The St Michael’s Glossary has been compiled with suggestions from our members, wider community, visitors and friends. Concise definitions and explanations of technical church terms have been provided by the late Canon John A Thurmer, and supplemented by Richard Barnes. Canon Thurmer had served as an Honorary Assistant Priest at St Michael’s for several decades, and also compiled the Usage of St Michael’s and was co-editor of The Consuetudinary with Richard W Parker. We hope these Glossary definitions help to illuminate some of the perhaps less familiar language used at St Michael’s and in other similar churches. If you have a word or term you would like to see added to this Glossary, please contact us. Read more about Canon John Thurmer and Richard W Parker in our history pages.


  • O Lamb of God; a prayer to Christ accompanying the breaking of the Eucharistic Bread.

  • A plain long white close-fitting linen or cotton garment worn with or without a girdle.

  • The table where Mass is celebrated.

  • A neck cloth or small hood.

  • A brief devotion for dawn, midday and sunset, telling in 3 short sentences the coming of Christ, with Hail Mary, the words to her from the angel Gabriel and her cousin Elizabeth, as a refrain. The request for Mary’s prayers was only added to the biblical words by the Roman church’s Council of Trent after the Reformation. During Eastertide, the hymn Regina coeli (Queen of heaven) replaces the Angelus.

  • Latin word for English, used to describe the members and style of the Church of England in recent centuries, and of churches throughout the world with that style.

  • A fellowship of national and local churches, in communion with each other and the Church of England.

  • In the Church of England, valuing what is inherited from the church before the Reformation, and/or aspects of the modern Roman Catholic Church.

  • Began as questions to which baptism candidates must give assent (Do you believe?).

  • Strips of coloured cloth added to the amice for the hood or to the skirt and cuffs of the alb.

  • From Latin verb to sprinkle, blessing worshippers with holy water before Sunday Mass.


  • A personal and indelible mark of belonging to Christ.

  • Latin for blessing; a spoken formula usually at the end of a service; also a devotion, containing hymns, responses, prayer and meditation, in which the consecrated Bread of the Sacrament is gestured over the worshippers (in silence) in the form of a cross.

  • Blessed is he (Psalm 118) added to the Sanctus and concluding with a repeat of the Hosanna, or alternatively the Song of Zechariah (Luke 1 v 68) used at Matins, a form of Morning Prayer.

  • A formal cap for clergy; other forms of cap, not restricted to clergy, are the academic square cap or mortar-board, the Canterbury cap and the doctor’s bonnet.

  • The senior ordained order, successors of the Apostles, with general oversight and the power of ordination (adjective is episcopal).

  • Vague by name and nature, nowadays the inclusion of different views and practices within one organisation.

  • Wallet or purse-like container for Linen used with the chalice and patten at Mass.


  • Stands for Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, a society founded in 1862 to encourage a mass in every parish every Sunday, something which could not then be taken for granted. The local CBS branch holds a monthly mass at St Michael’s.

  • The title of a priest in a joint or shared ministry (usually in a Cathedral); the canons together are called a Chapter and their chairman is a Dean. The Bishop appoints up to four Canons to work daily at the cathedral and some to honour senior parish priest with a connection to the cathedral; canons retain their title after retirement.

  • Long clerical coat over which vestments are worn; choristers and servers may also wear cassocks

  • The building chosen to be the mother Church of a Diocese, containing the cathedra (chair) of the bishop; the CofE has 43 of them.

  • Greek work meaning ‘universal’ as distinct from local.

  • The cup for the wine of the Mass.

  • A loose cover for the chalice, often decorated to match the burse and vestments.

  • Eastern part of the church building often marked off by a screen and/or steps, and originally legally separate from the rest of the church (nave and aisles); from Victorian times the usual place for singers (and organ).

  • The outer garment of the celebrant, originally circular with an opening for the head; now found in various styles with contrasting bands of material back and/or front, often in cross form called orphrey, or other symbolic decoration.

  • Other words for chancel, or may describe the singers. In Exeter Cathedral usage, choir is the singers and quire is the architectural space, but not everybody follows this usage.

  • The company of Christian believers; also the building in which they worship.

  • A lay officer elected by all householders/residents of a parish, and sharing legal powers with the parish priest.

  • A cup-shaped vessel with a lid for holding communion bread.

