Support Site Improvements


Catholic Pocket Dictionary/A







ACTS OF THE MARTYRS             



ADVENT, SEASON OF             



AGE, CANONICAL             

AGNUS DEI             



ALL SAINTS             

ALL SOULS' DAY             




ALTAR BREADS             







ANGELS, FEAST OF             













ASCENSION, FEAST OF             


ASH WEDNESDAY             





AVE MARIA             



The "father" or superior of a community of men living under vows and according to a particular rule. The transference of the idea of fatherhood to the relation between the head of a congregation or a religious community and his subjects is so natural that already in the apostolic times we find St. Paul re' minding the Corinthians that they had not many fathers in Christ ("for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you," &c.), notwithstanding the apparent prohibition in the gospel of St. Matthew. But it was customary to call bishops by the Greek word for father; hence the corresponding designation for the head of a community of monks was taken, to avoid confusion, from the Chaldaic form (abba, abbas) of the word which means "father" in the Semitic languages.


This is required as a preliminary to baptism, before the convert makes the confession of faith.


A name given, in the rubrics of the Mass, to the water and wine with which the priest who celebrates Mass washes his thumbs and index finger after communion. When he has consumed the Precious Blood, the priest purifies the chalice; he then, saying in a low voice a short prayer prescribed by the Church, holds his thumbs and index fingers, which have touched the Blessed Sacrament and may have some particle of it adhering to them, over the chalice, while the server pours wine and water upon them. He then drinks the ablution and dries his lips and the chalice with the mundatory. This ceremony witnesses to the reverence with which the Church regards the Body and Blood of Christ, and to her anxiety that none of that heavenly food should be lost.


Classical authors use the Latin word absolutio (literally, unbinding or unloosing) to signify acquittal from a criminal charge, and ecclesiastical writers have adopted the term, employing it to denote a setting free from crime or penalty. But, as crime and its penalties are regarded even by the Church from very different points of view, "absolution" in its ecclesiastical use bears several senses, which it is important to distinguish from each other.

I. Absolution from Sin is a remission of sin which the priest, by authority received from Christ, makes in the Sacrament of Penance. It is not a mere announcement of the gospel, or a bare declaration that God will pardon the sins of those who repent, but as the Council of Trent defines (sess. xiv. can. 9), it is a judicial act by which a priest as judge passes sentence on the penitent.

With regard to absolution thus understood, it is to be observed-

First, that it can be given by none but priests, since to them alone has Christ committed the necessary power; and,

Secondly, that since absolution is a judicial sentence, the priest must have authority or jurisdiction over the person absolved. The need of jurisdiction, in order that the absolution may be valid, is an article of faith defined in the council of Trent (sess. xiv. cap. 7), and it follows from the very nature of absolution as defined above, since the reason of things requires that a judge should not pass sentence except on one who is placed under him, as the subject of his court. This jurisdiction may be ordinary- i. e., it may flow from the office which the confessor holds; or delegated – i.e., it may be given to the Confessor by one who has ordinary jurisdiction with power to confer it on others, as he delegates. Thus a bishop has ordinary jurisdiction over seculars, or religious who are not exempt, in his diocese, and within its limits he can delegate jurisdiction to priests secular or regular. Again, the prelates of religious orders exempt from the authority of the bishop, have jurisdiction, more or less ample, within their own order, and they can absolve, or delegate power to absolve, the members of the order who are subject to them; nor is it possible, ordinarily speaking, for the bishop, or a priest who has his powers from the bishop only, to absolve such religious. Moreover, a bishop or a prelate of a religious order, in conferring power to absolve his subjects, may reserve the absolution of certain sins to himself. The Church; however, supplies all priests with power to absolve persons in danger of death, at least if they cannot obtain a priest with the usual "faculties" or powers to absolve.

Thirdly, absolution must be given in words which express the efficacy of absolution, viz., forgiveness of sin. The Roman Ritual prescribes the form "I absolve thee from thy sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."

