This glossary contains working definitions used in various USCCB publications. It is not intended to be definitive or exhaustive, but to serve as guidance for those seeking a common way of defining specific terms related to ministry formation and certification. For additional references to items in the glossary, please refer to the printed glossary in the subcommittee's Certification Handbook.

accreditation: The public status granted an institution or program by an authorized national or regional accrediting agency that assures the public the institution or program is in compliance with accreditation standards. Accreditation encourages the development of high-quality institutions and programs by reviewing an examination of mission, goals and objectives, curriculum, administration, faculty, resources, and achievements. Accreditation grants recognition to an institution or a program, thereby warranting public and professional confidence.(Note: The USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service does not grant accreditation to formation programs, including both clinical pastoral education and ministry formation. However, it does offer approval of certification standards and consultations for diocesan and ministry organization programs, and, upon request, offers consultations to lay ministry formation programs and academic institutions for the purpose of improving the quality and effectiveness of these programs in accord with the guidance offered by Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord and by other relevant pastoral documents of the USCCB and the universal Magisterium.)

accreditation body: A recognized and voluntary nongovernmental agency that administers evaluation procedures and grants accreditation. (The USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service is not an accreditation body.)

advisory committee: A committee composed of members both internal and external to a program that consults regularly with the program director regarding all aspects of the program and assists in the development of the program according to agreed upon standards. Professional consultation committees function in the same manner.

Alliance for the Certification of Lay Ecclesial Ministers (ACLEM or "The Alliance"): A coalition of organizations which seeks to affirm and promote lay ecclesial ministry in parishes and dioceses throughout the United States. The Alliance is comprised of five national Catholic ministry organizations working collaboratively to produce common standards for lay ecclesial ministry and to implement and promote the certification of lay ecclesial ministers. The Alliance partners are the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Subcommittees (FDLC), National Association for Lay Ministry (NALM), National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM), National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) and National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM). The USCCB Subcommittee first approved its certification standards in 2011 and approved revised and updated standards in 2018.

annual fee: Each organization or diocese pays an annual fee. See the Certification Handbook for the fee structure.

application: This on-line form is part of the process of establishing a relationship with the Subcommittee. Upon contacting the USCCB Office staff stating that the arch/diocesan office or national organization is seeking approval for its certification standards and procedures from the USCCB Subcommittee, the USCCB Office staff will send the director or executive director the following information:

  • A user name, password and link to the certification membership website
  • A User's Guide to the Certification Membership Website with instructions on how to register, access online forms, submit documentation, communicate and join groups
  • A fee schedule

Instructions on accessing and completing the application form can be found in the User's Guide. After reviewing this Certification Handbook, reviewing the User's Guide to the Certification Membership Website and creating a profile with information about the arch/diocesan office or organization and the director or executive director, the director or executive director shall complete the online application form on the membership website. The form asks for a PDF version of a letter or memo of approval from either the local ordinary or Board of Directors. The director or executive director shall also send the original copy of this letter to the USCCB Office. For more details see section 2.0 in the Certification Handbook.

Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE): The ACPE is a national organization of ecumenical educators and ministers who elect accreditation subcommittee members from their regions to accredit clinical pastoral education programs. Its mission is to foster experience-based theological education that combines the practice of pastoral care with qualified supervision and peer-group reflection and that is grounded in a person-centered approach to religious ministry. The ACPE Accreditation Subcommittee accredits ACPE centers, and the ACPE Certification Subcommittee certifies CPE supervisors.

authorization: The process by which properly prepared lay men and women are given responsibilities for ecclesial ministry by competent Church authority. This process includes the following elements:acknowledgment of the competence of an individual for a specific ministerial role (often called "certification"); appointment of an individual to a specific position (in some dioceses called "commissioning"), along with a delineation of the obligations, responsibilities, and authority of that position (and length of term, if specified); and finally an announcement of the appointment to the community that will be served by the lay ecclesial minister (see Co-Workers, p. 54).

biennial report: Each organization or diocese whose standards and procedures have been approved prepares a biennial report for the subcommittee. This report highlights and provides reasons for any changes in structure, procedures, process, or persons involved in certification as well as challenges faced and lessons learned. Of particular importance is information on how the process has been enhanced to reflect the four pillars described in Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord and how resources created by the USCCB to assist them in formation of candidates have been used.

