Ask Ambrose: Unpacking Episcopal-speak

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Q: I just started working in an Episcopal Church and some of the terms are confusing. Help!

A: We do sometimes use “code” language. Here are some liturgical/musical terms defined:

Absolution: The formal declaration (reserved for bishops and priests) of divine forgiveness, following the confession of sins, either in a general or private confession.

Agnus Dei: The Latin introductory words of the anthem “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world…….” that sometimes accompany the Breaking of the Bread at the Eucharist.

Ambo: A reading desk from which the scripture lessons are read. It is sometimes called a lectern.

Canon: This word is derived from the Greek kanon, meaning “measuring rod” or “ruler,” and has several meanings in Church usage: 1) an ecclesiastical law enacted by competent authority; 2) the authoritative list of books of the Bible; 3) the fixed, as opposed to the seasonally variable, portions of the Great Thanksgiving or Prayer of Consecration; 4) a cleric attached to a cathedral staff.

Canticle: A non-metrical song, usually from Holy Scripture, appointed to be sung or said in Church services.

Chancel: That portion of the church building about the Altar, often separated from the nave (see below) by a screen or a low railing.

Collect: A brief prayer, usually consisting of a single sentence, prayed by an officiant on behalf of a worshiping congregation. It usually consists of an address to God, followed by a petition or thanksgiving, and a formulaic ending. The address may be expanded by a descriptive clause, and the petition by a statement of the benefits being sought.

Decalogue: From the Greek meaning “ten words.” An alternative name for the Ten Commandments.

Doxology: No—this is not just something sung to Old 100th as the money is brought to the priest. It is a form of words ascribing glory to God, especially to God as Trinity. The Canticle (see above) Gloria in excelsis is known as the Greater Doxology, and the ascription Gloria Patri as the Lesser Doxology. You will note that many hymns end with some sort of Gloria Patri.

Epiclesis: From the Greek, meaning “invocation.” It is that portion of the Eucharistic Prayer which invokes the operation of the Holy Spirit for the consecration of the bread and wine, that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ.

Epistle: The New Testament Reading, whether taken from one of the letters of Paul and others, the Acts of the Apostles, or the Revelation, in the Liturgy of the Word of the Eucharist.

Eucharist: From the Greek, meaning “thanksgiving.” It is one of the names for the principal act of Christian worship on Sunday and other Major Feasts. It comprises two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the celebration of the Communion.

Fraction: The breaking of the Bread for distribution in Communion. In former prayer books, it was a symbolic action performed in the course of the Prayer of Consecration; in modern prayer books, it is restored to its former position and dignity as a separate action that takes place immediately before the administration of communion. It is performed in silence, but may be followed by an anthem.

Gospel: A portion of one of the Gospels proclaimed at the Eucharist; also a collective term for the Good News of Christ set forth in the chronicles of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Traditionally, the liturgical proclamation of the Gospel was a function of the deacon; but, if necessary, it may be done by a priest or bishop.

Gradual: A portion of the Psalter, read or sung following upon, and as a response to, the Old Testament lesson at the Eucharist. A Canticle is sometimes substituted for the Psalm.

Host: From the Latin hostia, “victim.” Properly, the consecrated Bread of the Eucharist; by extension, altar breads or wafers to be consecrated.

Imposition of Ashes: An Ash Wednesday ceremonial, in which ashes are deposited on the heads of the worshipers, either by inscribing the sign of the cross on the forehead, or by pouring over the head, as a sign of human mortality and penitence.

Institution Narrative: That portion of the Eucharistic Prayer that sets forth the account of the Last Supper.

Intercession: 1) A species of prayer in which petitions are offered in behalf of another or others; 2) a form of such prayer in the liturgy, as, for example, the Prayers of the People.

Kyrie eleison: (Lord, have mercy). 1) A brief congregational response to the petitions of a litany; 2) a threefold acclamation (the second petition being altered to Christe eleison) sung as part of the Entrance Rite of the Eucharist.

Liturgy: From the Greek leitourgia, meaning, “public service.” A formulary or rite for use in Christian worship, especially referring to the Eucharist.

Liturgy of the Word: The first part of the Eucharistic rite, which centers about the proclamation of the Word of God in Scripture.

Memorial Acclamations: Congregational interjections after the Institution Narrative in the Eucharistic Prayer; such as “Christ has died./Christ is risen./ Christ will come again.”

Narthex: A vestibule or porch leading from the main entrance of a church to the nave. It is a space for the gathering and formation of processions, and often the site of the baptismal font.

Nave: The area of the church building in which the congregation is seated, located between the entrance (narthex) and the sanctuary (see below),

Oblations: The people’s gifts of bread and wine and of alms which are offered during the Eucharistic prayer.

Paschal Candle: A large decorated candle, lighted during the Easter Vigil, and lighted also at all services until Pentecost, symbolizing the light of Christ, crucified, dead, resurrected, and ascended.

Principal Feasts: Festivals of great solemnity. The category in the Book of Common Prayer consists of seven observances: Easter Day, Ascension Day, the Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, Christmas Day, and the Epiphany.

Sabbath: The seventh day of the week, Saturday.

Sacraments: Outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ, as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

Sanctus: An anthem, based on Isaiah 6:3, “Holy, holy, holy Lord….” Which has been part of the Eucharistic rite since the third century.

Sequence: A hymn, Psalm, or anthem sung between the Second Reading and the Gospel of the Eucharist.

Sursum corda: (“Lift up your hearts”). Part of the dialogue which inaugurates the Great Thanksgiving of the Eucharist.