II. Absolution from censurer is widely different from absolution from sins, because whereas the latter gives grace, removes guilt, and reconciles the sinner with God, the former merely removes penalties imposed by the Church, and reconciles the offender with her.

III. Absolution for the dead (pro defunctis). A short form, imploring eternal rest and so indirectly remission of the penalties of sin, said after a funeral Mass over the body of the dead person, before it is removed from the church.

IV. Absolutions in the Breviary. Certain short prayers said before the lessons in matins and before the chapter at the end of prime. Some of these prayers ex-press or imply petition for forgiveness of sin, and this circumstance probably explains the origin of the name Absolution which has been given to such prayers or blessings.


Abstinence in its restricted and special sense, denotes the depriving ourselves of certain kinds of food and drink in a rational way and for the good of the soul. On a fasting day, the Church requires us to limit the quantity, as well as the kind, of our food; on an abstinence-day, the limit imposed affects only the nature of the food we take.


Acolyte, from "to follow"; and here, to follow as a server or ministrant; a name given to the highest of the four minor orders. It is the duty of the acolyte to supply wine and water and to carry the lights at the Mass; and the bishop ordains him for these functions by putting the cruets and a candle into his hand, accompanying the action with words indicating the nature of the office conferred.


"Acta" is technically used in Latin (1) for the proceedings in a court of justice, and (2) for the official record of such proceedings, including the preliminaries of the trial, the actions and speeches of the contending parties, the sentence of the judge; which last, when it had been committed td the Acta, was proclaimed aloud by the public crier. "Acta martyrum," then, in its strict* and original sense, meant the official and registered account of a martyr's trial and sentence. The early Christians were anxious to preserve these accurate narratives of the witness which their brethren made to the truth of the Christian religion.


When a bishop is lawfully absent from his diocese for a prolonged period, the Pope sometimes grants him an "apostolic administrator" to take charge of the see. So, too, when a prince was appointed to a bishopric before he was capable of governing it.

The name. is commonly applied to a priest in charge of a parish, but who is not himself the rector of the parish. Thus, a bishop's parish is under the care of an administrator.


The Roman law held that by adoption a civil or legal kindred was established between the parties, which in many respects had the same effects as natural kindred. To this as a general principle the canon law adhered. But since, in proportion to the degree in which the adoptive was assimilated to the real relationship, impediments to marriage were multiplied, it became necessary in the interest of Christian society to restrict the effects of adoption within reasonable limits.


The period, of between three and four weeks from Advent Sunday (which is always the Sunday nearest to the feast of St. Andrew) to Christmas eve, is named by the Church the season of Advent. During it she desires that her children should practise fasting, works of penance, meditation, and prayer, in order to prepare themselves for celebrating worthily the coming (adventum) of the Son of God in the flesh, to promote His spiritual advent within their own souls, and to school themselves to look forward with hope and joy to His second advent, when He shall come again to judge mankind.


Affinity in the proper sense of the word, is the connection which arises from cohabitation between each one of the two parties cohabiting, and the blood-relations of the other. It is regarded an impediment to marriage in the Jewish, Roman, and canon law of the Church.


A name given in Jude 12 to the brotherly feasts of the early Christians, which are described at length in 1 cor. xi.


The Church, like the State, fixes certain ages at which her subjects become capable of incurring special obligations, enjoying special privileges, of entering on special states of life, or of holding office and dignity. The following is a summary of the principal determinations regarding age, so far as they affect (1) the ordinary life of a Christian, (2) the ecclesiastical and religious state. It must be observed that the canonical age is reckoned from the day of birth, not from that of baptism.

1. With regard to ordinary Christians. The age of reason is generally supposed to begin about the seventh year, though of course it may come earlier in some cases, later in others. At that time a child becomes capable of mortal sin, and so of receiving the sacraments of penance and extreme unction, which are the remedies for post-baptismal sin. The Holy Eucharist and Confirmation, according to the discipline of the Church, are usually given some time after the use of reason has been attained, when the child has received some instruction in Christian doctrine, and is able to understand the nature of these sacraments. Further, at seven years of age, a child becomes subject to the law of the Church (e. g. with regard to abstinence, Sunday Mass, &c.),and can contract an engagement of marriage.