Catholic Campus Ministry Association (CCMA): A professional organization whose mission is to foster the professional and theological growth of Catholic campus ministers and to promote the mission of the Church in higher education. The USCCB first approved its certification standards and procedures in 1992.

certificate: A written statement that a participant has completed a program or course of studies through attendance, participation, and successful completion of program requirements.

certification: A formal process whereby a candidate's competency in a specialized ministry is evaluated and acknowledged by an authorized committee in a diocese or organization. The candidate is judged to have adequately demonstrated that he or she has met the certification standards of the diocese or organization, and the candidate is granted formal recognition for achieving certification for a stipulated period of time before renewal of certification is due.

chaplains: Canon Law (Canons 564-572) restricts the title “chaplain” to ordained priests. In 1997, several Congregations of the Holy See issued an Instruction, “On Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests.” This Instruction was given approval by Pope John Paul II and further specified that it is unlawful for non-ordained faithful to assume the title of "chaplain." However, in the United States, hiring institutions (health care, prison, and other specialized institutions) will only employ “chaplains” who are board certified and hold this professional credential for spiritual care services. Catholic women religious, religious brothers and lay faithful, who have met standards or competencies of Catholic chaplaincy associations approved by the USCCB through its Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service and who have been acknowledged or endorsed by their own local bishop, are also essential representatives of the Church. These ministers help maintain a Catholic presence in most such institutions, assure adherence to the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,”  ensure the availability of the sacraments to Catholics, and provide direction and comfort to physicians, staff, and family members of the sick, dying and incarcerated.

To retain and affirm this very important ministry, while also being faithful to the letter and spirit of Canon Law and the 1997 Instruction, the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) separates out "acknowledgement or endorsement for ministry" from the "certification by the profession." This distinction enables NACC to be faithful to Canon Law, and, at the same time, meet the requirements. The NACC requests of the local ordinary a letter of acknowledgement/endorsement for the candidate for certification which is a prerequisite for certification. The NACC then issues a certificate for "the profession" as a legally separate 501(c) 3. The certificate, no longer with the inclusion of the phrase "and by the authority of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops," instead includes the statement “according to the NACC Standards and Procedures approved by USCCB Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service.”  As is theologically and canonically appropriate, the bishop of the local Church may choose to commission and authorize as "lay ecclesial health care ministers" those who have obtained the professional certification to do those things which the hiring institutions entrust to certified chaplains, regardless of religion or ecclesiastical standing within a given faith.

clinical pastoral education (CPE) program: A program of ministry formation for chaplains and for others considering a pastoral care ministry administered in a clinical setting under the supervision of a CPE certified supervisor. It offers students a structured system of components, including a unified curriculum, a student learning contract, participation in peer groups, and the practice of ministry in a supervised context with formal reporting of this ministry, theological reflection on ministry, a multidisciplinary approach, and an evaluation of the achievement of learning contract goals. The CPE program consists of 4 units and occurs within a specified time frame. 400 hours comprises each CPE unit, during which participants strive for personal growth and professional competence as chaplains and ministers of pastoral care. The USCCB Subcommittee no longer accredits CPE programs; however, the USCCB continues to honor the approved CPE programs using Standards of the prior USCCB/CCA over which the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC) is offering guidance.

commendation: Acknowledgment that an individual, group, or program deserves special recognition.

competence: The demonstrated and proven ability of candidates for certification to meet certification standards approved by the USCCB Subcommittee.

