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Introduction to Episcopal Terminology

Following are some of the terms used in and around the Episcopal church. Some of them are commonly used and some of them aren’t. There are more, but they are the quite archaic ones. The national Episcopal church has a glossary of terms which is a lot more complete, 133 pages worth.  Do you have a defiition you would like added? Email the office


Sacraments (Services and Rites)

  • Baptism: Initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the church.

  • Confirmation: The adult affirmation of our baptismal vows.

  • Eucharist: The sacrament of Christ's body and blood, and the principal act of Christian worship. Also called Holy Communion, Mass, Divine Liturgy, Lord's Supper, or Great Thanksgiving.

  • Matrimony: Christian marriage.

  • Ordination: The action of ordaining or conferring holy orders on someone.

  • Reconciliation: Confession and absolution with a priest. (Most commonly done in a general confession by the congregation when Eucharist is celebrated.) Also called Reconciliation of a Penetent or confession.

  • Unction: Anointing those who are sick or dying with holy oil. Also called Healing.

Other Actions

  • Anointing: Sacramental use of oil as an outward sign of God's active presence for healing, initiation, or ordination.

  • Asperges: The liturgical practice of sprinkling with holy water as a reminder of baptism. The asperges may be done after the Renewal of Baptismal Vows at the Easter Vigil.

  • Aspersion: A means of baptism in which the candidate is sprinkled with water.

  • Collect: A prayer which gathers people together around the theme for a particular liturgy.

  • Compline: An evening service to end the day; although the service is an old Christian usage, it has only recently been added to the Prayerbook of the Episcopal Church.


Church Clothing/Vestments

  • Alb: The white robe worn by the priest when celebrating communion; generally worn over daily clothes but under other vestments.

  • Amice: a square white cloth connected to two long ribbon-like attachments by which it is fastened. The garment is draped over the shoulders with the ribbons crossed over the chest, brought around to the back, and then brought forward again to be tied in front around the waist. Many priests choose to wear the amice for reasons of tradition or to prevent damage to their other vestments due to perspiration.

  • Aumbry: See Tabernacle.

  • Cappa Nigra: A heavy black robe worn for graveside services in inclement weather.

  • Cassock: A long black robe worn by clergy and occasionally lay assistants at non-Eucharistic services, such as Morning Prayer.

  • Chasuble: A sleeveless outer vestment worn by the celebrant during the Eucharist, the chasuble may be oval or oblong with an opening for the head. It typically reflects the liturgical color of the day.

  • Chimere: A loose sleeveless robe worn by Anglican bishops over the rochet.

  • Cincture: A cord or sash that serves as a belt for an alb or cassock; a girdle. 

  • Collar: A stiff round shirt collar worn by Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Orthodox, and some Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and other clergy; widely regarded as a sign or identifying mark of clerical status.

  • Cope: A ceremonial cloak, semicircular, richly ornamented, with a clasp in front and a hood or hood-like appendage in back, worn over the alb (or rochet) and stole.

  • Cotta: The short white robe worn over a cassock.

  • Crozier: A symbol of the governing office of the bishop. Many see the crozier as symbolic of a shepherd’s crook.

  • Dalmatic: A long one piece garment with sleeves and two embroidered bars, one across the chest and one across the knees, worn at the Eucharist by deacons or priests exercising their diaconal role in the service.

  • Girdle: See cincture.

  • Hood: An academic drapery hanging in back denoting the education of the wearer (usually clergy and musicians).

  • Maniple: A band of cloth in the color of the Liturgical season worn over the left forearm by some clergy at the Eucharist (but removed when they preach).

  • Miter/mitre: The liturgical hat or head dress of a bishop.

  • Rochet: A vestment of white linen or similar material and is generally used only by bishops (long sleeve shirt goes to floor). It has long sleeves that often end in ruffles or pleated cuffs. It usually is worn under a chimere.

  • Scapular: A sleeveless garment that hangs from the shoulders to the ankles. The term is derived from the Latin for "shoulder-blades." The scapular is a wide band of material, usually black, with an opening for the head. It forms part of the regular monastic habit for many religious orders. It is typically worn over a cassock or other similar garment. In some churches, a scapular is worn by servers or members of the choir. 

  • Stole: A long, narrow strip of cloth worn around the neck of the priest and allowed to hang down the front of the clerical vestments.

  • Surplice: A white over-garment worn over other vestments; somewhat longer and fuller than a cotta; always worn by the priest when celebrating the eucharist.

  • Tippet: A stole worn by clergy over surplice and cassock at the Daily Offices.

  • Tunical: A version of the dalmatic (see above) worn at the Eucharist by sub-deacons.


Items on or around the Altar involved with Eucharist

  • Altar: The structure where the offerings are presented and the elements of bread and wine are consecrated in the Eucharist.

  • Altar cloth: A rectangular white cloth that covers the altar for the celebration of Mass.

  • Boat: A container for incense used to refill the thurible.

  • Burse: A small pouch in the color of the liturgical season that sits atop the chalice stack and holds a corporal and a spare purificator.

  • Chalice: The cup at communion. Usually silver except in Lent when they are usually ceramic or glass to be less ornate.

  • Corporal: A square cloth placed on the altar beneath the chalice and pate.

  • Credence table: A small side table in the sanctuary which is used in the celebration of the Eucharist. and contains the implements that are used in the Eucharistic celebration.

  • Cruets: Glass or silver vessels which hold the water and wine to be consecrated for the Eucharist.

