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Sometimes it may seem that we Episcopalians go out of our way to use strange words to confuse outsiders. We hope that is not the case. Sometimes we use those words to honor our tradition. Sometimes we need special words to label things or practices that are different enough to need a special word to describe them.

Here are some definitions of words used in this site or in our worship that may be new to you.  (See also FAQs--Frequently Asked Questions.)


Advent is the first season of the Church Year. It starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Day, December 25. It is a season of expectancy and preparation for the coming of God to earth in birth of Jesus on Christmas. "O come, o come, Emmanuel," is typical of hymns sung during this season. (Emmanuel means "God with us.").  The liturgical color for advent is Advent is purple, the color of preparation and penitence or Marian Blue in honor of Mary.

Agnus Dei

The words mean "Lamb of God" and refer to Jesus. It is from "Here is the the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" in John 1:29.  A hymn using those words is sometimes said or sung during the communion service: "O lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. O lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. O lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, give us your peace."


Anglican means English.  The Anglican Communion is the worldwide collection of autonomous national churches in communion with the Church of England.  In addition to the Church of England, it includes such churches as the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of Nigeria and the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. The titular head of the Anglican Communion is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is also the head of the Church of England.

Annual Meeting

The Grace Church congregation meets early every to elect senior and junior wardens, mission council members and delegates to diocesan convention.  Reports from the past year and plans for the future are presented and members of the congregation may comment.


Baptism is the sacrament by which we are made full members of Christ's body, the church. Baptism with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, by whomever it is administered, is an act of God, and transcends denominational boundaries. Thus, baptism need not--in fact, should not--be repeated. In the Episcopal Church, baptisms are typically done at a service of public worship by an ordained person, but may be done at any time by anyone in an emergency.  Baptism, being an act of God, may be conferred on infants. For another statement, see the Baptism FAQ.  Also, see Confirmation.


A bishop is responsible for a Diocese. Our bishop heads the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio.  A bishop is consecrated by other bishops and as such is seen as a successor to the Twelve Apostles. The word "episcopal" is derived from the Greek word "episcopos" meaning "overseer." In Old English it became "biscop," which came to be pronounced "bishop" and later spelled that way too.

Book of Common Prayer (BCP)

The Book of Common Prayer contains the official liturgy of the Episcopal Church. It is a collection of prayers, readings, psalms, devotions, and worship services. Nearly all services in any Episcopal Church will be printed in this book.  The word "common" is used in the sense of being held in common, the property of all.  Thus, there are copies in every pew for use by all worshippers.  The common use of the BCP is the basis for the high degree of congregational participation typical of Anglican worship. 


A set of rules that govern a church (as in canon law). See the canons of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio here and the canons of the Episcopal Church USA here.  Grace Church is governed by these canons, plus our own By-Laws.

The canon is also the official list of the books of the bible (the scriptural canon). In the context of a cathedral, a canon is a priest who reports to the dean


What!  Episcopalians have catechism? Yes, but it's not the catechism class that you might remember you or your Roman Catholic friends attending. The word catechism is from the Greek "katecheo"--to sound aloud. You can read the Episcopal Church's "Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism" in the Book of Common Prayer here.


A cathedral is a church that is the home church of the bishop of a diocese. A cathedral is administered by a priest who is referred to as the dean. In every cathedral you will find a seat (throne) for the diocesan bishop called a cathedra, from which the word cathedral derives. 


It is drawn from the Greek word meaning "universal" or "found everywhere."  Although the term is often used to refer to the Roman Catholic Church, in the Episcopal and many other churches it's used to refer to all Christianity--the universal Christian Church.

Christian Formation

AKA "Christian Education." Christian Formation is the process by which people grow as Christians. This process is facilitated by participation in Christian education experiences, but there are other processes and experiences that contribute as well.  Thinking in terms of Christian formation allows us to think holistically about what makes for our growth as Christians. 


The celebration of Jesus' birth starts December 25 and continues 12 days until Epiphany on January 6. On December 25--and not before--we put up Chistmas decorations and being singing Christmas songs. Many Episcopalians echo the tradition of  the church in their home lives and wait until Christmas (or just a little before) before putting up their Christmas tree and Christmas decorations and otherwise celebrating this great holiday season. The liturgical color for Christmas is white, the color of celebration.


The Church is described as a body of people of which Jesus Christ is the head.  All baptized people everywhere are members of the Church, regardless of which branch they may be affiliated with. "Church" may, of course, also refer to a building that a congregation uses for worship.

Church Year

Some companies have fiscal years that are not the same as the calendar year.  Similarly, the church has its own church year with its own seasons. In the Episcopal Church and other Western Churches, the church year starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The seasons of the church year are Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.  Some churches (such as Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics) make more of the church year than others. Liturgical colors are used to help communicate the theme of worship of each season of the church year.

