
CASSOCK. A long garment which reaches to the feet. It is worn by clergymen. Cardinals are allowed to wear scarlet cassocks. Depending on the occasion, cardinals wear a cassock which is scarlet, or else they wear a cassock which is black with scarlet buttons and a wide scarlet sash.
CHALICE. A large goblet used at Mass to contain the wine for consecration. A chalice is consecrated by a bishop, using holy chrism.
CHAPLET. Chaplets are prayers said using beads. Some of them, such as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, use regular rosary beads but with different prayers. Others, such as the Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel and the Chaplet of St. Joseph, use different beads.
CHRISM. A mixture of olive oil and balsam (an aromatic substance from plants). It is a sacramental which is consecrated by a bishop. Chrism is used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders (ordination). It is used when blessing baptismal water and church tower bells and when consecrating churches, altars, chalices, and patens.
CIBORIUM. A covered container which holds communion wafers during Mass. It is similar to a chalice, but larger.
CLERGY. Men who are ordained as deacons, priests or bishops. Clergymen are also called clerics.
CLERICAL. Something which relates to clergy.
CLOISTER. A secluded monastery or convent. In a strictly cloistered convent, the nuns are cut off from the rest of the world. If visitors come to see the nuns, they are separated from them by a grille. This allows conversation and eye contact but it prevents any kind of physical contact.
COMMUNION (the Eucharist). Bread and wine which have been consecrated by a priest during the sacrament of the Mass. (The priest has performed the ritual of consecration using the correct verbal formula.) According to Catholic doctrine, the bread and wine literally become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church uses real wine but it usually uses communion wafers instead of regular bread.
COMMUNION OF SAINTS. According to Catholic doctrine, there is unity among the members of the Catholic Church on earth, in Heaven, and in Purgatory, and they help one another through prayers and good works. Catholics on earth are said to be in communion with the saints in Heaven because they venerate them, imitate them, pray to them, and invoke their assistance. Catholics on earth are said to be in communion with the souls in Purgatory because they do things to help them get out of Purgatory (prayers, good works, having masses said for them, and earning indulgences on their behalf).
COMMUNION WAFERS. The Catholic Church usually uses communion wafers for Mass instead of regular bread. The priest uses a large communion wafer called a Host. People attending Mass eat small communion wafers. They are round, thin, and flat.
CONCLAVE. During an election for a new Pope, the cardinals are kept enclosed in the Sistine Chapel until the new Pope is chosen. The term "conclave" refers to: (1) The temporary living quarters of the cardinals; (2) The gathering of cardinals which elects the Pope.
CONCORDAT. A treaty between the Holy See (the Vatican) and the ruler of a sovereign nation.
CONFESSION (Sacrament of Penance; Sacrament of Reconciliation). According to Catholic doctrine, Catholics can have their sins be absolved by a qualified Catholic priest. This is done using a ritual which includes the "words of absolution" (a verbal formula which the priest uses to absolve the sins).
CONFESSIONAL. An enclosed place where a priest sits to hear confessions. There is a partition, with the priest sitting on one side of it and the person confessing his or her sins sitting on the other side of it. There is a small screened window which allows the priest to talk to the penitent.
CONFIRMATION. According to Catholic doctrine, this sacrament causes baptized Catholics to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. It involves the laying on of hands and anointing with chrism.
CONSECRATE. (1) To declare something to be holy or to make it holy. (2) To set something apart for service to God or worship of God. (3) To make bread and wine turn into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.
CONSECRATION. (1) An event which occurs during the sacrament of the Mass. The priest says words of consecration (a verbal formula). According to Catholic doctrine, when those words are said by a validly ordained Catholic priest, then the bread and wine literally become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. (2) Setting something apart for God or for liturgical use by the Catholic Church. For example, bishops consecrate chrism. The consecrated chrism is used by bishops when they consecrate chalices and churches.
CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE. Religious life which stresses prayer, self-denial, and meditation on spiritual things.
CONVENT. A nunnery. A community of nuns who are governed by a superior.
CRUCIFIX. An image of Christ on the cross. It can be a carving, a painting, a medal, or any other representation of the crucifixion of Christ.
CRUSADES. Popes raised armies to take the Holy Land (Israel) back from the Muslims. The Albigensian massacre was a crusade against Christians. Hundreds of thousands of French people were killed by the Crusaders, including Catholics who lived in the area inhabited by the Albigensians.
