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Catholic Basics: Selected Definitions

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Catholic Basics:

Selected Definitions

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Definitions [A-B]

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 Item

Description

- A -

Ablution

"The washing of the thumbs and index-fingers of the [priest] at Mass after [Holy Communion], in order to remove any particles of the Blessed Sacrament that may be adhering thereto." (Catholic Dictionary) 

Abortion

Refers to the intentional killing of an unborn child (regardless of its age) in the womb. It is a grave sin to which the Church has attached the penalty of automatic excommunication.

"Those who give drugs causing abortions are murderers themselves, as well as those who receive the poison which kills the fetus." (St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church, c. 369 A.D.)

"Can. 1398 A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication." (1983 Code of Canon Law)

Click here for more information on abortion

Absolution

"Absolution is the sentence which the priest pronounces in the name of Jesus Christ when remitting the penitent's sins." (Catechism of Pope St. Pius X). Note: For more on this topic, try the Sacraments Section / Penance (click here)

Abstinence

Refers to the voluntary giving up of certain items. Note: For more on fasting / abstinence, click here. For fasting / abstinence reflections, click here

Act of Contrition

Prayer of sorrow for sin. Note: Click here for 'Sin / Sorrow for Sin / Mercy / Deliverance' prayers

Act of Faith

Prayer of faith. Note: Click here for 'Basic Prayers'

Act of Hope

Prayer of hope. Note: Click here for 'Basic Prayers'

Act of Love

Prayer of love. Note: Click here for 'Basic Prayers'

Actual Grace

"Actual grace is a supernatural help of God which enlightens our mind and strengthens our will to do good and to avoid evil." (Catechism of Pope St. Pius X) Note: For more information on grace, click here. For 'Grace' Reflections, click here.

Actual Sin

"Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God." (Baltimore Catechism) Note: For more information on 'Sin & Vice' click here. For Reflections on topic 'Sin', click here

Adam

The first human being created by God. At the prompting of his wife, he disobeyed God's command. The consequences of this Original Sin include death, the loss of God's grace, the transmission of the stain of Original Sin to all human beings, concupiscence, the closure of the gates of Heaven, etc. Christ - the Son of God - became Incarnate to redeem the fallen human race as a direct result of Original Sin. Note: Click here for 'Original Sin' Reflections

Advent

"The name Advent [from the Latin word 'Adventus', a coming] is applied, in the Latin Church, to that period of the year, during which the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ." (Dom Gueranger) Advent begins about four weeks before Christmas and marks the beginning of a new Church year. Note: For 'Traditional Prayers and Practices / Advent', click here. For 'Incarnation & Nativity of Christ / Christmas' Reflections, click here 

All Saints Day

"The feast (Nov. 1 in the Western church) on which are commemorated all the saints of God, canonized and uncanonized, known and unknown." (Catholic Dictionary) Note: For liturgical feasts, click here

All Souls Day

November 2*, All Souls' Day, is "[the solemn] commemoration of all the Faithful departed in which the Church, their common Mother, after being careful to celebrate with due praise her children, already rejoicing in Heaven on All Saints' Day, strives to help all those who still long in Purgatory by supplication to Christ, her Lord and Bridegroom, that they may quickly attain to the fellowship of the heavenly citizens" (Roman Martyrology) [* unless transferred, e.g. to Nov. 3]

Alleluia

"(Heb., 'Glory to Him who Is'). An expression of joy and praise found in the Psalms, heard in Heaven (Apoc. xix, 1) and introduced into every liturgical use of the Catholic Church: it is of frequent occurrence throughout the Latin liturgies." (Catholic Dictionary)

Almsgiving

"By almsgiving is meant every spiritual or corporal work of mercy." (Catechism of Pope St. Pius X) Note: For works of mercy, click here. For 'Almsgiving' Reflections, click here. For 'Good Works' Reflections, click here.

Altar

"An altar is that upon which sacrifice is offered." (Catholic Dictionary) Note: For information regarding the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass / The Holy Eucharist, click here. For 'Altars' Reflections, click here.

Altar Rail

Traditionally, an altar rail separates the sanctuary from the nave and is used by (kneeling) communicants to receive Holy Communion

'Alter Christus'

A Priest acts as an 'Alter Christus' (Latin for 'Another Christ') when performing his priestly ministry. Note: For more information, see the 'Priests & Vocations' Section

Amen

An expression of assent. May mean "so be it", "verily", "truly", etc. This term was used often by Jesus. Note: Click here for "Jesus' Emphasized Statements"

Anathema

May mean a curse or excommunication.

Angel

"Angels are bodiless spirits created to adore and enjoy God in heaven." (Baltimore Catechism) They may be ranked as follows: 1. Seraphim, 2. Cherubim, 3. Thrones, 4. Dominations (Dominions), 5. Virtues, 6. Powers, 7. Principalities, 8. Archangels (there are seven, including: Michael, Gabriel & Raphael), 9. Angels. Note: For 'Angels' Reflections, click here 

Angelical Salutation

Refers to the Hail Mary prayer, the first part of which originated with the Angel's greeting to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lk. 1:28: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women."

