Additional Online Liturgical Glossary Terms
The following terms are defined to provide a common basis of
identification. Some of the terms may be familiar while others may be new.
The aisle is the lateral division of the church that defines the
north and south side of the nave. It was the practice in some churches to assign the south
aisle to the men and the north aisle to the women.
The alb is a long white parament worn by the celebrant at the
celebration of the Sacrament. It is similar to a cassock and has long, narrow and straight
sleeves. The alb is sometimes decorated with colored decorations at the lower hem.
The term alms is derived from the Greek word eleemosune meaning
"mercy" and has evolved into meaning "charitable gifts." The necessity
for generous giving was recognized by the early Christians as the correct response to
Christs own self-giving (II Corinthians 8:9). The presentation of gifts, either in
kind or money, became an integral part of the worship.
The alms-dish (basin) is the receptacle for alms. The alms-dish
(basin) was historically a locked chest with a slot at the top for collections and was
renamed the poor mens box during the rule of King Edward IV. In 1662 the present use
and custom of the alms-dish (basin) started as reported in the Scottish Liturgy of 1637
where it was specified that the offerings of the congregation should be collected and
brought to the altar and placed in the alms-dish (basin). This was a return in principle
to the custom of earlier centuries when the elements of bread and wine as well as other
offerings were brought to the altar and received in tray-shaped paten.
The term altar is derived from the Latin altare, or a place
(structure) where sacrifice is offered. In the third century the term mensa was also used.
In Christian worship, it is associated with the act of worship.
It should be noted that the placing of candlesticks and a cross on
the altar was a very late innovation in the West The candlesticks and cross were
originally used in processions and placed on the pavement around the altar. Only at the
end of the Middle Ages did these ornaments sometimes come to be set on the altar. The
requirement that all altar have a cross standing on them is an error of the
nineteenth-century ececlesiologists. Also, the custom of having precisely six candlesticks
on the altar developed from the Counter-Reformation movement in the Roman Church in the
sixteenth century. Flower vases were not placed on the altar; but rather flowers thrown on
the pavement before the altar.
A general term for any altar hanging used on the altar. The term is
also used in a more restrictive sense to refer to a hanging which might be thought of as a
frontal which does not cover the entire width of the altar (as shown in Figure 1 and
explained in more detail as the second type of frontlet). Most often this hanging is used
alone without a superfrontal.
The altar book is the service book in large type that contains the
text of the liturgy of the church.
The altar cover is an altar hanging that may be either one-, three-,
or four-sided. A one-sided cover is essentially the same as a superfrontal, but one
difference is possible. The superfrontal might be attached to another type of material
which rests on the altar to counterbalance the weight of the superfrontal. This additional
material is then covered with other altar linens. The altar cover is intended to be the
only covering used on the altar, and is usually made from only one type of fabric. The
drop used for this altar hanging is usually slightly longer (eight to twelve inched) than
the traditional drop of a superfrontal.
A three-sided altar cover has an identical drop on all three of the
exposed sides of an altar (or communion table) built against the wall (the wall behind the
altar is known as the "liturgical East" wall) of the church. A four-sided altar
cover is used on a free-standing altar and has as identical drop on all four sides.
The term altar linens refers to the covering of the mensa on the
altar. Historically three linen cloths were laid on the mensa; the cerecloth, the coarse
linen and the fair linen.
Altar rails were not used until after the Reformation. William Ladd
as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1634 insisted that the altar to protect it from
irreverence. It became custom during the thirteenth century that the altar rails be used
for receiving Holy Communion.. It should be noted that for a thousand years standing is
the normal posture for receiving Holy Communion. The altara rails form a screen that
separated the sanctuary from the choir and nave.
A Greek term defining the structure, often approached by a flight of
steps and surrounded a parapet. It was used for reading of the gospel at the Eucharist and
was usually larger than the medieval pulpit. The ambo could accommodate the reader as well
Antependium (Fall, Pulpit Hanging or Frontal, Lecturn Hanging or
Hangings refer to the variety of items found somewhere other than
the altar in a church. Originally the Antependia (the plural form of antependium) were one
part of the materials designated as paraments, the items hung from the altar, pulpit and
lectern. As the list of items defined as paraments grew smaller, the term became a virtual
synonym for parament although some people have suggested that the term should be
restricted only to those hangings not found on the altar.