CURIA (Roman Curia). A group of men in the Vatican who assist the Pope in directing the operations of the Catholic Church.
DECADE. A rosary is made of five sets of decades. Each decade has one bead which is separated from a group of ten beads. The "Our Father" (Lord's Prayer) is said on the single bead. The "Hail Mary" is said on the ten beads. (There are ten prayers to Mary for every one prayer to God.) The words of the "Hail Mary" are, "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
DIVINE OFFICE. A liturgical book which contains written prayers, hymns, and readings from Scripture. All 150 Psalms are read every week. However, the longer psalms are not read in their entirety. Only portions of them are read. The Divine Office is read by priests, monks and nuns. In some religious communities, it is sung publicly.
ECCLESIASTICAL. Something which relates to the church.
ENCYCLICAL. A document which the Pope sends to the bishops dealing with matters related to the general welfare of the Catholic Church. They often contain pronouncements about matters of faith and morals. Encyclicals which deal with especially important matters are called "papal bulls".
EUCHARIST (the Blessed Sacrament; Holy Communion). Bread and wine which have been consecrated by a priest during Mass.
EXCOMMUNICATION. Cutting a person, or group of people, off from the Roman Catholic Church and its sacraments. The most severe form of excommunication is the anathema, which can be accompanied by a solemn, written ritual with ecclesiastical curses.
EXTREME UNCTION (Anointing of the Sick; Last Rites). A sacrament in which a priest anoints the hands and forehead of a sick person, using olive oil which has been blessed by a bishop. He says a prayer which is a standard verbal formula. This is traditionally done when a Catholic is in danger of dying.
FASTING. A form of penance which involves abstaining from particular foods or limiting the quantity of foods eaten. Fasting requirements are determined by local Catholic bishops. The rules change from time to time.
FEAST DAYS. Days on which Mary, angels, saints, or sacred events are honored.
FINAL PENITENCE. Having a person's sins be absolved by a priest before the person dies.
FINAL PERSEVERANCE. Having a person be in a state of grace when he or she dies.
FINGER ROSARY. A small pocket rosary with one decade of beads which touch each other. It looks like a ring with bumps on it and a cross attached to it. People can put it on their index finger and move through the beads with their thumb. When they come to the cross, then they know that they have completed the decade. FIRST FRIDAYS. According to tradition, Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1699 and He asked her to observe the "Devotion of First Fridays" (receiving Communion on the first Friday of nine consecutive months). He also asked that people keep a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their homes and honor it. He promised that if people do these things, then their names will be written in Jesus' Heart and will never be blotted out, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus will be their refuge when they die.
FIRST SATURDAYS. Our Lady of Fatima (the apparition of "Mary" at Fatima, Portugal) gave promises of things she would do for Catholics who observe the "Devotion of First Saturdays". In order to fulfill the conditions for receiving the promises, Catholics have to do the following things on the first Saturday of five consecutive months: (1) Go to confession (the sacrament of reconciliation); (2) Receive communion (this requires them to attend Mass); (3) Pray the rosary; (4) Spend 15 minutes "keeping Mary company"; (5) Consecrate themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary; (6) Do these things with the intention of making reparation to Mary for sin. The apparitions at Fatima were officially approved by the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, the observation of First Saturdays (including making reparation to Mary for sin) does not conflict with Catholic doctrine.
FLAGELLATE. To flog, whip, scourge. Flagellation has traditionally been used as a form of penance, to mortify the body and to atone for sin. Padre Pio is a modern example of a Catholic priest who was known for whipping himself. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), flagellation became less common.
FLAGELLANTS. People who whip or scourge themselves or one another as an act of penance or atonement for sin. On Good Friday (the Friday before Easter), some countries have processions of flagellants who whip themselves or one another.
GENUFLECT. A gesture of reverence or worship. One knee goes down to the floor and the other knee remains bent. It is traditional to genuflect in front of the Blessed Sacrament (bread which has been consecrated during Mass) and before entering a church pew. It is also traditional to genuflect before the Pope, a cardinal, or a bishop, and to kiss his ring.
GOOD FRIDAY. The Friday before Easter. Traditionally there are services in honor of the crucifixion of Jesus.
