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Here is a brief glossary of terms often used in the Catholic Church that may not be completely familiar to journalists who have not had a great deal of experience in covering church matters. One may hope that even more experienced journalists will find one or two new insights here. Terms are capitalized only if they are always capitalized. For example, archbishop is capitalized only when used as a title before a name, but College of Cardinals is a proper name in all uses—so the archbishop entry is lowercased but the other is capitalized.
annulment. Technically called a decree of nullity, an annulment of a marriage is a decision by a church court, confirmed by an appellate court, that a putative marriage was not valid from the start because something was lacking: full knowledge and consent by both parties, freedom from force or grave fear, or some other factor needed for a valid marriage. "Putative" (meaning apparent or seeming) is a key word in the entire process: It refers to a marriage in which at least one party acted in good faith, believing it was valid at the time it took place. Children from a putative marriage are considered legitimate even if the marriage is later ruled to be invalid. This has been a source of one of the major popular misunderstandings of annulments; namely, that an annulment somehow makes the children of that union illegitimate. Church law explicitly rejects this interpretation, saying that children of a putative marriage are legitimate even if the marriage is later judged to be invalid.
apostolic nuncio. Church term for the Vatican ambassador to another country and the papal liaison with the church in that country. An apostolic nuncio, also called a papal nuncio, is always an archbishop, and it is his religious title that is capitalized as a title before his name, e.g., Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, not Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi. See religious titles before names. In a country with which the Vatican does not have diplomatic relations, the official Vatican liaison with the church there is called an apostolic delegate. Papal representatives in the United States were apostolic delegates until 1984, when full diplomatic relations were established. There was a brief period, from 1984 to 1991, when the Vatican ambassador to the United States was called the pro-nuncio because he was not the dean of the world's ambassadors to the United States (a position that under a Vienna convention is automatically given to the Vatican ambassador in many countries but in other countries is given to the senior foreign ambassador, wherever he is from). In 1991 the Vatican quit using pro-nuncio as the title for its ambassadors who were not deans of the ambassadorial corps and began calling all papal representatives with full rank of ambassador nuncio.
archbishop. The title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses. It is also given to certain other high-ranking church officials, notably Vatican ambassadors (apostolic nuncios: see that entry), the secretaries of Vatican congregations and the presidents of pontifical councils. Adj. archepiscopal.
archdiocese. The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province (see province and metropolitan). It is governed by an archbishop. Adj. archdiocesan. See diocese and archeparchy.
archeparchy. The chief diocese of an Eastern Catholic ecclesiastical province. In most contexts it can be called an archdiocese, but if some legal distinction between Eastern and Latin Catholic jurisdictions is important, it may be necessary to introduce the term. The head of an archeparchy is called an archeparch, but in most contexts he can be called an archbishop. There are only two Catholic archeparchies in the United States: the Byzantine Catholic Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and the Ukrainian Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. See eparchy.
auxiliary bishop. A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist its residential bishop. Whether in a diocese or archdiocese, his title is bishop.
bishop. The highest order of ordained ministry in Catholic teaching. Most bishops are diocesan bishops, the chief priests in their respective dioceses. But some (auxiliary bishops) are the top assistants to their diocesan bishops, and some priests are made bishops because of special posts they hold in the church, such as certain Vatican jobs. Diocesan bishops and their auxiliaries are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. In some cases diocesan bishops are assigned a coadjutor bishop, who is like an auxiliary except that he automatically becomes the diocesan bishop when his predecessor resigns or dies. See auxiliary bishop and coadjutor. In addition to their diocesan responsibilities, all bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the church. Adj. episcopal.
bishops' conference. A national (or in a very few cases regional) body of bishops that meets periodically to collaborate on matters of common concern in their country or region, such as moral, doctrinal, pastoral and liturgical questions; relations with other religious groups; and public policy issues. It is also called an episcopal conference. The U.S. conference is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB. See that entry.
brother. A man who has taken vows in a religious order but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood. Sometimes he is called a lay brother to distinguish him from clerical members of religious orders. See lay.