The apse is a semi-circular structure roofed with a half dome. It
can project beyond the east or west end or be enclosed by a wall providing side chambers.
Banners are used to employ colors and symbols to highlight the day
or season being celebrated. Banners, by nature, are meant to be carried in a procession
rather than to be a permanent fixture.
This is a term used for the decorative book markers used in the
Bible on the lectern or, less frequently, the pulpit. These altar hangings (usually used
as a pair, although using only one is possible, as is using one or two without using the
Bible) might be the only parament, or in addition to a fall. They might be any width from
an inch and a half to about four inches wide. They usually have a drop about as long as
the drop of a fall. Most often these paraments are not actually used to mark the place
readings in the Bible; ribbons are usually used. This parament is usually in the
The bier is the carriage on which the coffin ids placed in the
Burse and Veil (or Chalice Veil)
The veil is used to cover the eucharistic vessels which remain on
the altar during the part of the service when they are not in use. The burse is a
book-like item which holds the veil, corporal, purificators and other eucharistic linens
when they are removed from the eucharistic vessels or as the elements are being carried to
and from the altar, especially in a procession.
Candles are among the oldest ornaments of worship. In ancient times
they provided light for reading but today they only have symbolic value. In the most basic
sense, they symbolize Christ as the Light of the World (John 8:12; 12:46). Two candles are
usually placed on the altar to represent the divine and human natures of Christ and are
known as the eucharistic lights. The candles may also be placed on the retable. Additional
candles (three on each side) are often used.
The cassock is a type of liturgical undergarment over which
vestments are worn. Cassocks are usually black and are fitted from the waist up.
The cere-cloth is covered with wax so that the dampness of the stone
mensa would not destroy the coarse linen and fine linen. The cere-cloth cushions the altar
so that the eucharistic vessels can be placed securely as well as covering up the
carpentry of the altar. The cere-cloth is made in the exact dimensions of the mensa and
must never overhang the ends of the altar.
The chalice is the vessel or cup that holds the wine for Holy
Communion. Chalice comes from the Latin calix and was the vessel used by Jesus for wine at
the institution of the Eucharist. The use of the chalice by the laity and exclusive use by
the ordained began in the twelfth century which was officially confirmed by the Council of
Constance in 1415. The Reformation brought about the restoration of the Chalice to the
The term chancel is derived from the Latin cancellus and originally
referred to that part of a church which was reserved for the officiating clergy and was
divided from the rest of the building by low screens. In this sense it is synonymous with
the first meaning of sanctuary. The chancel is technically the area in which the clergy
and choir officiate but is commonly held as the area where the clergy officiates. The
chancel includes the sanctuary and is usually raised above the floor of the nave by a few
steps. The chancel is known as the east end of the church regardless of how the church is
orientated. The chancel includes the choir and the sanctuary.
The chasuble is a loose vestment with neck aperture and worn over
the alb. It is worn at the celebration of the Eucharist and on other occasions. The
chasuble usually follows the liturgical color scheme.
The part of the church between the nave and the sanctuary.
The vessel with a lid that is used for the storage of bread or
wafers for Holy Communion.
The cincture is a band of cloth used with a cassock and is tied
around the middle of the body - a belt of cloth.
The coarse linen is placed on top of the cerecloth. The coarse linen
has no liturgical significance and is only used to attach the frontal and to maintain
Communion Table Scarf (Table Runner)
Imagine a two-sided altar cover which does not have a drop off the
front of the mensa. This is a perfect description of this hanging.
A cope is a long cape usually worn on high festivals such as a
procession, ordination, installation or confirmation.