Confirmation/ Reception

Confirmation, as defined in The Book of Common Prayer is "a mature public affirmation of faith and commitment to the responsibilities of Baptism." At Confirmation, an individual receives the laying on of hands by the bishop, thereby affirming their own faith and visibly connecting to the broader Body of Christ. In the Episcopal Church, those who have decided for themselves that they wish to be Confirmed and who have been prepared (typically through a Confirmation or Enquirer's Class) are Confirmed by a Bishop.  People who have made a mature public profession of faith in another tradition who desire to affiliate with the Episcopal church may choose to be Received into the Episcopal Church rather than Confirmed.


The group of people of a certain area who are organized into a local church. An Episcopal congregation may be a parish or a mission.  A parish is fully self-supporting, as contrasted with a mission, which gets some support from its diocese.


The word "deacon" is very close to the Greek word for servant.  Deacons are ordained to a servant ministry to those in need under the direction of the bishop.  Deacons will be found working with the youth, the divorced, the sick in hospitals, in nursing homes, or in private homes; with the poor, the rejected, the immigrants, the dying, those in jail or prison, the addicts, and on college campuses. Deacons also have specific roles to play in the liturgy

In addition to those deacons who have made a lifetime commitment to this servant ministry, there are other deacons referred to as "transitional" or "temporary."  Because being a deacon is a prerequisite to being ordained priest, those who intend to become priests are ordained deacons for a short time. 


The diocese is the fundamental unit of structure of the Anglican church. Every diocese has a Bishop. A diocese contains many churches, and normally dioceses are combined into national churches such as the The Episcopal Church, USA or the Church of England. Grace Church is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio


Easter is the day we celebrate Jesus being resurrected from the dead. Easter is also a season of celebration lasting for the 50 days after Easter to Pentecost. Our liturgy is especially celebrative and extraverted during this season. Prayers of confession are often omitted and "alleluias" are inserted in several places in the service. The first celebration of Easter is the Great Vigil of Easter on Easter Eve.  The liturgical color of Easter is white, the color of celebration.


Epiphany (January 6) is the day we celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men to see Jesus. Epiphany is also a season of the church year running from Epiphany (the twelfth day of Christmas) to Lent. This season celebrates the appearance of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Wise Men.  The liturgical color for Epiphany is green, the color of growth.


The word means "having bishops."  After the American Revolution, when the former Church of England in the colonies was being organized into a church independent of the mother church, a name that did not mention England or Anglican was needed.  "Episcopal" was chosen to differentiate our church from churches that did not have bishops.


Many Christians call it Holy Communion. Some call it the Mass. Many Episcopalians and some others call it Eucharist. It is Greek for "thanksgiving." All Christians are invited to God's table in the Episcopal Church.

Evening Prayer

A worship service done in the late afternoon or evening, many times every evening.  In its barest form, it consists of bible readings, psalms and prayers.  To see complete Evening Prayer services for any day of the year, go to the Mission St. Clare Daily Office web site and click on the little moon on that date.


Evensong or Choral Evensong is Evening Prayer set to music, typically done in Anglican churches on Sunday evenings.

Gloria in Excelsis

The first words (in Latin) of an ancient hymn sung during many Communion services.  In English, it starts, "Glory to God in the highest ...."

Holy Communion

Holy Communion, also called the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper, is our principle worship service.  In it, we celebrate Jesus' victory over death.  In it, Christ invites the gathered community to  become one with him and with God, secure in God's love.  Our response is to leave our seats and come forward to the altar in thanksgiving to partake of Christ's body and blood as symbolized in bread and wine.

Holy Week

Holy Week consists of the week before Easter Sunday.  There are special worship services appointed for every day of this week.  It starts with Palm Sunday, when both Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his capture and death are remembered.  On Maundy Thursday, Jesus' Last Supper with his disciples is re-enacted.  Good Friday services recall Jesus' execution on a cross. 


Greek for "Lord," the first word of a very ancient short hymn commonly sung during Communion services in Lent.  In English, it goes, "Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord have mercy."

Lay People or Laity

The Laity are all members of the church who are not clergy, that is who are not Bishops, Priests or Deacons. Our Catechism says, "The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship and governance of the Church."  The Episcopal church sees the relationship between Clergy and Laity as being one of a partnership of people with different roles to play, in which all are needed to be a complete Christian community.

Grace Church is a lay-led church.  Lay members perform most functions, with some resource peole engaged to do things that volunteers can't do, for example, lead services of Holy Eucharist. 


Two or three bible lessons and a psalm are used at every worship service, as specified in the lectionary. The idea is to cover much of the Bible over the period which the lectionary covers. Lessons are chosen to support the seasons of the church year. There is a three-year lectionary for Sundays and holy days  (see The Lectionary Page) and a two-year lectionary for daily morning and evening prayer (see here).


The season of Lent follows the Epiphany season and covers the 40 days (not counting Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. It is a time of preparation for Holy Week and Easter. Many people use this time to deepen their spirituality by taking on spiritual or other disciplines (prayer would be one example, giving up meat another). Our liturgy is more introspective and less celebrative during Lent. Penitence is the order of the day.  The liturgical color of Lent is purple, the color of preparation and penitence.