  • Collective noun to describe members of the Christian church set aside by ordination to minister to all. The singular is cleric, clergyman or clerk in holy orders; clerk reminds us that in the past they were the section of the community that could read and write. In traditional churches there are three orders of the clergy.

  • Before the reception of the Sacrament by priest and people.

  • Several priests acting together with one President, often for a Festival.

  • Also known as the Summary Ordinal, outlines the particular forms and ceremonies in use throughout the year at St Michael's.

  • A coloured cloak fastened at the front, usable in principle by anybody to give extra dignity.

  • Linen cloth on which the chalice and patten are placed on the altar.

  • A cut-down form of surplice edged with lace according to taste, often worn by servers.

  • A table or sideboard from which to serve the altar.

  • Latin Credo, I believe; a form of words defining faith in God.

  • Ceremonial staff used by bishops (and some other dignitaries) in the form of a shepherd’s crook (bishop) or a cross (archbishop).

  • The primary symbol of the Christian faith from c. AD 200 (the earliest followers of Jesus preferred the fish symbol). The Crucifix is a depiction of the crucifixion of Christ, while an empty Cross can signify Resurrection. A large crucifix high across the central axis of a church is known by the Old English term rood. A processional cross is carried by a crucifer.

  • Vessels holding wine (before consecration) and water.


  • Morning Prayer (Mat(t)ins or Nocturns and Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers or Evensong) are the daily offices of the Church of England.

  • The tunic-like outer garment of the first assistant at high mass, the gospeller, at least a deacon.

  • Greek for servant or minister; the lowest order of the clergy.

  • The “monarch” of the diocese (e.g. Bishop of Exeter for the county of Devon); like a modern monarch, their power is qualified by law and custom.

  • The Divine Office (Latin: Officium Divinum) or Liturgy of the Hours (Latin: Liturgia Horarum) or Opus Dei ("Work of God") are a set of Catholic prayers comprising the canonical hours, often also referred to as the breviary, of the Latin Church. The Liturgy of the Hours forms the official set of prayers "marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer."


  • From a Greek word Oecumene meaning worldwide; used to describe an interest in, and a desire for the unity of, divided Christians.

  • Churches organised by dioceses, with a threefold ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.

  • Greek for thanksgiving, another term for Mass


  • A larger vessel for wine which may be used for consecration.

  • A provincial episcopal visitor (PEV), popularly known as a flying bishop, is a Church of England bishop assigned to minister to many of the clergy, laity and parishes who on grounds of theological conviction, "are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests". The system by which such bishops oversee certain churches is referred to as alternative episcopal oversight (AEO).


  • Gloria in excelsis Deo; Glory to God in the highest; an additional opening acclamation for festivals (including most Sundays); begins with the song of the angels at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2 v 14).

  • Up the steps, to the place where the Gospel was read) sung between the Readings, and including Alleluia except during penitential seasons


  • A cushion for kneeling on in church; may be plain or embroidered

  • Sung, with incense, the priest or bishop celebrant formally assisted by two other robed ministers, the Gospeller (at least a deacon) and the Epistoler (who may be lay).

  • Until about 1840, a political expression of enthusiasm for the monarchy and/or bishops. After 1840, as variations appear in church services, it means use of colour, movements, vestments, candles and incense; hence a variant of Anglo-Catholic.

  • Familiar but inexact terms relating to the Church of England.

  • A service where the central act is receiving the Bread and Wine.

  • A shawl worn when carrying the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass; especially during Benediction.


  • Greek for image, especially of a holy person or event painted (“written”) on a flat surface, as in the style and tradition of the Orthodox churches.

  • He goes in; at the Entrance of the priest and servers.


  • Also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth, he is the central figure of Christianity, held to be the Son of God, truly human and truly divine.


  • Kyrie eleison, not Latin but the Greek in which the New Testament of the Bible was written; used untranslated as a sign of continuity; translates as “Lord have mercy (upon us)”, but is a cry of greeting and an opportunity for music.


  • Collective noun for the general body of non-ordained Christians, often as contrasted with the clergy.

  • Latin for “I will wash” (Psalm 24 v6), the washing of the celebrant’s fingers before the consecration in the mass; in the old Latin service the psalm was recited quietly.