GRACE. Catholic perception of grace is different from that of Protestants. This can be illustrated by the following two examples. (1) According to Catholic liturgy, grace can be given to inanimate objects. The Catholic ritual for baptizing infants includes a prayer asking God to give grace to the water which will be used. (2) Grace is said to be automatically given to people as a result of the sacraments. (One example is "baptismal graces".)
GREEN SCAPULAR. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to Sister Justine Bisqueyburu in 1840. Mary was carrying the green scapular. It had a picture of Mary's heart, pierced with a sword, with drops of blood coming out of it. On the scapular was written the following prayer: "Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us now and at the hour of our death." Healings have been attributed to the green scapular.
HABIT. Special clothing which is worn by monks and nuns. Each religious order has its own distinctive habit.
HAIL MARY. This prayer to Mary is associated with the rosary, but it is also used for other things. The words are, "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
HERESY. If a person claims to be a Christian, and he or she believes something which is contrary to Catholic doctrine, then the Catholic Church calls that belief a heresy.
HERETIC. A person who teaches or believes a heresy. According to the Catholic Church, in order to be considered heretics, people must have been baptized, they must claim to be Christians, and they must doubt or deny a Catholic doctrine. In addition, the Catholic Church must consider their disbelief to be "morally culpable". However, in Spain, the Inquisition killed Jews and Muslims as heretics, in spite of the fact that they were not baptized and they did not claim to be Christians. During the Protestant Reformation, men and women who had been born and raised as Protestants were killed as heretics.
HOLY CARDS. Cards which have religious pictures related to Catholicism. These include pictures of Jesus, Mary, saints, popes, or shrines. There is often a prayer written on the back of the card. Sometimes holy cards commemorate special events, such as a child's first communion.
HOLY CHRISM. A mixture of olive oil and balsam (an aromatic substance from plants). It is a sacramental which is consecrated by a bishop. Chrism is used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and holy orders (ordination). It is used when blessing baptismal water and when consecrating churches, altars, chalices, and patens.
HOLY COMMUNION (the Eucharist; the Blessed Sacrament). Bread and wine which have been consecrated by a priest during Mass.
HOLY DAYS OF OBLIGATION. Special days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass. Attendance at Mass is mandatory for Catholics on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.
HOLY FATHER. While praying, Jesus called God "Holy Father". (John 17:11). Catholics call the Pope "Holy Father".
HOLY LAND. Israel, which is the location of the places where Jesus Christ was born, lived, ministered, died, was buried, and was resurrected.
HOLY OFFICE. Another name for the Office of the Inquisition. In 1965 its name was changed to "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith".
HOLY OILS. (1) Holy oils for liturgical use are sacramentals. They are blessed by a bishop. There are three kinds of holy oil: oil of catechumens (used for baptism), chrism, and oil of the sick (for anointing the sick). Oil of catechumens and oil of the sick are pure olive oil. Chrism is a mixture of olive oil with balm or balsam (an aromatic substance). Holy oils are used for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and the anointing of the sick. The blessing of the holy oils is done by a bishop on Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter). The oils are distributed to local churches where they are kept in locked boxes. Any oil which is not used within a year is burned in the sanctuary lamp. (2) There are holy oils for personal use. They are usually taken from oil lamps burning at shrines. Some examples are Saint Anne's Oil, Saint Joseph's Oil, and Saint Philomena's Oil. Healings have been attributed to Saint Anne's Oil.
HOLY ORDERS. The sacrament of ordination. Deacons, priests and bishops are ordained.
HOLY SEE (Apostolic See). (1) The official residence of the Pope in Rome. (2) The offices of Vatican officials who assist the Pope. (3) The power and authority of the Pope.
HOLY WATER. Holy water is a sacramental. It is blessed by a priest, using chrism. When Catholics enter a Catholic Church they often dip their fingers in holy water and make the sign of the cross. Priests use holy water when blessing people or objects. In addition to ordinary holy water there are also some special kinds of holy water. Baptismal holy water is used in the sacrament of baptism. Easter holy water is used during the Paschal Season (the period of time from the Saturday before Easter to the Saturday after Pentecost). Some Catholics keep holy water in their homes and use it during times of physical or spiritual danger. Some people sprinkle in around their home, sprinkle it on themselves or other people, or drink it.
HOST. A large communion wafer used by the priest when saying Mass.
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. The doctrine that Mary was conceived without sin, that she did not have "original sin" (the sin inherited from Adam).
IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY. There is a picture which represents the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It shows Mary with her chest open, her heart exposed, flames above it, light coming out of it, and a sword piercing it. The apparition of "Mary" at Fatima, Portugal, told people to consecrate themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary using a special prayer.
INCENSE. Incense is an aromatic gum or resin which is in the form of powder or grains so that it can readily be burned. It gives off a fragrant smoke. Priests carry burning incense in a censer (a special container which releases the fragrance and protects the priest from the heat of the burning material). Incense which has been blessed is a sacramental. It is used during Mass, at Benediction, and during processions. Five large grains of incense are placed in the Paschal Candle, symbolizing the five wounds of Christ. The Paschal Candle is used during the Paschal Season (the period of time from the Saturday before Easter to the Saturday following Pentecost).
INDULGENCED. Prayers and pious acts for which the Catholic Church grants indulgences. In addition to praying the indulgenced prayers or doing the indulgenced acts, the Catholic must also (1) Go to confession (the sacrament of reconciliation); (2) Take communion (which means going to Mass); and (3) Pray for the Pope's "intentions". ("Intentions" mean prayer requests which have not been specifically identified by the person who wants prayer for them.) Indulgenced prayers and indulgenced pious practices are listed in "The Enchiridion of Indulgences," which is published by the Vatican.
INDULGENCES. According to Catholic doctrine, when God forgives sins, He may still require that the sinner pay for his or her sins by suffering. When good Catholics die, if they are not saintly enough to go directly to Heaven, then they have to spend time suffering in Purgatory to atone for their sins. However, the suffering of the souls in Purgatory can be shortened by means of indulgences. According to the Catholic Church, there is a "treasury" of merits which have been won by Christ and the saints. The Catholic Church claims that it is able to draw from this "treasury" in order to remit the temporal punishments which are required for sins which have already been forgiven by God. This is done by means of indulgences, which the Catholic Church gives to people who do certain good works. In modern times, earning indulgences is done primarily by means of praying indulgenced prayers (such as the rosary) or participating in indulgenced pious practices (such as adoration of the Blessed Sacrament). During the Middle Ages, indulgences were sold for money. Indulgences can be applied to the person earning them or to loved ones who are in Purgatory.
INFALLIBILITY. According to Catholic doctrine, God protects the Pope from making errors whenever he teaches the Catholic Church in matters of faith or morals. In order to speak infallibly, the Pope must speak "ex cathedra" (with the weight of his apostolic authority, as opposed to speaking as a private theologian.) However, according to Canon Law, Catholics are required to submit their minds and wills to any declaration concerning faith or morals which is made by the Pope. They are also required to avoid anything that disagrees with such declarations, and they can be coerced if they don't comply. In other words, they must respond as if the statement is infallible, whether or not the Pope has spoken "ex cathedra". This gives the Catholic Church the power over people which comes from infallibility, without requiring the accountability which is associated with infallibility. If one infallible papal pronouncement contradicts another infallible papal pronouncement, then the theologians and apologists can attempt to avoid the dilemma by saying that one (or both) of the popes was just speaking as a private theologian. In the meantime, the Catholic people were required to obey both papal pronouncements as if they were infallible.
INFANT OF PRAGUE. A statue of Jesus as an infant. Miracles have been attributed to this statue. It is kept in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where nuns care for it and change its clothing. Pilgrims travel to Prague to venerate this statue. It wears a gold crown set with jewels. It also has over 70 sets of ornate clothes. Replicas of the statue are found in Catholic churches around the world.
INQUISITION. The Office of the Inquisition was established to suppress heresy. Inquisitors sought out "heretics". They tortured the "heretics" to get confessions. They had trials in which the Inquisitors were the judges and the "heretics" had no one to defend them. In addition, the "heretics" were never told what the charges against them were. The Inquisitors passed sentences on the "heretics" and then required the local civil authorities to carry out the sentences. The last execution for heresy was in 1826. However, the Office of the Inquisition still exists. In 1965 its name was changed to "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith".
INTERDICT. Catholics under interdict are not allowed to have a Christian burial and most of the sacraments are denied to them. However, dying Catholics are allowed to receive the Last Rites. For centuries, popes used the interdict, and the threat of interdict, to force secular rulers to submit to them.
KISSING THE SACRED PURPLE. In formal correspondence with high-ranking clergy, it used to be proper protocol to say "kissing the Sacred Purple" or "kissing the Sacred Ring". In 1969 the rules were changed and this was no longer required.