The age of puberty begins in the case of males at fourteen, in that of females at twelve. Marriages contracted by persons under these ages is null and void. Till the age of puberty is reached, no one can be required to take an oath. At twenty-one, the obligation of fasting begins; it ceases, according to the common opinion, at sixty.

2. With regard to religious and ecclesiastics.-At seven, a person may be tonsured. No special age is named in the canon law for the reception of minor orders. A subdeacon must have completed his twenty-first, a deacon his twenty-second, a priest his twenty-fourth, and a bishop his thirtieth year. A cleric cannot hold a simple benefice before entering on his fourteenth year; an ecclesiastical dignity-e. g. a canonry in a cathedral church- till he has completed his twenty-second year; a benefice with cure of souls attached to it, before he has begun his twenty-fifth year; a diocese, till he has completed his thirtieth year.

A religious cannot make his profession till he is at least sixteen years old, and has passed a year in the noviciate. He must be thirty years of age before he can hold a prelacy which involves quasi-episcopal jurisdiction. A girl must be over twelve years of age before she assumes the religious habit. A woman under forty cannot be chosen religious superior of a convent, unless it is impossible to find in the order a religious of the age required, and otherwise suitable. In this case, a religious thirty years old may be chosen .with the consent of the bishop or other superior.


A prayer in the Mass, which occurs shortly before the communion-"Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, &c., give us peace."


A vestment of white linen reaching from head to foot and with sleeves, which the priest puts on before saying Mass, with the prayer-"Make me white, O Lord, and cleanse me," &c. It -sprang from the under-garment the tunic of the Romans and Greeks, which was usually white, although alba does not occur as a technical term for the white tunic till nearly the end of the third century.


From two Hebrew words united by a hyphen, meaning "praise Jah," or "praise the Lord." It occurs frequently in the last fifty psalms, but nowhere else in the Old Testament, except Tobias, c. 13.


As early as the fourth century, the Greeks kept on the first Sun-day after Pentecost the feast of all martyrs and saints, and we still possess a sermon of St. Chrysostom delivered on that day.

About 731 Gregory XI. consecrated a chapel in St. Peter's Church in honor of all the saints, from which time All Saints' Day has been kept in Rome, as now, on the first of November. From about the middle of the ninth century, the feast came into general observance throughout the Church. It ranks as a double of the first class with an octave.


A solemn commemoration of, and prayer for, all the souls in Purgatory, which the Church makes on the second of November.


Originally a work of mercy, spiritual or temporal, and then used to denote material gifts bestowed on the poor.


An ecclesiastic at the court of a king, or prince, or in a noble mansion, having the charge of the distribution of alms.


The Hebrew word which is usually translated "altar," means a “place of sacrifice."

The name occurs in early Christian writers. "There is one flesh," says St. Ignatius, the disciple of St. John, "one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one chalice for union with His blood, one altar, as one bishop." So Tertullian describes Christians as standing at the "altar of God"; and the same word "altar" is used in the Apostolic Constitutions and in the ancient liturgies.


Altar Breads are round particles made of fine wheaten flour, specially prepared for consecration in the Mass.


As mentioned under Altar, the rubric requires that an altar-card be placed in the centre under the crucifix; custom has introduced two others, one on each side, the object of all three being to aid the priest's memory, should it fail at any .time during the celebration of Mass, though he is expected to have the prayers committed to memory. The centre card contains the "Gloria in excelsis," the "Credo," the Offertory prayers, the "Qui pridie," or beginning of the Canon, the form of consecration, the prayer before Communion, and the "Placeat," or last prayer. That at the Epistle side contains the prayer said while putting the water into the chalice, and the “Lavabo," said at the washing of the fingers. That at the Gospel side contains the prologue of St. John's Gospel (i1-14).