canon. Greek for rule, norm, standard or measure, it is used in several ways in church language. (1) The canon of Sacred Scripture is the list of books recognized by the church as inspired by the Holy Spirit. (2) Before the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the single eucharistic prayer used universally in the Latin Mass was called the Roman Canon. Now that there are four eucharistic prayers in general use, they are usually referred to as Eucharistic Prayer I, II, III or IV, but they may also be called canons. The first of these is still called the Roman Canon because it is nearly identical to the original Roman Canon. (3) Canon is another name for a law in the Code of Canon Law. Adj. canonical. See also canon law.
canon law. A code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church. In the Latin or Western Church, the governing code is the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a revision of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. A separate but parallel Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, issued in 1990, governs the Eastern Catholic churches. That document was the first comprehensive code of church law governing all Eastern Catholic churches.
cardinal. Highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope. By church law cardinals are regarded as the pope's closest advisors, and when a pope dies those who are not yet 80 years old meet in a conclave in Rome to elect a new pope. Most cardinals are archbishops; canon law since 1983 says they must at least be bishops, but exceptions have been made in several cases where a noted priest-theologian over the age of 80 has been named a cardinal to honor his theological contributions to the church. See College of Cardinals.
celibacy. Refers to a decision to live chastely in the unmarried state. At ordination, a diocesan priest or unmarried deacon in the Latin rite Catholic Church makes a promise of celibacy. The promise should not be called a "vow." Adj. celibate. See chastity.
chancellor. The chief archivist of a diocese's official records. Also a notary and secretary of the diocesan curia, or central administration; he or she may have a variety of other duties as well. It is the highest diocesan position open to women.
chastity. In its general sense chastity does not mean abstinence from sexual activity as such, but rather moral sexual conduct. Marital chastity means faithfulness to one's spouse and moral conduct in marital relations. The religious vow of chastity taken by brothers, sisters and priests in religious orders is a religious promise to God to live the virtue of chastity by not marrying and by abstaining from sexual activity. When diocesan priests and unmarried deacons make a promise of celibacy, they are not taking religious vows; their commitment to live chastely in an unmarried state should be described as a promise, not a vow. See celibacy.
church. Apart from its obvious use to refer to a building where Christians gather to worship God, church has a rich theological and doctrinal meaning for Catholics that also sets limits on how it is applied. The local or particular church means the (arch)diocese, the community of faithful gathered around the altar under its bishop. Each particular church has all the necessary means of salvation according to Catholic teaching—that is, fidelity to apostolic teaching, assured by ordained ministry in apostolic succession; the seven sacraments accepted throughout Christianity before the Reformation; and all the communal means to holiness that God grants through his graces. The universal church—the meaning of catholic church, lowercased—is the communion of all those particular churches spread throughout the world who are in union with the bishop of Rome and who share in fidelity to apostolic teaching and discipleship to Christ. Catholics also recognize the mainline Orthodox churches as churches; and until the recent ordination of women in several Old Catholic churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Catholic Church had recognized Union of Utrecht churches as churches. Christian churches which share partially in the historic apostolic communities of Christian discipleship, but which in the Catholic Church's perspective do not have the fullness of apostolic succession in their bishops or ordained ministry, are called ecclesial communions, rather than churches. This position, strongly affirmed by the world's Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council and reaffirmed in numerous church documents since then, remains a topic of considerable disagreement in ecumenical dialogues. In Catholic teaching the church embraces all its members—not only those still living on earth, but also those in heaven or purgatory. The ancient teaching that outside the church there is no salvation (extra ecclesiam nulla salus) has been officially nuanced in church teaching to include many who do not explicitly embrace the church and all its teachings, or even many who join no Christian religion. The teaching affirms the central role and responsibility of the church to reach out to all people with the Gospel message while acknowledging that those who have not been apprised or convinced of that message may still be saved if they live upright lives in accord with their own convictions and understanding of God.
clergy. In Catholic usage, a collective term referring to all those ordained—bishops, priests and deacons—who administer the rites of the church. Adj. clerical.
coadjutor. A bishop appointed to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist the diocesan bishop. Unlike an auxiliary bishop—see auxiliary bishop—he has the right of succession, meaning that he automatically becomes the new bishop when the diocesan bishop retires or dies. By canon law, he is also vicar general of the diocese. If the diocese is an archdiocese, he is called coadjutor archbishop instead of coadjutor bishop. In recent years a growing number of U.S. bishops in larger dioceses or archdioceses have requested and received a coadjutor in the final year or two before their retirement, in order to familiarize their successor with the workings of the (arch)diocese before he has to take over the reins.