LAST RITES (Sacrament of the Sick; Extreme Unction). A sacrament in which a priest anoints the hands and forehead of the sick person, using olive oil which has been blessed by a bishop. He says a prayer which is a standard verbal formula. This is traditionally done when Catholics are in danger of dying.
LATIN. (1) The language of ancient Rome. (2) The language of the Roman Catholic Church. Until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Mass was said in Latin, and the Divine Office was sung in Latin. Official Roman Catholic Church documents are still written in Latin, including papal encyclicals and Canon Law. Latin is still the language of the Vatican.
LENT. A 40 day period of prayer and penance before Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter Sunday. During Lent, Catholics are required to fast. The fasting requirements are determined by the local Catholic bishops. Therefore, the rules change from time to time and they vary from place to place. At present (2002), fasting for American Catholics means abstaining from the meat of birds and land animals on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays during Lent. However, eating fish is allowed. During the Middle Ages, Catholics were not allowed to eat meat or drink wine during the entire 40 days of Lent. In some countries, they were not allowed to eat any animal products at all, including butter, milk, eggs and cheese.
LIMBO. According to the Catholic Church, if a baby is not baptized, then he or she cannot go to Heaven because of original sin (sin inherited from Adam). However, because the baby has not actually committed any sins, he or she does not go to hell. Therefore, unbaptized babies go to Limbo. This is a place of happiness but it does not have the joy of Heaven.
LITANY. A structured form of prayer which includes petitions and responses. Litanies to Mary address her by a series of titles, including the following: Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Mystical Rose, Tower of David, Ark of the Covenant, Mother of God, Mother of our Creator, Mother of the Church, Mirror of Justice, Gate of Heaven, Morning Star, Health of the Sick, Refuge of Sinners, Queen of Angels, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, Queen of Peace, and Comforter of the Afflicted.
LITURGY. Official public worship, such as the Mass or public recitation of the Divine Office.
MASS. The sacrament of the Mass is a propitiatory sacrifice in which Jesus Christ is sacrificed on the altar in order to appease God. When Jesus was on the cross, He said "It is finished". The doctrine that Jesus has to be sacrificed over and over says that it is not finished.
MEATLESS DAYS. Days on which Catholics are required to abstain from meat. The fasting requirements for meatless days are determined by the local bishops. At present (2002), American Catholics are not allowed to eat the flesh of birds or land animals on meatless days. However, they are allowed to eat fish.
MEDAL. A metal disk with a religious image on it (Jesus, Mary, saints, popes, shrines, etc.) Sometimes medals have prayers inscribed on them. Medals are sacramentals. Some of them are indulgenced (Catholics are given indulgences if they wear them).
MENTAL RESERVATION. Using words which have a generally recognized meaning, but mentally limiting their meaning while speaking them. The result is that the listeners understand the words to mean something different than the meaning intended by the speaker. In other words, the speaker says something which can be said to be technically correct, but the intent is to have it be misunderstood.
MERIT. According to Catholic doctrine, if a man or woman does good works while in a state of grace then he or she is entitled to receive a reward from God. There are conditions which must be met in order to merit a reward. The work must be morally good. It must be done freely, without coercion. It must be supernaturally motivated and accompanied by grace.
MERITORIOUS WORKS. Good works which merit a reward from God.
MERITS OF THE SAINTS. According to the Catholic Church, there is a "treasury" of merits which have been won by Christ and the saints. This "treasury" is the basis for the practice of indulgences. The Catholic Church says that it is able to draw from this "treasury" in order to give indulgences to Catholics who meet certain specified requirements.
MIRACULOUS MEDAL (Medal of the Immaculate Conception). According to tradition, St. Catherine Laboure had an apparition of Mary in 1830. Mary carried a medal with a picture of herself on it. The medal had an inscription which said "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee." Mary showed St. Catherine both sides of the medal and instructed her to have medals made according to the design shown to her. The medal became known as the Miraculous Medal because some people who wore it attributed miracles to it.
MITER. A tall clerical hat worn by bishops, cardinals, abbots, and popes.
MONASTERY. A community of monks who are governed by a superior. The term applies primarily to religious who live a contemplative life and recite or sing the Divine Office together. Convents of contemplative nuns are sometimes referred to as monasteries. Monasteries are known for asceticism, self-denial, and seclusion from the world.