The rubrics of the Missal require three white cloths to be placed on the altar, or two cloths of which one is doubled. They must be blessed by the bishop, or by a priest with special faculties.


A Hebrew word signifying "truly," "certainly." It is preserved in its original form by the New Testament writers, and by the Church in her Liturgy. According to Benedict XIV., it indicates assent to a truth, or it is the expression of a desire, and equivalent to "so be it."


Called also "humeral." A piece of he linen, oblong in shape, which the priest who is to say Mass rests for a moment on his head and then spreads on his shoulders, reciting the prayer-"Place on my head, 0 Lord, the helmet of salvation," &c.


Anything devoted or given over to evil, so that "anathema sit" means, "let him be accursed." St. Paul at the end of 1 Corinthians pronounces this anathema on all who do not love our blessed Savior. The Church has used the phrase "anathema sit" from the earliest times with reference to those whom she excludes from her communion either because of moral offences or because they persist in heresy. Thus one of the earliest councils - that of Elvira, held in 306 - decrees in its fifty-second canon that those who placed libelous writings in the church should be anathematized; and the First General Council anathematized those who held the Arian heresy. General councils since then have usually given solemnity to their decrees on articles of faith by appending an Anathema.

Neither St. Paul nor the Church of God ever wished a soul to be damned. In pronouncing anathema against willful heretics, the Church does but declare that they are excluded from her communion, and that they must, if they continue obstinate, perish eternally.


The word means messenger, and is applied in a wide sense to priests, prophets, or to the Messiahs as sent by God: Specially, however, it is used as the name of spiritual beings, created by God, but superior in nature to man.


Since the fifth century churches were dedicated to the holy angels. There was a famous apparition of St. Michael on Mount Garganus, an event which Baronius places in the year 493; and this apparition gave occasion to the feast of St. Michael which the Church keeps on September 29, and which is mentioned in the martyrologies of SS. Jerome, Bede, and others, as the Dedication of St. Michael.


An order of nuns, following the rule of St. Augustine, founded by Luigia di Torelli, Countess of Guastalla, about 1530. She had been married twice, but being left a second time a widow when only twenty-five years of age, she resolved to devote the rest of her life and her large fortune to the service of God.

She founded her first convent at Milan. Her religious took the name of Angelicals in order to remind themselves whenever they uttered it of the purity of the angels. Every member adopts the name of "Angelica," prefixing it to that of a patron saint and her family name--e. g.,"Angelica Maria Anna di Gonzaga." Their constitutions were drawn up by St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan.


By this name is denoted the practice of honoring God at morning, noon, and evening, by saying three Hail Mary's, after reciting each of the angels' salutations, to express the Christian's rejoicing trust in the mystery of the Incarnation.


An "anniversary" is defined as "that which is done for a deceased person on the expiration of a year from the day of death," and is especially understood of the celebration of Mass for the benefit of the soul.


The word signifies "declaration," or "announcement"-i. e., of the fact that God the Son was to be born of Mary-but at the very moment in which the fact was announced it actually took place; so that, in commemorating the "Annunciation," we really commemorate the Incarnation of God the Word.


"Pallium," or frontal, varying in color according to the season, and is to be placed on the altar.


The word signifies "alternate utterance." St. Ignatius, one of the Apostolic Fathers, is believed to have first instituted the method of alternate chanting by two choirs, at Antioch.


The early Fathers used apocrypha to denote the forged books by heretics, borrowing, perhaps, the name from the heretics themselves, who vaunted the apocryphal" or "hidden" wisdom of these writings. Later- e.g. in the "Prologus galeatus" of Jerome - apocryphal is used in a milder sense to mark simply that a book is not in the recognized canon of Scripture; and Pope Gelasius, in a decree of 494, uses the term apocryphal in a very wide manner of heretical forgeries; of books like the "Shepherd of Hermas," revered by the ancients, but not a part of Scripture; works by early Christian writers (Arnobius, Cassian, &c.) who had erred on some points of doctrine.