  • Now rare except at midday and late evening, they are Prime (1st hour; 6am), Tierce (3rd hour; 9am), Sext (6th hour; noon), Nones (9th hour; 3pm) and Compline (night prayer; late evening).

  • A series of prayers or petitions for use in church services or processions, usually recited by the clergy or a cantor and responded to in a recurring formula by the people. Thomas Cranmer’s Litany of 1544, the first published in English, is used on the first Sunday of Advent and Lent.

  • Vestments and altar linen may vary in the dominant colour according to the occasion. Colour sequences begin in about 1300, the earliest known being from Exeter Cathedral. A widely-used sequence is that of the Roman church from about 1600 – white or gold for great festivals, red for the Holy Spirit and martyrs, purple for Advent and Lent, black for the departed, and green for ordinary use. A widespread old English use was unbleached linen in Lent, this “Lenten array” being a form of sackcloth. Following an old tradition, St Michael’s uses rose on Advent 3 (Gaudete Sunday) and Lent 4 (Laetare/Mothering Sunday).

  • Word meaning Duty, and used more widely for all acts of worship.

  • Said by one priest without music.

  • Uninterested in, or opposed to, the ceremonial and organisation of the church.


  • A cloth on the left wrist, originally practical (like a waiter), then decorated like a stole, but recently abolished by the Roman church.

  • The Lord’s Service or Supper; I Corinthians 11 vv 23-25; an old word to describe it, derived from Latin ending of the service “Ite missa est”, “Be dismissed” ; a word disliked by some Christians since the Reformation, but still used in words like Christmas and Michaelmas.

  • Bishop’s ceremonial headdress; in various styles and colours.

  • Vessel designed to display a large wafer of consecrated bread; used for processions (e.g. Corpus Christi) and Benediction.


  • Vestibule at the west end (entrance) to the church building.

  • Credal formula agreed by the Council of Nicaea in AD 325; it was added to the Mass as an act of worship much later and its use is limited to Sundays and certain festivals


  • At the offering and preparation of the bread and wine.

  • Greek word meaning right belief; Eastern (e.g. Greek, Russian) and Oriental (e.g. Syrian, Coptic) branches of the Church derived from the ancient Patriarchates of Byzantium, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria, as distinct from Rome.

  • Beginning in Oxford in 1833 with Keble, Pusey and Newman, it argued for the reinstatement of lost older Christian traditions of faith, and their inclusion in Anglican liturgy and theology.


  • A folded corporal or square of stiffened material laid on the chalice to keep flies etc. out of the wine.

  • A geographical subdivision of the diocese; the priest in charge is a Rector (ruler) or Vicar (deputy). These terms relate to the old church land-tax called the tithe, but this was abolished in the20th century so there is now no practical difference between these titles. The parish priest used to be called the Parson (same word as person) or Curate (having the cure/care of souls) but curate now usually means an assistant minister or one in training.

  • Now said or sung by the People are known by their first word in Latin (as also the Psalms in the Book of Common Prayer); see Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei & Propers.

  • The plate for the bread of the Mass.

  • A species of Falcon (bird of prey or raptor), from the Latin peregrinus meaning wanderer or pilgrim; St Michael's has a breeding pair resident on our spire.

  • The style of church music used for many centuries, with one line of melody only (unison), still used for Propers, Vespers etc.; the gradual development of harmony leads to Russian Orthodox chant in the East, while the further developments of imitation and elaboration in the West lead to the whole edifice of 6 centuries of church music from Palestrina to Paul Mealor.

  • The 4 items sung responsorial, led by cantor(s) and answered by choir and congregation; see Introit, Gradual, Offertory & Communion.

  • With a bishop as celebrant, often for a Festival.

  • Churches governed by Ministers and Elders of a group of congregations.

  • A shortened form of presbyter, the Greek for elder, but generally translated as those who offer sacrifices (Latin, sacerdotes).

  • The selection of readings, psalms and prayers for any particular occasion, especially the words (usually selected from the Psalms) accompanying the actions of the Mass.

  • Word originating in the German lands about 1530; it becomes a general term in western Christendom for Christian believers not accepting the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

  • Napkin for wiping fingers and the chalice.

  • A small locket-like container for carrying the sacrament to the sick.