College of Cardinals. A group of men chosen by the pope as his chief advisers. Most are heads of major dioceses around the world or of the major departments of the Vatican, or are retired from such posts. In the interregnum following the death of the pope, the College of Cardinals administers the church, and those under the age of 80 meet in a conclave to elect a new pope.
collegiality. The shared responsibility and authority that the whole college of bishops, headed by the pope, has for the teaching, sanctification and government of the church.
conclave. The gathering of the world's Catholic cardinals, after the death of a pope, to elect a new pope. Only cardinals under the age of 80 are allowed into a conclave under current church rules.
congregation. (1) A term used for some Vatican departments that are responsible for important areas of church life, such as worship and sacraments, the clergy, and saints' causes. (2) The proper legal term for some institutes of men or women religious, all of which are commonly called religious orders. The difference between a religious congregation and a religious order is technical and rarely of significance in news reporting. (3) Any gathering of Christians for worship.
consistory. A meeting of cardinals in Rome. It can be an ordinary consistory, attended only by cardinals in Rome at the time of the meeting, or an extraordinary consistory, to which all cardinals around the world are summoned.
curia. The personnel and offices through which (1) the pope administers the affairs of the universal church (the Roman Curia), or (2) a bishop administers the affairs of a diocese (the diocesan curia). The principal officials of a diocesan curia are the vicar general, the chancellor, officials of the diocesan tribunal or court, examiners, consultors, auditors and notaries. When referring to the Roman Curia, Roman Curia and Curia used alone are usually capitalized (like Senate when referring to the U.S. Senate), but curia is not capitalized in reference to a diocesan curia unless it is part of a full proper name.
deacon, diaconate. In the Catholic Church, the diaconate is the first of three ranks in ordained ministry. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, but only unmarried men committed to lifelong celibacy can be ordained deacons if they are planning to become priests. Adj. diaconal.
defrocking. See laicization.
delict. The church term for a crime. Church crimes are spelled out in the Code of Canon Law for the Latin rite and in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches for Eastern Catholic churches.
diaconate. See deacon, diaconate.
dicastery. A church term for one of the major departments of the Roman Curia—the Secretariat of State, Vatican congregations, tribunals, pontifical councils and a few other departments. The term does not appear with this definition in most English dictionaries, which is part of the reason it is listed here. It ordinarily does not come into play in news coverage of the Vatican, but it may do so in certain limited contexts. Generally, it is more appropriate to refer to a Vatican dicastery by its more specific proper name: congregation, pontifical council, etc.
diocesan bishop. A bishop who heads a diocese. He may be assisted by auxiliary bishops or a coadjutor bishop (see auxiliary bishop and coadjutor). Also sometimes referred to as a residential bishop.
diocesan curia. The personnel and offices assisting the bishop in directing the pastoral activity, administration and exercise of judicial power of a diocese.
diocese. A particular church; the ordinary territorial division of the church headed by a bishop. The chief diocese of a group of dioceses is called an archdiocese; see that entry. Adj. diocesan.
Eastern Catholic churches. The Catholic churches with origins in Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa that have their own distinctive liturgical, legal and organizational systems and are identified by the national or ethnic character of their region of origin. Each is considered fully equal to the Latin tradition within the church. In the United States there are 15 Eastern church dioceses and two Eastern church archdioceses. In addition, there is one non-territorial Eastern church apostolate in the United States whose bishop is a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. See archeparchy and eparchy.
eparchy. Eastern Catholic equivalent to a diocese in the Latin Church. It is under the pastoral care of an eparch (bishop). Unless some legal distinction between a Latin rite diocese and an Eastern Church eparchy is relevant to a news report, in most cases it is appropriate to refer to an eparchy as a diocese and to its leader as a bishop. Adj. eparchial. See archeparchy.
episcopal. Refers to a bishop or groups of bishops, or to the form of church governance in which ordained bishops have authority.