competencies (core or specialized): Knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, values, and/or traits required to be eligible for certification in four major areas: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral. Core competencies are foundational and common to all specialized ministries. Specialized competencies are unique to a particular specialized ministry.

competency: The requisite attainment of a level of proficiency associated with specific knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes, values, and/or traits for a specialized ministry.

consultation: A review of standards and procedures used for certification by a diocese or national organization or of programs of formation offered by dioceses or academic institutions. The purpose of such a discussion is to improve the quality and effectiveness by sharing best practices and guidance in accord with Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord or other relevant pastoral documents, concerns and priorities of the USCCB and the universal magisterium. A request for a consultation may be made to the USCCB Office as an informal discussion, conference call, or meeting. The more formal review is a review of standards and procedures and includes a peer review and liaison visit.

Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord (Co-Workers)A resource for diocesan bishops and for all others who are responsible for guiding the development of lay ecclesial ministry in the United States. Developed by the Committee on the Laity of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, this document was approved by the full body of bishops at its November 2005 General Meeting. It provides a common frame of reference for ensuring that the development of lay ecclesial ministry continues in ways that are faithful to the Church's theological and doctrinal tradition and that respond to contemporary pastoral needs and situations. It suggests concepts, goals, strategies, resources, and ideas to consider. It invites local adaptation, application, and implementation to achieve consistency where possible and to encourage diversity where appropriate. En español aqui

cultural diversity: The Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service affirms diversity and seeks information through an annual report each year from dioceses and organizations whose standards and procedures have been approved regarding the gender, racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of diocesan staff, committee or board members, and the general population or membership served. This information can be best collected from certified leaders or members on a voluntary basis as part of a general survey of leadership or a separate annual anonymous survey. It is important that leaders understand that they are being asked these questions with a goal of tracking efforts to better reflect the actual diversity of the Church being served.

detailed review: see 'review'.

endorsement: The formal recognition by the bishop or by the bishop's delegate in the diocese of a candidate's residence and/or place of ministry or by a candidate's major religious superior if the candidate is a member of a religious congregation. Only Catholics who are in good standing in the Church can be endorsed.

equivalency: The documented and demonstrated ability to meet the diocesan requirements to be eligible for certification.

evaluation: A formal and planned process after an assessment for determining whether accreditation standards have been met by all components of the program, as well as recognition of the strengths and limitations of the program.

Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC): A national organization composed primarily of members of diocesan liturgical subcommittees, worship offices, and/or the equivalent diocesan liturgical structures. These diocesan liturgical personnel, appointed by their bishops, have responsibility for the promotion of the liturgical life of their dioceses. The organization is a partner of ACLEM. The USCCB Subcommittee first approved its certification standards and procedures in 2011 and approved revised standards in 2018.

four dimensions ("pillars" or "areas") of formation: The four areas of formation—human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral—that provide a framework for the formation of deacons and priests and for lay ecclesial ministers, and which are referenced in Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.

guidelines: Suggestions for contents, procedures, and policies in developing, maintaining, or evaluating programs.

human formation: One of the four dimensions of formation. Human formation seeks to develop the lay ecclesial minister's human qualities and character by fostering a healthy and well-balanced personality for the sake of both personal growth and ministerial service. These qualities are critical to form wholesome relationships and necessary for the ministers to become apt instruments of God's love and compassion (Co-Workers,  pp 34, 36).

indicator: Something that constitutes an "effective" demonstration of a particular skill. Each skill within the core skills section has a set of competency indicators. To be competent, one should demonstrate many but not necessarily all of the indicators for each competency Indicators not demonstrated represent areas for growth.

intellectual formation: One of the four dimensions of formation. Intellectual formation seeks to develop the lay ecclesial minister's adequate knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the Catholic faith, which is rooted in God's revelation and embodied in the living tradition of the Church. It consists chiefly of study of the sacred sciences but draws also on a wider range of other disciplines: philosophy, literature and the arts, psychology, sociology, counseling, medical ethics, culture and language studies, business administration, leadership and organizational development, law, and so on. Although the sacred sciences are the main focus here, study of the other disciplines can be valuable and relevant to effective ministry in certain situations (Co-Workers, p. 47).