  • Also know as the Athanasian Creed, a statement of belief focused on Trinitarian doctrine and Christology. Probably formulated in the 5th century following St Augustine’s “On the Trinity”. An English translation “Whosoever will be saved...” is printed in the Book of Common Prayer.


  • The hymn (Hail, Queen of heaven) is used in place of the Angelus during Eastertide.

  • The structure or ornament behind an altar.

  • On the Sunday before Ascension, processing around Mount Dinham, we pray God to bless our work and the fruits of the Earth in their seasons.

  • Acknowledging the Bishop of Rome (Pope) as the divinely-appointed head of the universal church


  • A room for vesting and preparation also called a vestry.

  • The (holy) area around the altar, usually enclosed (in Anglican churches) by communion rails.

  • Holy, Holy, Holy; goes back to the vision of Isaiah chapter 6; it has always been used as the climax of the thanksgiving in the Mass.

  • The sounding of a bell or bells at the Sanctus and consecration of the elements of bread and wine was originally to inform people in the nave or outside the church of these key points when the Mass was said quietly and in Latin by their priest in the sanctuary; the practice continues to alert worshippers to these sacred moments in the Mass.

  • Seats for the ministers of the Mass, usually on the south side of the sanctuary.

  • A lay person, usually robed, assisting the priest at mass; corresponding to acolyte (attendant) in the past when there were minor orders in the clergy below deacon.

  • The particular music chosen and sung on any occasion; it will often reflect the Feast or season, being flamboyant with organ or even orchestral accompaniment for Christmas, Easter or other special occasions, but unaccompanied and austere for Lent and Holy Week.

  • A strip of seasonally coloured material now indicating clerical rank, across one shoulder for deacon, over both for priest.

  • They have territorial titles (here, Crediton and Plymouth); they work under the direction of their diocesan bishop; there may also be assistant bishops, often retired from full-time office elsewhere.

  • A full ungirded form of the alb, originally made to cover furs and other layers worn for warmth, also worn over a cassock by robed choir members.


  • Cupboard to keep the consecrated (“reserved”) sacrament for the sick and for devotion; if not over the altar it is called an aumbry.

  • A pot suspended on chains for incense, which is the aromatic gum from certain trees; burnt on hot charcoal it gives off scented smoke and swinging stimulated the effect. Originally carried as a mark of honour in front of a person or procession; when a person or object is stationary it is swung towards them (censing). The person operating the thurible is called the thurifer.

  • From the Latin trifolium, three-leaved, a shape of window or opening useful at the apex of architectural features and symbolising the Trinity.

  • The Christian revelation and understanding of Deity as three Persons in one God; defined in Creeds and experienced and prayed to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  • Like the dalmatic but slightly plainer, for the second assistant, often a layperson, anciently the sub-deacon, a minor order abolished in the Church of England in 1548 and at Rome in 1972.


  • Action of anointing someone with oil or ointment as a religious rite or as a symbol of investiture as a monarch.


  • A church caretaker, sometimes with ceremonial duties with a rod of office (virga), so at Exeter cathedral they are called virgers.

  • Latin for clothes, the dress of the priest is “best clothes” of about AD 400, used for continuity and tradition. Symbolic meanings are later developments. Vestments and robes add visual beauty to our worship, lend authority and emphasise the function, rather than the personality, of the priest and their assistants.

  • An adjective describing an action accompanied by a vow or prayer, e.g. a votive candle lit to indicate a prayer, or a votive mass said for a particular intercession or commemoration.


  • Acts of worship other than the Mass are called Services or Offices (from words meaning “duty”); hymns, antiphons, psalms, readings and prayers are used in varying combinations.


  • Not, as often thought, a secular abbreviation for Christmas, but a valid usage when the X represents the first letter Chi of the Greek word Christos, hence also the Chi-rho symbol found in Dorset’s Hinton St Mary 4th century Roman mosaic of Christ.


  • English version of the Hebrew name of God revealed to Moses as YHWH, also Latinised as Jehovah. Since the name was considered by Jews too holy to be spoken, its pronunciation is unknown.

  • The custom of praying for deceased members and benefactors of the church on the anniversary of their death.


  • Alternative name, derived from Hebrew, for Jerusalem, as in the second verse of the Advent hymn “Wake, O wake!” Nicolai/Bach, “Zion hears the watchmen shouting”.