  • Fair Linen: A large white linen cloth which covers the top of the altar, hanging down the sides.

  • Flagon: A pitcher that holds water or wine foor use  in the  Eucharist.

  • Frontal: An altar covering in the color of the liturgical season which hangs down in the front of the altar.

  • Host: The bread consecrated in the Eucharist.

  • Lavabo: A bowl (with a pitcher) used for washing the priest's hands.

  • Pall: A square linen-covered piece of stiff, cardboard-like material which covers the chalice when it contains wine or the Blood of Christ.

  • Paten: The plate for bread at communion.

  • Purificator: A small rectangular cloth used for wiping the chalice.

  • Pyx: A small, closing golden vessel that is used to bring the Blessed Sacrament to those who cannot come to the church.

  • Sanctury Lamp: A lamp that burns by the tabernacle indicating the presence of consecrated communion hosts.

  • Tabernacle: A fixed, locked box in which the Eucharist (consecrated communion hosts) is "reserved" (stored). A container for the same purpose, which is set directly into a wall, is called an aumbry.

  • Thurible: A container for incense which hangs from a long chain which is swung by a thurifer to spread incense.

  • Torch: A large portable candle carried by acolytes flanking the cross during processions.

  • Veil: A square cloth that covers the paten and chalice until preparation of the altar for communion.



  • Acolyte: Originally a minor clerical order but now usually a lay function in the church; the acolyte assists the priest, lights and carries candles, and performs other ceremonial functions.

  • Bishop: A priest elected to provide leadership in the administration of a Diocese (of the national church in case of the Presiding Bishop), and speaking for the church on issues of concern and interest.

  • Crucifer: A person in a religious procession who bears the cross and who leads the procession into the church.

  • Deacon: A deacon is an ordained minister of the Episcopal Church called to lead church members in service to the poor, needy and oppressed. The deacon has specific ceremonial and leadership responsibilities which differ from those of a priest.

  • Eucharistic Ministers: Members of the church who serve the cup to people for communion.

  • Eucharistic Visitors: Members of the church who take the Eucharist to shut-ins and others unable to attend services.

  • Laity: The non-ordained baptised members of the church.

  • Lector: People who read the lessons during services.

  • Priest: An ordained minister having the authority to perform certain rites and administer certain sacraments.

  • Rector: A priest who has primary administrative, pastoral, and liturgical responsibilities in a parish or congregation.

  • Torch: The person who carries a torch in a procession.

  • Verger: Someone who carries a mace or ceremonial staff in procession; vergers sometimes also had responsibility for the condition of the interior of a church.

  • Vestry: Governing board of a local Episcopal church consisting of lay members, much like the board of deacons in a Baptist church; the group that usually makes basic decisions about church budget, building plans, etc.


Furniture and Building Terms

  • Ambo: A lectern, reading desk, or elevated platform from which the scripture lessons are read. The ambo may also serve as the pulpit for preaching.

  • Apse: Semicircular or polyhedral construction at the end of the chancel, containing the altar and sanctuary, and roofed with a half dome. The apse was a standard feature of the architecture of the early church.

  • Baptismal: see Font.

  • Cathedra: The special chair that a bishop sits in during a church service: The cathedra is sometimes moved to a prominent place for special occasions, as for the conferring of honorary degrees.

  • Chancel: the portion of a church between the front row of pews and the altar; usually the place the choir sits; sometimes also called the "choir". 

  • Font: A basin of water used in baptism.

  • Narthex: An enclosed space at the entry end of the nave of a church; the area just inside the front door

  • Nave: The main part of a church; the place where the congregation sits. Derived from an old word for ship; in older churches the beams of the roof resembled the beams and timbers in the sides of a ship.

  • Pulpit: a raised platform used for the sermon or homily in some churches; generally located to one side [usually the right side facing the altar] of the front of the nave, not in the center as in most protestant churches.

  • Quire: THe section at the front of a church where the choir sits.

  • Reredos: A decoration behind or above an altar, often in the form of a cross, screen, or tapestry.

  • Sacristy: The room near the altar where priests vest for the service; the room where the communion vessels and vestments are kept.

  • Sanctuary: The main part of the church.

  • Sanctus Bell: A small interior bell or attached group of bells. It is used to highlight the most sacred portions of the Eucharist.

  • Thurible: A decorative container is used for carrying and burning incense.

  • Torch: A candle mounted on a short staff.

  • Transept: In churches built in the shape of a cross, either "arm".

  • Undercroft: The downstairs parish hall beneath the church.


Other Items and Terms

  • Alms: Offerings of money and other gifts at the eucharist and at other times intended to express Christian charity for the needs of the church and the world.

  • Alms Basin: A plate, basket, or other container used to collect and present the alms given by the congregation.

  • Ampulla: A vessel or container for consecrated oils.

  • Aspergillum: Brush, branch, metal rod, or other instrument used to sprinkle holy water at the asperges.

  • Chrism: Oil used in anointing.

  • Home Communion Kit: A small portable case which contains a pyx, cruet, miniature paten, chalice, and purificator which is used to bring Reserved Sacrament to those who are ill or home-bound.

  • Offering Plate: A brass bowl or wicker basket used to receive the monetary offering during the Offertory. Also referred to as the Alms Basin.

  • Smells & Bells: A way of describing a "high" church; a church that frequently uses incense, bells, candles, chimes, vestments all together in worship services.

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