From a Greek word meaning a work of or for the people. Nowadays, this term is usually applied to the public celebrations of the church. The word is generally used to refer to the full text of the words of a worship service or the ritual order for holding a church service. Our liturgy reflects the forms of Christian worship which developed in the Western Church during its first centuries.  The liturgy follows a fixed outline with portions which change with the Sunday and the season of the church year. Most of the liturgies used in the Episcopal church are contained in the Book of Common Prayer.

Liturgical Colors

Color is used to reinforce the themes of the days and seasons of the church year. Liturgical colors include white or gold for Christmas, Easter, other feasts (except those of martyrs), marriages, and funerals; blue or violet for Advent; violet for Lent; red for Holy Week, martyrs, the Day of Pentecost, and ordinations; green for the time after the Epiphany and after the Day of Pentecost. Some use rose for Advent 3 and Lent 4.


According to Grace Church's by-laws, "All persons who have been baptized by water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and who identify Grace as their home Parish and make it their principal place of worship shall be considered Members of the Parish." To be added to the roll of members and friends of Grace, just ask.


A mission is a congregation which is not fully self-supporting.  If there is a priest in charge of a mission, he or she is called a vicar, and is appointed by the bishop. See congregation.

Mission Council

A mission has a mission council where a parish has a vestry.  See Vestry or Mission Council.

Morning Prayer

A worship service done in the morning, many times every morning.  In its barest form, it consists of bible readings, psalms and prayers.  To see, listen to and/or read along with complete Morning Prayer services for any day of the year, go to the Mission St. Clare Daily Office web site.


An entry room or hallway leading to the worship space or other spaces.  Grace's narthex is the small entryway leading into the Nave.


The part of a church where devoted to worship. From the Latin "navis" meaning ship. Look up; can you see that the roof looks like the inside of a ship turned upside down? 


Pentecost is the Sunday celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Pentecost is also the season lasting from Pentecost Sunday to Advent. It is the longest season of the church year, covering most of summer and fall.  The liturgical color for Pentecost Sunday is red, the color of the presence of the Holy Spirit; the season after Pentecost Sunday is green, the color of growth.


What many churches call ministers or pastors, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Orthodox call priests (from the Greek "presbyteros," elder). A person becomes a priest by being ordained for life by a bishop. Most bishops require candidates to undertake special training before ordaining them, which training is typically obtained in a theological college or seminary.


A parish is a congregation which is self-supporting, as opposed to a mission. A parish's priest, called a rector, is called by the parish vestry.


The priest in charge of a fully self-supporting parish. A rector is called by the parish vestry, with the approval of the bishop.


A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are Baptism and Eucharist (Communion). Other sacramental rites which evolved in the Church include Confirmation, Ordination, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation of a Penitent (confession), and Unction (healing).


The portion of a church immediately around the altar. Some use the word to refer to the whole interior of the church, but this is not the usual Episcopal usage.

Sanctus & Benedictus

Refers to an ancient hymn sung during every Communion service.  "Sanctus" is Latin for the first word in the first line of the hymn, "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of  power and might ...."  "Benedictus" is Latin for the first word in a subsequent phrase which starts, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." 

Vestry or Mission Council

The vestry or mission council is to a congregation something like a board of directors is to a company. If there is a rector or vicar, he or she fills a role similar to that of a company's board chair and chief executive officer (if there is no priest, as at Grace, the Senior Warden fills this role).  The primary difference between a vestry and a mission council is that a vestry elects and calls a priest to be its rector while the priest of a mission, called a vicar, is appointed by the bishop.

The vestry or mission council consists of the rector or vicar, if there is one, the wardens and a number of members elected at the annual meeting for overlapping three-year terms.

Canonically, the vestry or mission council of the congregation takes charge of the property and regulates all its temporal concerns. Vestry or mission council pays all lawful assessments on the congregation, keeps order in the church during divine services and, in general, to act as helpers to the rector, vicar, or priest-in-charge,  it being understood always that the spiritual concerns of the church are under the exclusive direction of the priest. The vestry or mission council also maintains the congregation's property but does not have the right to sell it without permission from the diocese.

In the absence of a priest, mission council is responsible for everything under the leadership of the wardens.


In the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, a vicar is a priest or deacon in charge of a mission. He or she is appointed by the bishop and serves at his or her pleasure.


Wardens are the chief lay officers of a congregation. Canonically, wardens provide the elements for the Lord's Supper, collect the alms at the administration of the same, and keep and disburse such alms in case the parish or mission idoes not have a priest. If the congregation does not have a priest, the wardens provide for the celebration of public worship.  Vestry or Mission Council meetings are called, in the absence of a rector or vicar, by the Senior Warden, and in the absence of both by the Junior Warden.  In the Diocese of Southern Ohio, wardens are elected at the annual meeting or by the vestry or mission council, depending on the by-laws of the particular parish. At Grace, wardens are elected by the members at the annual meeting.

Western Churches

Western churches trace their origins in some way back to the early Church in Rome.  All protestant churches along with the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican churches are western churches.  Among other things, these churches share the same church calendar.  Eastern churches are those that trace their origins in some way back to the early Church in Constantinople.  Most Orthodox churches are eastern churches.  There are some churches whose origins are in neither Rome or Constantinople, such as the Coptic and Ethiopian Orthodox churches.
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