Angelus

Daily prayer traditionally recited at 6:00 a.m., Noon, and 6:00 p.m. (except during Paschaltime when the Regina Caeli is said instead). Click here for text of this prayer.

Annulment

The declaration that a union of two persons was never a marriage. The determination of whether a union is a true marriage depends upon the union's beginning, without regard to the number of years which followed, the number of children born, the treatment of a person by the other person (or even abandonment by one of the persons). A true, valid & consummated marriage may never be dissolved - for any reason whatsoever - by any power on earth. An annulment is not a divorce, but a determination that a true marriage never existed in the first place. Note: For more on the indissolubility of marriage, try here (Catholic Life / Marriage Reflections). For 'Against Divorce & Remarriage' Reflections, click here. For more information on Marriage, click here (Sacraments Section / Matrimony)

Annunciation

"The Son of God was conceived and made man on Annunciation day - the day on which the angel Gabriel announced to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she was to be the Mother of God." (Baltimore Catechism) The Annunciation is celebrated on March 25 (although it may be transferred if it falls on certain days). It is also the first joyful mystery of the Holy Rosary. Note: For 'Annunciation / Incarnation' Reflections, click here. For 'Incarnation / Nativity' Reflections, click here. For more information on the Blessed Virgin Mary, click here. Note: For more information on the Holy Rosary, click here

Anointing of the Sick

Also called "Extreme Unction". Note: Click here for more information on the Sacrament of Extreme Unction / Anointing of the Sick

Antichrist

"A designation of Christ's chief antagonist, who will precede [Christ's] second coming and the end of the world, and whose activity will be directly connected with a widespread apostasy from the Christian [that is, Catholic] faith. He will be an individual human personality, marked by utter lawlessness, self-deification, hatred of Christian truth, and rivalry with Christ through mock-miracles. He will cause the fall of many, but be destroyed by Christ." (Catholic Dictionary) Note: For 'Second Coming' Reflections, click here

Anti-pope

"One claiming to be pope in opposition to a true pope canonically elected." (Catholic Dictionary) Note: Click here for a list of anti-popes

Apologetics

Refers to a defense and explanation of the faith (not to apologies). Note: For apologetics, see the 'Non-Catholics' Section (click here)

Apostasy

May refer to a Christian voluntarily giving up the faith. Has also been used to refer to the desertion of one's state in life (e.g. when a cleric abandons the ecclesiastical state).

Apostate

One who is guilty of apostasy.

Apostles

Meaning "one who is sent forth", the term 'Apostles' primarily refers to the twelve disciples chosen by Christ as indicated in the Gospels, and also to St. Paul. These men were the first bishops of the Church. There is a direct line of succession between the original Apostles and today's Catholic bishops. 

The term "apostle" may also refer to the first "successful Christian [Catholic] missionary to a country" (Catholic Dictionary). For example, St. Patrick is called the 'Apostle of Ireland'. 

Click here for more information on the Twelve Apostles

Apostolic See

"The episcopal see of Rome, founded by the Prince of the Apostles, Peter, and in virtue of his primacy the ultimate seat of authority for the whole Church of Christ." (Catholic Dictionary) Note: For more information, try the 'Vatican View' Section (click here)

Apostolical Succession

"The authoritative and unbroken transmission of the mission and powers conferred by Jesus Christ on St. Peter and the Apostles [and] from them to the present pope and bishops." (Catholic Dictionary) Note: For more information, try the Vatican View Section (click here) and the Priests & Vocations Section (click here)

Apparitions

Refers to supernatural appearances of heavenly persons (e.g. Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angels, the Saints) Note: Click here for more information on apparitions (Mary, Our Mother Section)

Archangels

"A spirit in the eighth rank of the nine orders of the celestial hierarchy. The Church honors three archangels by name: Michael, the captain of the heavenly host; Gabriel, the angel of the Annunciation; and Raphael... According to Tobias xii, 15, there are four more" (Catholic Dictionary) Note: For 'Angels' Reflections, click here 

Ark of the Covenant

"The Ark of the Covenant, carried by the people of Israel in their wanderings and then deposited in the Temple at Jerusalem, was a chest containing principally the Tables of the Law. From over the ark God communicated his will to Moses, and it came to be regarded as the guarantee of his abiding help." (Catholic Dictionary) The Blessed Virgin Mary is often referred to as the new "Ark of the Covenant" due to the significant parallels between the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament and Mary in the New Testament. Note: For more information on this topic, click here. For 'Mary / Ark of the Covenant' Reflections, click here

Article of Faith

A truth that must be believed by all the faithful.