episcopal vicar. A priest or auxiliary bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in a specific part of the diocese, over certain groups in the diocese, or over certain areas of church affairs. Some large dioceses, for example, are divided geographically into several vicariates or regions, with an episcopal vicar for each; some dioceses have episcopal vicars for clergy or religious or for Catholics of certain racial or ethnic groups. See vicar general.
excommunication. A penalty or censure by which a baptized Catholic is excluded from the communion of the faithful for committing and remaining obstinate in certain serious offenses specified in canon law. Even though excommunicated, the person is still responsible for fulfillment of the normal obligations of a Catholic.
faculty. Church authorization, given by the law itself or by a church superior, to perform certain official church acts. In some rare cases a member of the clergy will be denied certain faculties, such as hearing confessions or preaching during the liturgy, because of public positions taken that are not in accord with church teaching.
finance council. A diocesan body mandated by the Code of Canon Law that is charged with preparing the annual diocesan budget and annually reviewing diocesan expenses and revenues. The finance council must be consulted for financial transactions of a given dollar level undertaken by the bishop and must give its consent to transactions at another dollar threshold. The threshold amounts are established periodically by an agreement with the Holy See and are currently subject to annual inflation changes determined by the cost of living index.
hierarchy. In Catholic usage, the term is used most commonly to refer collectively to the bishops of the world or a particular region. In technical uses, however, it may refer to all those who are ordained: deacons and priests as well as bishops. In the canon law of the Eastern Catholic churches, hierarchs is a term regularly used to describe the bishops of a church when describing their collective authority or function.
Holy See. The primary official term of reference for the Diocese of Rome, as the chief diocese of Catholic Christendom; used to refer to the pope and the Roman Curia—congregations, tribunals, and various other offices—in their role of authority over and service to the Catholic Church around the world. In most news uses, Vatican is synonymous with Holy See: A Holy See representative is a Vatican representative, a congregation of the Holy See is a Vatican congregation, etc.
laicization. The process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime or scandal, but more often it comes at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death. The pope must approve all requests for laicization. When a priest is laicized without his consent, for a crime such as living in concubinage, committing child sexual abuse or using the confessional to solicit sex, it is sometimes called defrocking or unfrocking. Those terms, which are not used in church law, should be restricted to forcible laicizations, since they connote a penalty.
laity/lay. In canon law, anyone not ordained a deacon, priest or bishop is a layperson. In this legal sense women religious (sisters) and unordained men religious (brothers) are laity. In the documents of the Second Vatican Council, however, the laity are those who are neither ordained nor members of a religious order. The Vatican II sense is the one usually intended in most discussions of laypeople and their role in the church.
lay ecclesial ministry. Not a specific job title, but a general theological description of the work of Catholics who are not ordained but are engaged in substantial public leadership positions in church ministry, collaborating closely with the ordained leadership and working under their authority. In the United States well over 30,000 such lay ministers—an average of more than 1.6 per parish nationwide—are employed by Catholic parishes in full- or part-time positions of more than 20 hours a week. Among those who are in paid posts, about 40 percent are coordinators of religious education. Their other key ministries include general pastoral associate, youth minister, music minister, and liturgical planner or coordinator. Tens of thousands of other Catholics engage in volunteer lay ministry in U.S. parishes as catechists; as readers, altar servers, music leaders or other liturgical ministers; as social justice ministers; or in a variety of other health, charity, service or church-related ministries. Ecclesial is reserved to those who are in church-recognized leadership positions, generally certified to represent the church in their area of expertise after appropriate human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation. In a 2005 document, Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, the U.S. bishops encouraged the growth of lay ecclesial ministry and set out general guidelines for the formation and the recognition or certification of such ministers.
The USCCB Subcommittee
on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service (see www.usccb.org/certification)
embodies the concerns and priorities of the bishops by reviewing and approving
certification standards and procedures to be used on a voluntary basis by
arch/dioceses and national organizations in the certification of specialized
lay ecclesial ministers.
liturgy. The general term for all the church's official acts of worship. It includes the Mass (also called the eucharistic liturgy), the celebration of the other sacraments, and the Liturgy of the Hours, which contains the official prayers recited by priests and some others to sanctify parts of the day. See Mass, sacraments and vespers.