MONK. A member of a religious community of men. The most strict use of the term means men who have taken solemn perpetual vows (vows until death). The broad sense of the term includes new monks (novices) and monks who have made temporary vows.
MONSTRANCE. An ornate container for displaying a consecrated Host (a large communion wafer). It is used during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Benediction, and in processions. It looks like a sunburst on top of a pedestal. The monstrance is gold or gold-plated. A large, round consecrated Host goes into a round compartment in the center of the sunburst. It is covered by a glass door. This protects the Host while at the same time enabling people to see it. The shiny gold and the sunburst pattern make it look like rays of light are coming out of the Host. The sunburst pattern is traditional, but some monstrances use other decorative patterns.
MORTAL SIN. According to Catholic doctrine, sins are categorized as being mortal or venial. Mortal sins are the most serious. They are said to destroy the supernatural life of the soul, resulting in spiritual death. When a person is baptized, his or her soul receives spiritual life. If the person commits a mortal sin, the result is spiritual death. Confession (the sacrament of penance) restores spiritual life to the soul when the sin is absolved by a priest. Another mortal sin would cause spiritual death. Having the sin be absolved by a priest during the sacrament of penance would restore spiritual life to the soul. This cycle can continue indefinitely. A person who comits a mortal sin and dies before having it absolved goes to hell. Some examples of mortal sins are: murder, rape, adultery, and missing Mass on Sunday.
MYSTICAL BODY OF CHRIST. The Church militant (the Roman Catholic Church on earth), the Church suffering (the souls in Purgatory), and the Church triumphant (the saints in Heaven).
NOVENA. Nine consecutive days of prayer for a special request from Jesus, Mary or a saint. It can be nine days in a row, the same day of the week for nine consecutive weeks, the first Friday or first Saturday of nine consecutive months, etc. There are many standard novena prayers. They can be prayed publicly or privately. Some people use novena candles when praying novena prayers for nine days in a row.
NOVENA CANDLES. Large candles which are burned while praying novena prayers. Traditional novena candles burn for nine days, but some novena candles don't burn that long. Novena candles are inside glass containers. The containers often have a picture of Mary or a saint on one side and a written prayer on the opposite side.
NOVICE. The term comes from "novicius," a Latin word which means "new". In religious life, a novice is a new monk or a new nun. If a novice has been accepted into a religious order and has been given a religious habit, then he or she is a monk or a nun in the broad sense of the term. Novices undergo training and "spiritual formation" in preparation for making vows. Before making solemn perpetual vows (vows until death) they make temporary vows.
NUN. A member of a religious community of women, living under the authority of a superior. The most strict use of the term means women who live a cloistered, contemplative life and have taken solemn perpetual vows (vows until death). The broad sense of the term includes new nuns (novices) and nuns who have made temporary vows.
OFFICE OF THE INQUISITION (Holy Office). An office in the Vatican. It is responsible for repressing heresy. Presently this is done by means of written statements and disciplining Catholic clergy whose teachings are heretical. In the past, repressing heresy was done by means of torture, imprisonment, and death. In 1965 the Office of the Inquisition changed its name to "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith".
OIL OF CATECHUMENS. A special kind of holy oil which is used in the sacrament of baptism. It is a sacramental.
OIL OF THE SICK. A special kind of holy oil which is used in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick (extreme unction). The oil is a sacramental.
ORDINATION. The sacrament of holy orders. Deacons, priests and bishops are ordained.
ORIGINAL SIN. The sin which the human race inherited as a result of Adam's sin. According to Catholic doctrine, babies have original sin. However, the Virgin Mary did not.
OUR FATHER (Pater Noster). The Lord's Prayer.
OUR LADY OF. (1) An apparition of the Virgin Mary. For example, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Guadalupe. (2) An attribute or title of Mary. For example, Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Good Counsel.
PALM SUNDAY. The Sunday before Easter. During Mass, blessed palms are given to the people to commemorate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem when the crowds waved palm branches to honor Him. It is traditional for people to take the palms home and keep them. The priests keep some of the palms. The next year, they are burned to provide the ashes to be used on Ash Wednesday (the day when Lent begins).
PAPAL BULL. A papal encyclical dealing with important subject matter. The term "bull" comes from a special seal ("bulla") which is put on the encyclical because of its importance.