Explanation of the Mass - Definitions & Terms of Items Used During Mass

Through a series of informational articles, we will try to explain terms, prayers, and actions that happen at Mass and why they happen.  You will learn about the prayers the priest prays silently during Mass, as well as the people’s parts.  References to GIRM in italics refer to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the book from which rites related to the Mass are codified.  We hope this information will help to make your participation in Mass more meaningful and understandable.

Alb – a white linen garment, reaching from the neck to the feet, worn by the principal clergy at liturgical functions.  The alb is a symbol of the purity of soul that should be present at the celebration of the Mass.  It is also a baptismal garment, referring to the Baptism of the one wearing it.

Altar – the table on which the central sacrifice of the Eucharist is offered during the Mass.  The altar is the heart of the church building because it is around the altar that the People of God gather to receive the Bread of life, the Eucharist.

Ambo/Lectern – A fixed, elevated platform from which the Scriptures are proclaimed at Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours.  The homily and general intercessions are also frequently offered at the ambo.

Chalice – A sacred vessel that holds the wine to be consecrated during the Eucharistic prayer.  A chalice is blessed by a bishop of priest, setting it apart for liturgical use.

Chasuble – The sleeveless outer vestment worn over the alb by priests and bishops during the celebration of the Mass.  Symbolizing the all-encompassing love of God, the chasuble covers the entire body.  It generally matches the color of the liturgical season the Church is in or feast day being celebrated.

Ciborium – A sacred vessel that is used to hold the Eucharistic hosts which are distributed to the faithful during Communion.

Corporal – A small, white linen cloth, upon which the Eucharistic species (bread & wine) rests during Mass.  All sacred vessels that hold the Blessed Sacrament must be placed on the corporal, to ensure that no fragments of the Eucharist are lost.

Credence table – A small, moveable table, located off to the side of the altar, which holds the necessary items for liturgical functions, particularly the Mass, such as the chalice, basin, and finger cloth and towel.

Crucifix – A cross with an image of Christ’s body on it (corpus).  Symbolic of the Passion and death of Christ, it is used in public and private devotions.

Cruets – small glass jars containing wine and water used for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Dalmatic – The outer vestment worn by a deacon that matches the color of the liturgical season or feast day being celebrated.

Holy Water – The blessed water, normally found just inside the entrance of the church, which is used to make the sign of the cross.  Holy water is a powerful reminder of the sacrament of Baptism and is frequently used in blessings as a sign of the Lord’s loving care.

Lectionary – The liturgical book containing the Scripture readings that are proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word at Mass.

Pall – a square of linen stiffened with starch, cardboard or plastic set upon the sacred chalice to protect the sacred Blood of Christ from being contaminated by dust or insects.  The term is also used for the white cloth placed over a casket at a funeral.

Paschal (Easter) Candle – A large, ornamented candle which is first lit during the Easter Vigil Mass.  The Paschal candle is one of the primary symbols of the risen Christ and remains lit throughout the fifty days of the Easter season.  After Pentecost, it is used during Baptism and funeral liturgies as a reminder of the centrality of the Paschal Mystery in the Christian life.

Paten – A thin, round, flat metal vessel used to hold the large Eucharistic host during the Mass.

Processional Cross – A portable crucifix, mounted on a staff, which is carried in front of liturgical processions.

Purificator – A small, white, linen cloth, usually marked with a cross in the center, which is used to wipe the rim of the chalice following the reception of the Precious Blood and to clean the sacred vessels after Holy Communion.

Pyx – A small sacred vessel that is used to privately carry the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and homebound.

Roman Missal – The large book used by the celebrant that contains the prayers, directives, and rubrics for the celebration of the Mass.

Sanctuary – The area at the front or center of church where the altar, ambo/lectern, and chairs for those serving in the liturgy are located.

Stole – A liturgical vestment worn at all sacramental celebrations and at various prayer services.   The stole consists of a long, narrow strip of cloth several inches wide that is worn around the neck by priests and bishops and from the left shoulder like a sash by deacons.  The color of the stole corresponds to particular prescribed colors of the liturgical season or feast day.

Tabernacle – The shrine located in churches, chapels, and oratories that serves as a place for the exclusive reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.  The tabernacle is always to be solid, immovable, and located in a prominent place.

Thurible/Censer – The metal vessel wherein incense is added (from an incense boat) to burning coals which produce rising, sweet-smelling smoke.

If there are any other terms that you may have heard and not understood, just send an email to [email protected]