The corporal is derived from the Latin corpus and is a square of
linen about twenty inches square which is spread on the center of the mensa before or at
the time of the offertory on which the bread and wine are set. After the administration of
Holy Communion there is a second corporal or veil to cover the chalice and paten. These
two corporals are derived from one very large cloth, known as the palla corporalis, which
in the early centuries was used as corporal and drawn up over the chalice.
Crosses were used as early as the fourth century for processions;
the use of crosses on the altar were introduced much later during the Middle Ages. The
processional cross was usually placed in a socket next to the altar but, for free-standing
altars, the processional cross was usually placed behind the altar.
Cruet is derived from the French cruette and refers to the vessels
used to contain the wine or water for the Eucharist. Cruets are now usually made of glass
with a lip or mounting of precious metal, they were originally made of a base-metal such
as pewter or else silver.
A crypt is an underground vaulted chamber. Crypts developed from the
early Christian catacombs, used for burial and worship. Later, Christian churches were
often built over tombs of martyrs and saints, and the term crypt was applied to the
underground chapel that enclosed the tombs. Eventually the crypt ceased to serve this
function and was expanded to include the entire area under the choir. It was connected by
staircases with the choir and nave and became an important part of Romanesque and Gothic
church architecture, sometimes serving as a lower church.
Dalmatic or Tunicle
A dalmatic or tunicle is a vestment similar to an alb but shorter
worn by ordained ministers assisting ministers during eucharistic celebrations. A dalmatic
is more ornate than a tunic.
Dossal or Dorsal
The dossal is a large cloth which hangs behind the altar to cover
the otherwise bare east wall of the church. Sometimes this cloth is found in liturgical
colors, but is more often simply a wall covering and, as such, is not changed as the
paraments are changed.
The drop is the distance from the edge of the mensa to the bottom of
the altar hanging on the altar (including any fringe that is used). Other hangings also
have a drop (which is a similar measurement of the amount of material which hangs down and
is visible to the congregation). The drop of an altar hanging is usually (but not always)
less than the length of the altar hanging. This difference allows for a substantial amount
of material which will serve to counterbalance the weight of the hanging when it is used.
If this extra material is not included, a pocket for a metal weight or hanging rod is
often used to allow the parament to be anchored when in use. The drop is a very important
figure to remember when determining the position for adesign on the parament.
The fair linen is symbolical of that linen with which the women
wrapped the body of Jesus in the tomb. The fair linen is always of the best material and
the altar cloth on which embroidery is placed. The fair linen must never hang over the
front of the altar nor must there never be any kind of lace on it. The fair linen hangs
over the sides of the altar at least 18" but never closer to the floor than 6".
There are five crosses embroidered on the portion on the fair linen that lies on the
mensa. One cross in the center with the other four crosses at the corners.
A storage vessel usually made of metal from which wine is poured
into the chalice for Holy Communion.
Flowers are a symbol of our joy in Christ as well as our human
frailty. Flower vases are places on the retable or on floor standards at the sides of the
altar. They are never properly placed on the mensa.
The font is the place where water is placed for baptisms. The font
is not part of the chancel furnishings. The font is usually placed at the dividing line
between the chancel and the nave or in a "bapistry" or special small chapel
reserved for baptisms located at the main entrance of the church.
Frontal (Full Frontal)
A frontal is an altar hangings for the altar with a drop equal to
the distance from the mensa to the floor (actually the altar hangings is usually slightly
shorter than this to avoid getting it dirty from resting on the floor). This parament is
usually in the liturgical color, but is sometimes made of a material which includes all
the liturgical colors (and used with a series of superfrontals in the liturgical colors).
The frontal usually hangs only over the front of the altar, but see Jacobean or Laudian
frontal. Traditionally this altar hanging is suspended from the bottom of the mensa by
some means such as a rod or a series of hooks. In this case a superfrontal is used to hide
the means of hanging the frontal. This hanging is also known as a full frontal because it
covers the entire front of the altar. Sometimes the word frontal is applied (incorrectly)
to any altar hanging used on the altar.
Frontlet (Altar Stoles)
The frontlet is a short covering which hangs in front of the altar.
