The Catholic Church has its own language, or sometimes it can seem like it anyway. A lot of people already within the Church use this language freely, taking for granted that everyone else will automatically know what they are talking about. Not knowing what people are actually saying can seem a little overwhelming and sometimes quite off-putting. So here is a list of terms that tend to get thrown around in Catholic circles.


  • Altar: the table-like piece of furniture where the Eucharist is offered
  • Ambo: the stand where Scripture readings are proclaimed
  • Apostle: one of the twelve men Jesus chose as His particular followers (See Matt. 10:1-4)


  • Bible: the collection of writings authored by many different people under inspiration from the Holy Spirit; without error regarding faith and morality; the¬†Bible contributes to the deposit of faith
  • Bishop: the highest rank in the clergy; the leader of a particular diocese


  • Canon Law: the rules (called canons or laws) which provide the norms for good order in the visible society of the Church
  • Cardinal: a bishop who has special duties to assist and advise the pope in the governance of the universal Church; able to vote in elections for a new pope
  • Catholic: means ‘universal’; it designates both the fullness of Christ’s saving presence in the Church and the universality of the Church’s mission to the whole human race
  • Church: the assembly of all who believe in Jesus Christ, who are bound together as members of the Body of Christ and made holy by His grace; also designates the visible structure that Jesus founded on the Rock of Peter which has persisted through history and is expressed in its fullness by the common creed, worship, and leadership of the apostles’ successors with the Bishop of Rome as their head
  • Clergy: the members of the baptized who have received the Sacrament of Holy Orders


  • Deacon: the lowest rank in the clergy; ordained for ministry and service, particularly to assist the bishop and priests in their sacramental duties
  • Deposit of Faith: made up of Sacred Scripture, sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium; that which Jesus has given to His followers in order to provide a way to salvation; conatins everything a person needs to know and follow Jesus
  • Diocese: a geographical district under the pastoral care of a bishop (a map of the 4 Dioceses of Missouri )
  • Disciple: a follower of Christ who freely accepts a share in the Lord’s mission, His joys, His suffering, and His glory


  • Eucharist: means ‘thanksgiving’; refers to the bread and wine at Mass after they are consecrated by the priest and transformed into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ; learn more here!


  • Gospel: means ‘good news’; refers to the saving message of Jesus by which we are freed from sin and made able to attain eternal life; also refers to one of the first four books of the New Testament Scriptures


  • Holy: means ‘set apart’; refers to both objects or people; holy objects (like the altar or ambo) are ‘set apart’ from ordinary or ‘secular’ things; holy people (or holiness) means that a person is becoming more and more ‘set apart’ from worldliness, being in the world but not of the world
  • Homily: the sermon given by a member of the clergy following the proclamation of the Gospel reading at Mass


  • Knights of Columbus: a Catholic service fraternity for men dedicated to charity and works of service; founded in 1882 by Father Michael McGivney in New Haven, CT


  • Laity: the members of the baptized who have not received the Sacrament of Holy Orders; sometimes also distinguished from those in consecrated life
  • Liturgy: the prayer of the Church; the participation of the People of God in the redemptive work of God, expressed principally in the celebration of the Sacraments


  • Magisterium: made up of all the bishops, with the Pope and cardinals at the head; the teachings of the magisterium contribute to the deposit of faith
  • Mass: the central act of worship of the Catholic Church; established by Jesus at the Last Supper, the Mass is the Sacramental celebration in which the mystery of our salvation is renewed and accomplished, where Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist
  • Ministry: the service or work of sanctification performed by the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments
  • Monsignor: an honorary title given to some priests by the Pope for their years of service to the Church


  • Parish: a stable community of the faithful within a particular diocese whose pastoral care and responsibility is given by the bishop to a priest as pastor
  • Pope: the bishop of Rome and the historical successor of St. Peter who leads the universal Church as Christ’s vicar on earth
  • Priest: the second rank in the clergy and a co-worker of the bishop; whereas a bishop is the leader of a particular diocese, priests are typically assigned as leaders of a particular parish within the diocese
  • Purgatory: a state of final purification after death and before entrance into heaven for those who died in God’s friendship, but whose souls were yet imperfectly purified; a final cleansing of human imperfection before one is able to enter the joy of heaven


  • RCIA: the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults; the program of initiation established for adults who wish to become members of the Catholic faith; learn more here!
  • Rosary: a prayer in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary and a meditation on the central mysteries of Christ’s life; often prayed with a chain of beads


  • Sacrament: an efficacious sign of grace which Jesus instituted and entrusted to the Church by which divine life is dispensed to us; there are seven Sacraments of the Church
  • Sacred: another word for holy or holiness
  • Saint: any member of the communion of souls who are in heaven; some saints are officially recognized by the Church as models of heroic Christian virtue, who have lived lives of surpassing charity and exceptional witness to the Gospel
  • Sanctuary: the space inside the church building that is specifically for Mass and other forms of prayer and worship
  • Scripture: another name for the Bible
  • Secular: refers to anything that is not directed toward religion; anything ordinary; anything that is not considered sacred or holy


  • Tabernacle: the place where the unconsummed Eucharist is kept; made of precious material and designated by a constantly burning candle known as the ‘sancutary lamp’ or the ‘sanctuary light’
  • Tradition: that which has been handed down to the Church from Christ but never written (i.e. Sunday being the day set aside for Christian worship)


  • Vatican II: a number of sessions held at the Vatican from 1962-1965; comprised of the Magisterium seeking to further clarify and explain the Deposit of Faith and set the direction for the entire Church; 16 documents were published as a result
  • Vestments: garments worn by members of the clergy when offering prayers in an official capacity on behalf of the Church

This page contains original content created by St. Gerard Church in Lansing, MI. For reproduction or use please include this endnote.