The name is now usually reserved by Catholics for books, laying claim to an origin which might entitle them to a place in the canon, or which have been supposed to be Scripture, but which have been finally rejected by the Church. In the Old Testament the most important apocryphal books are--3 and 4 Esdras, both of which are cited by early writers as Scripture, the latter being also used in the Missal and Breviary; 3 and 4 Machabees; the prayer of Manasses, which is found in Greek MSS. of the Old Testament, and is often printed, in a Latin version, in the appendix to the Vulgate; the book of Enoch, (Jude 14), which Tertullian regarded as authentic (it only exists at present in an Ethiopic version); a 151st Psalm attributed to David, which is found in Greek MSS., and in the Syriac, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions of the Psalms; eighteen psalms attributed to Solomon, written originally, according to some scholars, in Hebrew, according to others, in Greek.

There is a great mass of New Testament apocryphal literature. Some books, such as the "Epistle of Barnabas," the two "Epistles of Clement," the "Shepherd of Hermas," may in a certain sense be called apocryphal, because, though not really belonging to Scripture, they were quoted as such by ancient writers, or were inserted in MSS. of the New Testament. Some other books mentioned by Eusebius-vie. the "Acts of Paul," the "Apocalypse of Peter," the "Teachings of the Apostles" seem to have belonged to this better class of apocryphal literature. Besides these, Eusebius mentions apocryphal books in circulation among heretics-viz. the "Gospels" of Peter, Thomas, Matthias; the "Acts" of Andrew, John, and the rest of the Apostles.. Fragments remain of the ancient Gospels "according to the Hebrews"; "of the Nazarenes,". "according to the Egyptians," of the preaching and Apocalypse of Peter, &c., which have been repeatedly edited.

A great number of later forgeries have been edited by Fabricius, by Thilo, "Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti," 1831, of which work only the first volume, containing the apocryphal Gospels, appeared; and by Tischendorf ("Evangelia Apocrypha," 1876, second edition enlarged; "Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha," 1851; "Apocryphal Apocalypses," 1866). This is not the place to attempt an enumeration of these apocryphal books, but we may mention some which enjoyed a special popularity in the Church, and exercised a marked influence on Catholic literature. A number of apocryphal Gospels treat of the infancy and youth of our Lord, and of the history of his blessed Mother and foster-father. Among these the "Protevangelium of James" holds the first place. It describes the early history of Mary, our Lord's birth at Bethlehem, and the history of the wise men from the East. This gospel was much used by the Greek Fathers; portions of it were read publicly in the Eastern Church, and it was translated into Arabic and Coptic. It was prohibited for a time among the Latins, but even in the West it was much used during the middle ages. Other Gospels, such as the Arabic "Gospel of the Infant Savior,” contain legendary miracles of our Lord's infancy. We have a second class of apocryphal Gospels which treat of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Of this class is the "Gospel of Nicodemus." It is probably of very late origin, but it was a favorite book in the middle ages. The Greek text still exists, but it was also circulated, before the invention of printing, in Latin, Anglo-Saxon, German, and French. Closely connected with this Gospel are a number of documents which have sprung from very ancient but spurious "Acts of Pilate." These ancient Acts which were known to Justin and Tertullian, have perished, but they called forth several imitations which still survive. The one which is best known is a letter of Lentulus to the Roman senate describing the personal appearance of our Lord. It is a forgery of the middle ages.

Further, apocryphal literature is rich in "Acts of the Apostles," and here, as in the apocryphal Gospels, we had early but spurious Acts, revised and enlarged, and so originating fresh forgeries. Thus the "Acts of Paul and Thecla," in their existing form, are the recension of a very early work-forged as early at least as Tertullian's time. The fullest of all these "Acts" is the "Historia Certaminis Apostolorum." It can scarcely be older than the ninth century, but it is of considerable value, because the author has made diligent use of earlier Acts, some of which have perished.

