Learning Catholic Vocabulary

David Emery | April 6, 2019 No Comments

The (roughly) equivalent terminology pairs below represent a digest from an old compilation. In each pair, P stands for a common Protestant term, while C represents a common Catholic term that comes close to what the Protestant means when he uses his term. The term pairs are listed in no particular order, more or less as they appeared in the original compilation.


P: Service
C: Mass (Often “church” is used, referencing the place rather than the act. Also, for Good Friday, because there is no Mass, the word “Service” is used. Again, in traditional usage, one “assists at” Mass — a transliteration of the Latin — or colloquially, “hears” Mass. But contemporary usage prefers “attends.”)

P: Unspoken (or Silent or Undisclosed) prayer request
C: Special intention (prayer requests in general are referred to as Intentions)

P: Fellowship hall
C: Parish hall

P: Sunday school
C: CCD (refers to the old Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) or CCE (Continuing Christian Education)

P: “God laid a burden on my heart” or “convicted me” (however, “under conviction” means something more like a divine reprimand or “call to conversion”)
C: “God called me to…” or “I feel called”

P: Song leader
C: Cantor

P: Sermon
C: Homily (although “sermon” has some contemporary currency, due to Protestant influence)

P: Ministry
C: Apostolate (sometimes “ministry” is used, but not on an organizational level)

P: Witness or Testimony
C: Conversion story

P: “Fellowship” can be used as a noun, adjective or verb
C: “Fellowship” is used only as an adjective or noun

P: Nursery
C: Cry room

P: Benediction refers to the closing prayer of a service
C: Benediction refers to a formal devotion outside of Mass where Christ in the Eucharist is exposed for adoration

P: Casino Night (or Bingo) — however, many Protestants consider gambling sinful
C: Bingo (in Hispanic areas, Chalupa)

P: A minister or preacher Presides at or Leads a worship service; he is the Minister or Preacher
C: A priest Celebrates Mass; he is the Celebrant (sometimes, however, the colloquialism, Says Mass, is heard)

P: Spiritual gift
C: Charism (organizational); Gift or Talent (individual)

P: Worship (verb)
C: Worship or (after the Second Vatican Council) Participate

P: The Lord’s Prayer
C: The Our Father

P: Sinner’s Prayer
C: Act of Contrition or Confiteor

P: Pulpit
C: Ambo (the word Pulpit is reserved for a raised platform or booth for preaching, whereas a lecturn near the altar is referred to as an Ambo)

P: Christening (sometimes used for actual Baptism, but often a separate, substitutional ceremony of dedication)
C: Baptism

P: Trustee (in some denominations)
C: Sacristan

P: “I Joined the church”
C: “I Became Catholic” or “I was Received into Full Communion”


Here is a contribution that comes ultimately from a Catholic writer, Jeffery Dennis, by way of apologist Dave Armstrong, who is a former moderator of this forum:

Protestants, particularly those in evangelical denominations… have been raised to regard any sort of veneration as idolatry… Mary is mentioned in Protestant churches only during Christmastime, in reference to the manger of Bethlehem, and perhaps occasionally at Easter… she has no special role to play in the Christian story… Many of the dogmas of the Catholic Church, while profound and vigorous spiritual truths, are couched in technical theological language that sounds quite bizarre to Protestant ears. Here is what your Protestant friend may be hearing when you try to explain the Blessed Virgin the way she was explained to you:

The Catholic says: Mary is ever-virgin.
The Protestant hears: Mary is a pagan earth-goddess. (The non-Catholic remembers the vestal virgins of Rome.)

The Catholic says: Mary was conceived without sin.
The Protestant hears: Mary is the equal of Jesus. (He remembers that Jesus was sinless.)

The Catholic says: Mary was assumed into heaven.
The Protestant hears: Mary is the equal of Jesus. (He remembers that Jesus ascended into heaven.)

The Catholic says: Mary is Co-Redemptrix.
The Protestant hears: We don’t feel that Jesus is adequate for salvation.

The Catholic says: Mary is our intercessor.
The Protestant hears: We don’t believe that Jesus can do it all.

The Catholic says: Mary is the Mother of God.
The Protestant hears: Mary gave birth to God the Father. (He uses the word “God” to refer only to God the Father.)

The Catholic says: Mary is the Queen of Heaven.
The Protestant hears: Mary is God’s wife. (Since God is the King of Heaven, Mary must be His wife.)

These interpretations may sound ludicrous and blasphemous, but they are exactly how your Protestant friend will interpret your words. Raised in a world without saints, he cannot conceive of spiritual contact with anyone but a god. You will leave him with the unfortunate misconception that Mary is the chief goddess of a Roman Catholic pantheon, and that Jesus has a minor, almost negligible, role in the Catholic plan of salvation.…

(cited in “Introducing Mary to Protestants,” in The Catholic Answer Book of Mary, edited by Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2000; 88-91; quote from 88-89)


P: Meditation, Silent prayer
C: Meditation, Recollection

P: Worship of Saints
C: Devotions

P: Revival or Conference
C: Parish Mission (to conduct a revival or hold a conference: Preach a Mission)

P: A Missionary remains in one place, usually in a foreign country
C: A Missionary travels from one place to other to evangelize the unconverted, often from one Catholic parish to another

P: Lead astray
C: Scandalize

P: Fleshly nature
C: Concupiscence

P: Repentance
C: Contrition (but often Repentance, too)

P: Gossip
C: Gossip or Detraction

P: Attitude
C: Disposition


The word Ordinary has several distinct meanings in the Catholic vocabulary:
Ordinary Time: that portion of the liturgical calendar which is not part of a special season, such as Advent or Eastertide
The Ordinary: refers to the unchangeable parts of the text of the Mass, as distinct from the Proper, which changes daily
An Ordinary: a bishop who has full charge of a specific territory or group of people


P: Order of service
C: Order of Mass (except on Good Friday, which is not a Mass but a Service)

P: Robe or Suit (in some of the more liturgical denominations, Vestment)
C: Vestment

P: Prayerfully studying the Bible
C: Lectio divina (“sacred reading”)

P: (prayer endings) In Jesus’ (holy) name, we pray
C: Through Christ our Lord (sometimes: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen — which is also frequently used at the beginning of prayer, especially in a group setting)

P: Accept one’s cross or Give it to the Lord
C: Offer it up

P: Pentecostal
C: Charismatic

P: Youth group
C: usually use the name of the umbrella organization, such as CYO (Catholic Youth Organization)

P: “Merit” is understood as “Earn”
C: “Merit” is understood as “Obtain”

P: Sanctification
C: Purgatory or Growth in Holiness

P: Prayer for others
C: Intercession

P: Bible Study
C: Catechesis (actually a more comprehensive term: teaching or learning the faith)

P: Ministry
C: Apostolate

P: Stumbling
C: Venial sin

P: Backsliding
C: Mortal sin

P: Discipleship
C: Formation

P: Gift of mercy
C: Indulgence

P: Discipline of the Lord
C: Temporal punishment


Joke — a line from Lily Tomlin:

When we talk to the Almighty, it’s called prayer,
but when we say God is talking to us, it’s called schizophrenia.


Some glossaries of Catholic terms on other websites:

Liturgical jargon derogatorily listed on the EWTN website: Link
Some obscure Ecclesiastical Abbreviations: Link