Ascension

"The departure of Jesus Christ in his glorified body from this world to the right hand of God the Father in Heaven, which took place in the presence of the Apostles forty days after his resurrection, traditionally on the Mount of Olives." (Catholic Dictionary). The feast of the Ascension occurs 40 days after Easter, on Ascension Thursday. Note: For liturgical feasts, click here

Asceticism

Click here for definition of 'Asceticism' (Priests & Vocations Section / Facts)

Ash Wednesday

The Wednesday which begins the penitential season of Lent. Ashes are applied to the faithful to symbolize our future return to the dust. Note: For Lent Reflections, click here. For 'Traditional Prayers and Practices / Lent', click here

Aspirations

Very short prayers (e.g. prayers said in one breath). Note: Click here for 'Aspirations / Short Prayers'

Assumption

"The taking into Heaven of the soul and body of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the completion of her earthly life" (Catholic Dictionary) The feast of the Assumption occurs on August 15. The Assumption is the fourth glorious mystery of the Holy Rosary. Note: For 'Assumption' Reflections, click here. For liturgical feasts, click here. For more information on the Blessed Virgin Mary, click here. For more information on the Holy Rosary, click here

Avarice

"Avarice is an inordinate love of the goods of this world." (Catechism of the Cure de Ars)

Ave Maria

Latin for "Hail Mary". Refers to the Hail Mary prayer, the first part of which originated with the Angel's greeting to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lk. 1:28: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women."

Top | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W-Z

- B -

Backbiting

"Backbiting is saying evil things of another in his absence." (Baltimore Catechism)

Baptism

The Sacrament of Baptism cleanses us from original sin and makes us members of the Church. Note: Click here for more information on Baptism

Basilica

The term 'basilica' is used to refer to certain churches (especially in Rome). It is an honorary designation given to churches with a certain significance (e.g. special historical significance). They are divided into two classes (major & minor basilicas). The majority of basilicas are classified as 'minor basilicas'.

The Beatific Vision

The immediate knowledge of God and ability to see God "face to face" enjoyed by those in Heaven. (Ref. Catholic Dictionary)

Beatification

Click here for information on 'Beatification' (Saints Section / Facts)

Beatitudes

Refers to certain blessings indicated by our Lord (from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount). Note: Click here for 'The Beatitudes'

Benediction

"One of the most generally popular of Catholic services is Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament... [It] consists in the singing of certain hymns, or litanies, or canticles, before the Blessed Sacrament, which is exposed upon the altar in a monstrance and is surrounded with lights." (Catholic Encyclopedia) It is concluded with the priest's making the Sign of the Cross over the congregation with the Monstrance. Benediction often occurs after Mass or other services (e.g. Vespers, Stations of the Cross).

The Benedictus

Refers to the Canticle of Zachary. Note: Click here for the 'Benedictus'

Bible

The word of God. Also called "Sacred Scripture". Note: For more information, see the Scripture / Parables Section (click here)

Birth Control

The intentional prevention of conception which the Church has condemned as gravely contrary to the natural law. Sinful in and of itself, it is made even more so by the abortifacient properties of artificial methods of birth control (which may take the life of an unborn child without the mother's knowledge that she had ever conceived). Note: For more information, click here

Bishop

Click here for information on topic 'Bishop' (Priests & Vocations Section / Facts)

Bishop of Rome

The Pope is the Bishop of Rome. Note: For more information on the Pope / Papacy, click here (Vatican View Section)

Black Fast

A very strict fast (e.g. limited to one evening meal, limited to bread, vegetables, salt, and water). Note: For medical information, contact a good doctor.

Blasphemy

"Blasphemy is any word or action intended as an insult to God. To say He is cruel or find fault with His works is blasphemy. It is a much greater sin than cursing or taking God's name in vain." (Baltimore Catechism)

"Blasphemy is a horrible sin which consists in words or acts of contempt or malediction against God, the Blessed Virgin, the Saints, or sacred things." (Catechism of Pope St. Pius X)

Blessed

Refers to those who have been beatified. Note: For more information, see the Saints Section (click here)

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Mother of God (Jesus Christ). Note: Click here for more information. Also see 'Mary, Our Mother' Section (click here)

Blessing

"A rite by which the Church dedicates persons, places or things to a sacred purpose, or attaches to them a spiritual value, without consecration." (Catholic Dictionary) Blessings may be given by the pope, bishops, or priests.

Breviary

"The word breviary (Lat. Breviarium), signifies in its primary acceptation an abridgment, or a compendium... In liturgical language Breviary has a special meaning, indicating a book furnishing the regulations for the celebration of Mass or the canonical Office..." (Catholic Encyclopedia) The term 'Breviary' may also be used as a synonym for the Divine Office.

Bull (Papal)

A solemn papal letter, traditionally associated with a lead seal ("bulla"). Note: Click here for more information on Papal writings. For actual papal writings ('Classic Encyclicals'), click here.

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