Of apocryphal Epistles we have, among others, a letter of St. Paul to the Laodiceans (only existing in Latin), which, though rejected by Jerome, was accepted as canonical by many great Latin theologians of a later day, won a place in many copies of the Latin Bible, and for more than nine centuries "'hovered about the doors of the sacred canon." We may also mention a letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, and another of the Corinthians to St. Paul (both only in Armenian); letters supposed to have passed between St. Paul and Seneca (known to Jerome and Augustine); spurious letters of the Blessed Virgin, to St. Ignatius, to the inhabitants of Messina, &c. &c.


An apostate from the faith is one who wholly abandons the faith of Christ, and joins himself to some other law, such as Judaism, Islam, Paganism, on any form of false belief.


Signifies one who is sent. The name is given in the New Testament first of all to the twelve whom our Lord chose. "The names of the twelve apostles," St. Matthew says, "are these: the first, Simon," &c. But it is by no means restricted to them: Matthias and Paul were of course Apostles, though not of the twelve; so was Barnabas.


A name given to the Christian authors who wrote in the age succeeding that of the Apostles.


The formal judgment of a prelate, that a priest is fit to hear confessions. It does not involve jurisdiction-i. e. a bishop does not necessarily give a priest power to hear confessions in his diocese, because he pronounces him fit to do so, though in fact a bishop always or almost always gives a secular priest jurisdiction at the time he approves him. This approbation by the bishop, or one who has quasi-episcopal jurisdiction, is needed for the validity of absolution given by a secular priest, unless the said priest has a parochial benefice. The bishop who approves must be the bishop of the place in which the confession is heard and this approbation may be limited as to time, place, and circumstances.

Regulars, in order to confess members of their own order, require the approval of their superiors; to confess seculars, that of the bishop of the diocese.


The terms "archbishop" and "metropolitan" have the same meaning, except that the latter implies the existence of suffragans, whereas there may be archbishops without suffragans.


Commemoration of the Ascension of Christ into Heaven.


A name given to the science which treats of virtue and perfection and the means by which they are to be attained. Mystical theology deals with extraordinary states of prayer and union with God.


The first day, according to our present observance, of the forty days' fast of Lent.


A name given to the sprinkling of the altar, clergy, and people with holy water at the beginning of High Mass by the celebrant. The name is taken from the words, "Asperges me," "Thou shalt wash me, 0 Lord, with hyssop," &c., with which the priest begins the ceremony. During the Easter season the antiphon "Vidi aquam" is substituted.


After the death of her divine Son the Blessed Virgin lived under the care of St. John. The common tradition of the Church represents her as having died at Jerusalem. Her exemption from sin original and actual did not prevent her paying this common debt of humanity. The very fact that she had received a passible nature rendered her liable to death.


as distinct from contrition, is an imperfect sorrow for sin. Contrition is that sorrow for sin which has for its motive the love of God whom the sinner has offended. Attrition arises from a motive which is indeed supernatural-that is to say, apprehended by faith-but which still falls short of contrition. Such motives are-the fear of hell, the loss of heaven, the turpitude of sin. By this last, we understand the turpitude of sin as revealed by faith. We may also, for the sake of clearness, exclude from our definition that kind of sorrow which makes a man renounce sin because he is afraid of hell, while at the same time he would be ready to offend God if he could do so without incurring the penalty.


The Order originated in a union of several congregations in 1265 by the direction of Pope Alexander IV.

These congregations had their origin from a Council held in Aix-La-Chapelle in 816. They adopted the rule of life laid down by St. Augustine in a treatise entitled "De Moribus Clericorum" and in conformity with his 109th letter, and the general spirit of his teaching. The rule applied to men as well as women who had entered a religious career. Their houses soon became very numerous throughout Europe and the Augustinian Order has at present many flourishing communities in various parts of the world.


A familiar prayer, called also the Angelical Salutation, and which is recited at certain times of day, especially morning, noon and sunset


Copyright ©1999-2023 Wildfire Fellowship, Inc all rights reserved