Glossary of Catholicism


This glossary of Catholicism provides definitions of terms related to Catholicism, with links to full articles where available.

canon law
In Catholicism, the body of law related to the organization, discipline, and belief of the church and enforced by church authority.
cult of the saints
The body of religious beliefs and practices pertaining to the veneration of saints and their relics. Prayers are addressed to the saints in the hope that they will intercede with God on the behalf of believers. Saints are believed to have accumulated a "treasury of merit" which can be used for the benefit of believers.
ex cathedra
(Latin "from the throne.") Authoritative statements made by the Pope in Roman Catholicism, which are believed to be infallible.
Monastic order founded by Francis of Assisi in 1210 CE.
Name given to the Franciscans in England because of their gray robes.
holy water
In Christianity, water that has been blessed by a priest or bishop
Immaculate Conception
Roman Catholic doctrine that the Virgin Mary was born without original sin.
(Latin, "let it be printed"). Official authorization to print a book or other work, usually granted by a bishop for Catholic publications.
The practice of bestowing an office or patronage on one's relatives. It was especially rampant among 16th-century popes, and was condemned by Pope Pius V in the bull "Admonet Nos" (1567).
praying the rosary
Catholic devotional practice in which 15 sets of 10 Hail Marys are recited, each set preceded by a Lord's Prayer and followed by a Gloria Patri. A string of beads is used to count the prayers. The number of sets represents the 15 "mysteries" (five joyful, five sorrowful, five glorious), which are events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.
A temporary state of suffering and purification for believers who die in a state of sin.
(from Latin scholastici, "schoolmen"). "The medieval movement, flourishing in the period 1200-1500, which placed emphasis upon the rational justification of religious belief and the systematic presentation of those beliefs." (McGrath, 34)
stations of the cross
Series of 14 events in the Passion of Christ, beginning with his condemnation and ending with his body being laid in the tomb. The stations are a popular subject of public and private devotion in Catholicism, especially during Lent.
A person who exhibits the stigmata (miraculous wounds of Christ).
The doctrine that the bread and wine of the Eucharist actually becomes the body and blood of Christ, although it continues to have the appearance of bread and wine. Transubstantiation was rejected in different degrees by the Reformers, but remains an important part of Catholic belief today.
treasury of merit
Doctrine in which certain saints performed more good works than was necessary to save them, and that this surplus can be applied to other believers in order to shorten purgatory. This was the logical basis for the sale of indulgences in the Middle Ages.
Vicar of Christ
Title for the Pope since the 8th century, which replaced the older title "Vicar of St. Peter." It expresses the Pope's claim to be the appointed representative of Christ on earth, based in part on Jesus' command to Peter to "feed my sheep" in John 21:15.
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