Mass. The central act of worship in the Catholic Church. In most Eastern Catholic churches the Mass is called the Divine Liturgy. The Mass is divided into two main parts. The Liturgy of the Word includes Scripture readings and a homily and ends with the general intercessions. The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the offering of the gifts, followed by consecration of the bread and wine and the reception of Communion. Catholics believe that in the consecration the bread and wine truly become the body and blood of Christ.
metropolitan. A metropolitan see is an archdiocese that is the chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province. The archbishop who heads that province is called the metropolitan, but usually only in contexts referring to him in his capacity as head of the province. See province.
ministry. A broad term in Catholic usage for any activity conducive to the salvation of souls. It can include ordained ministry such as liturgical leadership and administration of the sacraments, or lay ministry such as instructing children in the faith, serving the poor, visiting the sick, or being an altar server, reader or music leader at Mass. See lay ecclesial ministry.
monsignor. An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the pope to some diocesan priests. Priests in religious orders or congregations never receive the title of monsignor. In English the standard abbreviation as a title before the name is Msgr. American publications vary in whether they use the abbreviation or the full word before the name in news reporting. In covering the church internationally, however, it is also important to realize that the Catholic Church and news agencies in many other nations use Msgr. or Mgr. as the religious title before the name of bishops and archbishops, not just before the name of priests who have received that honorary ecclesiastical title from the pope. Check on the Web or in other resources to determine whether the man in question is a bishop or just a priest who has an honorary title from the pope.
nun. (1) Strictly speaking, a member of a religious order of women with solemn vows. (2) In general, all women religious, even those in simple vows, who are more properly called sisters. Whether a woman religious is a nun or sister in a strict canonical sense, in news reporting it is appropriate to use the term Sister as the religious title before her name.
ordinary. A diocesan bishop or his equivalent, his vicar general and episcopal vicar, or a major superior of a clerical religious order, congregation or society. It refers to someone with ordinary authority in church law over a group of clergy, over certain pastoral concerns in a specific geographical area or over the members of a religious order. The term ordinary was formerly restricted to diocesan bishops and major superiors of religious orders, but it was expanded in the 1983 Code of Canon Law to include vicars general and episcopal vicars. It is not uncommon for bishops and other church officials schooled in the previous canon law code to use the term ordinary mistakenly to refer only to diocesan bishops or major superiors of men religious. If a church official uses the term in this more restricted former use, it is wise to question him or her on what he or she means by the term.
papal nuncio. See apostolic nuncio.
parish. A specific community of the Christian faithful within a diocese, having its own church building, under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.
pastor. A priest in charge of a Catholic parish or congregation. He is responsible for administering the sacraments, instructing the congregation in the doctrine of the church, and providing other services to the people of the parish. Pastor is not ordinarily used as a title before the name of a Catholic priest: He is Father John Smith or Msgr. John Smith or the Rev. John Smith, depending on your publication's style manual.
pastoral council. A parish or (arch)diocesan body that the pastor or (arch)bishop consults concerning policies and major decisions in the governance of the local church. Such a council's role is consultative and always subject to the final authority of the pastor or bishop.
presbyteral council. Also known as the priests' council, this is the principal consultative body mandated by the Code of Canon Law to advise the diocesan bishop in matters of pastoral governance. It consists of bishops and priests serving the diocese.
presbyterate. May be a synonym for priesthood or may refer to the collective body of priests of a diocese or similar ecclesiastical jurisdiction.
province. (1) A grouping of an archdiocese, called the metropolitan see, and the dioceses under it, called suffragan sees. The Code of Canon Law spells out certain limited obligations and authority that the metropolitan archbishop has with respect to the dioceses within his province. (2) A grouping of communities of a religious order under the jurisdiction of a provincial superior.
religious priest/diocesan priest. Religious priests are professed members of a religious order or institute. Religious clergy live according to the rule of their respective orders. In pastoral ministry, they are under the jurisdiction of their local bishop, as well as of the superiors of their order. Diocesan, or secular, priests are under the direction of their local bishop. Most serve in the parishes of the diocese, but they may also be assigned to other diocesan posts and ministries or be released for service outside the diocese.