It usually does not hang more than ten inches including any fringe. The frontlet is not
the same a superfrontal.
A gallery is a platform or balcony projecting from the interior wall
of a building. They provided space for worshipers where the nave was occupied with clergy
for the performance of liturgy and, in the East, enabled women to be segregated from the
In post-Reformation churches, galleries were built on the west end
and used for singers. in auditory churches the galleries enables large numbers of
worshipers to be as close as possible to the minister.
The lecturn is a structure (stand) from which lessons are read in
worship. The lecturn is usually placed on the dividing line between the chancel and the
The mensa is the top of the altar.
The book stand on which the altar book is placed.
The narthex is the place where people wait before services. Its form
is that of a porch or vestibule closed to the exterior but opening into the nave.
The nave is the body of the church, usually separated from the
aisles or wings by pillars and is derived from the Latin navis. The nave is where the
The pall is the linen which covers the chalice; palla corporis. The
pall is also a covering for the coffin during a funeral service.
A word commonly used to designate the frontlet of the altar and
other altar hangings which may decorate the pulpit or lectern.
The paschal candle is a large white candle symbolizing the
resurrection of Christ. It is lit for the Easter season, Baptisms and funerals.
The paten was the dish used by Jesus for the consecrated bread. The
paten today is used for wafer-bread or unleavened bread during Holy Communion.
Seating in the nave was not practiced for many centuries as the
worshippers usually stood. This is still the practice in Eastern churches.
In the West, seating was gradually introduced in the nave from about
the 13th century. The seats were at first backless benches arranged in groups. After the
Reformation, backs and sides were added to screen the occupants, and the nave was filled.
In the 19th century the high cubicles were replaced with the bench-seat of today.
The pulpit is where the Word of God is preached and is usually
placed at the dividing line between the chancel and the nave.
The purificator is a square linen napkin used to clean the rim of
the chalice during the distribution of Holy Communion.
The pyx is a receptacle used for housing the consecrated elements of
bread, and sometimes wine, outside of the time of the celebration of the liturgy. The use
of the pyx was the custom in the 1st century for sick who could not be present during
worship. Also during the first three centuries the congregation did take home portions of
the consecrated Eucharist for use during the week for services at home; this custom was
abandoned in the 4th century due to abuse
The retable is a step or shelf at the rear of the mensa on which the
altar cross, candlesticks and flowers are placed.
The rood is another name for the crucifix. A rood-beam is a beam
across the entrance to the choir on which there is a crucifix. A rood screen is a screen
with a rood on it, separating the nave from the choir.
The sacristy is a small room off the chancel where the altar ware,
linens, paraments, vestments, etc. are stored.
The sanctuary is area in which the altar stands. The floor on which
the altar stands is known as the footpace.
The sedilia are the chairs provided for the worship leaders.
The screen is an open carved wood work that separated the nave from
A narrow band of material worn by the minister as a badge of his
office and symbolizes the yoke of obedience to Christ. The stole is decorated with symbols
and follows the liturgical color scheme.
A superfontal is a frontal that does not extend to the floor.
The surplice is a white, full-sleeved vestment worn over the
cassock. They are at least knee length.
A tower is a structure attached to the church building that contains
one or more bells.
The trancept is the cross-arm sections of a church that are at a
right angle to the nave. Not all churches have trancepts.
A veil is a curtain drawn before the altar at certain points in the
liturgy in lesser Eastern churches such as Armenian and Coptic. The veil has been
eliminated in the Eastern Orthodox church with the development of the solid iconostasis.
In the west, the veil became a curtain drawn across the sanctuary to
shroud the altar from the congregation during Lent. In modern times it is only customary
to cover pictures and crossed during Lent.
A veil is also a linen placed over sacramental vessels before and
after Holy Communion..
A garment worn by the minister.
The vestry is the room where the minister vests.
This information is Copyright
© 1998, by Christ the
King Lutheran Church, Windsor, CT
Documents may be reproduced for use in your congregation as
long as the copyright notice appears on each copy.