religious titles before names. Of course you will follow your own publication's style manual for use of religious titles before names. But in general, Catholics refer to nuns as Sister, religious brothers as Brother and priests as Father, and those religious titles take precedence over whatever job titles they might hold, such as pastor, chancellor, vicar general, associate pastor, executive director. The other chief religious titles for clerics are Msgr., Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal, Pope and, for the head of a male monastic community, Abbot. For many members of religious orders, the short version of their order's name may precede the religious title: Mercy Sister Mary Smith, Jesuit Father John Smith, Benedictine Brother Peter Smith. In certain cases it may be better to use an appositive phrase or some other approach: Sister Janet Smith, a School Sister of Notre Dame, rather than School Sister of Notre Dame Sister Janet Smith.
sacraments. Catholics, like Orthodox Christians, believe that there are seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance, matrimony, holy orders and the anointing of the sick. The first three are also called the sacraments of Christian initiation, and in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox traditions they are administered together in infancy. In the Latin rite Church baptism is administered to infants, but the first reception of the Eucharist (first Communion) and confirmation are typically delayed until the child has reached the use of reason, generally regarded as about the age of seven. Eastern Catholics and Orthodox usually refer to confirmation as chrismation. Penance is also called the sacrament of reconciliation. The anointing of the sick used to be called extreme unction when it was only given to those gravely ill or in danger of death. Now it can be administered to anyone who is seriously or chronically ill.
see. Another name for a diocese or archdiocese. It appears in such phrases as Holy See, titular see, metropolitan see, suffragan see, see city. The see city is that city after which the diocese or archdiocese is named. See Holy See, metropolitan, province and titular see.
seminary. An educational institution for men preparing for the priesthood.
sister. In popular speech, any woman religious. Strictly, the title applies to women religious of those institutes, mostly formed during or since the 19th century, whose members do not profess solemn vows. See nun.
superior. The head of a religious order or congregation. He or she may be the head of a province or of an individual house.
suspension. Church penalty under which a priest, while retaining his clerical status, is no longer permitted to perform priestly functions such as celebrating Mass, preaching or administering the sacraments.
titular see. If a bishop does not have his own diocese, he is given a titular see: that is, a place that once was the seat of a diocese but no longer is. Auxiliary bishops and bishops in Vatican service are examples of those given titular sees. Many titular sees are ancient cities of the Middle East or Northern Africa. But there are some titular sees in the United States as well, such as Bardstown, Ky. (original seat of what is now the Archdiocese of Louisville), or Jamestown, N.D. (now in the Diocese of Fargo). The Annuario Pontificio devotes more than 200 pages to the listing of titular sees, where it gives basic biographical information about the bishops who hold them.
tribunal. A tribunal (court) is the name given to the person or persons who exercise the church's judicial powers. Each diocese has a diocesan tribunal, used mainly to hear marriage cases. Each archdiocese has an archdiocesan tribunal—a court of first trial—and a metropolitan tribunal, an appeals court that reviews decisions of diocesan courts in that ecclesiastical province when necessary. (The Catholic Church in Canada has a slightly different system, with regional instead of metropolitan appeals courts.)
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The national membership organization of the Catholic bishops of the United States, through which they act collegially on pastoral, liturgical and public policy matters affecting the Catholic Church in the United States. Episcopal conferences were recommended by the Second Vatican Council and have duties enumerated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law and the 1998 apostolic letter Apostolos Suos. The USCCB traces its origins to the 1919 establishment of the National Catholic Welfare Conference. In 1966, the conference was reorganized as the canonical entity known as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and its twin civil corporation known as the U.S. Catholic Conference. Another reorganization in 2001 resulted in the USCCB.
vespers. Also called evening prayer, vespers is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the series of psalms, prayers and readings for different parts of the day that Catholic priests and deacons are obligated to pray daily. Often a new bishop will present his letter of appointment to the priests of the diocese during a vespers service at the cathedral.
vicar general. A priest, auxiliary bishop or coadjutor bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the entire diocese.
vow. A promise made to God with sufficient knowledge and freedom. Its purpose must be a moral good that, with God's grace, can be achieved. The promises spouses make to each other when they marry are vows. Men and women entering religious life take vows, typically of poverty, chastity and obedience. Celibacy is not a vow; it should be described as a promise.
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