intercultural competency: The goal of the USCCB Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church for ministry leaders to increase their capacity to welcome, receive, and encourage all emerging cultural groups to assume their leadership role in the Church. The five learning modules of the guidelines on include formation in the following areas:

  • Frame issues of diversity in terms of the Church's identity and mission to evangelize
  • Seek an understanding of culture and how it works
  • Develop intercultural communication skills in pastoral settings
  • Expand one's knowledge of the obstacles that impede effective intercultural relations
  • Foster ecclesial integration rather than assimilation in Church settings, with a spirituality of reconciliation and mission.

Leadership Institute: Developed by the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, the Diocesan Educational/Catechetical Leadership Institute, begun in 1997 as a five-day orientation program for new or nearly new diocesan leaders has now expanded into online offerings designed to assist the formation of educational and catechetical leaders and ministers.

liaison visit: An in-person or online evaluation and coaching of an organization or diocesan office that takes place after the USCCB Office review of documentation and before submission of the self-study report and initial documentation for review by the peer review committee. The liaison visit includes a liaison's evaluation of interviews, oral report of findings, and assistance to directors with compiling reports and documentation, suggestions for improvement, and written reports, which will contribute to the overall peer review committee report to the USCCB Subcommittee in the initial approval review process.

limitation: A statement in a self-study or a report of a site liaison that indicates that an organization or diocesan office needs to address a standard, criterion, guideline, process, policy, or procedure to improve the program.

ministerial priesthood: The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, "each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ." While being "ordered one to another," they differ in essence. While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace—a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit—the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. It is a mission of service in the likeness of Jesus who came to serve and not be served. The ministerial priesthood is a privileged means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church in prolonging his mission throughout time. For this reason, it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

The characteristics that differentiate the ministerial priesthood of bishops and priests from the common priesthood of the faithful may be summarized in the following fashion: (1) the ministerial priesthood is rooted in the apostolic succession and vested with the faculty and the responsibility of acting in the person of Christ, the Head and the Shepherd and (2) it is a priesthood that renders its sacred ministers servants of Christ and of the Church by means of authoritative proclamation of the Word of God, the administration of the sacraments, and the pastoral direction of the faithful. In other words, the ministerial priesthood continues the mission received by the Apostles from Christ. For these reasons, the path of formation for seminarians is categorically distinct from that of candidates for lay ecclesial ministry. In the same way, the lay ecclesial minister necessitates a program of formation proper to his or her form of ministry or service in the Church.

ministry formation program: A program to assist the participants with understanding their gifts, call, role, and mission in the Church and in the world, and with developing skills to respond to the call. Components of a program include a mission, goals, and objectives based on the perspectives of the Vatican II and post-conciliar documents, and the needs of the local Church; a curriculum based on the program's mission and its goals and objectives that integrate the four dimensions of formation cited in Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lordhuman, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral—formation; a program director who administers the program; instructional faculty who assist in the formation process; and sufficient resources for the program to operate according to its mission.

National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC): The NACC, as a national association of certified Catholic chaplains and CPE supervisors, aspires to be the forum for dialogue between the Catholic Church and chaplaincy in responding to new realities and the initiation of continual renewal and transformation of the practice of chaplaincy. The USCCB Subcommittee approved its certification standards in 2016.

National Association for Lay Ministry (NALM): A professional organization that supports, educates, and advocates for lay ministers and promotes the development of lay ministry in the Catholic Church. The organization is a partner of ACLEM. The USCCB Subcommittee approved its certification standards in 2011 and approved their revision in 2018.

National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM): A membership organization composed primarily of musicians, musician-liturgists, clergy, and other leaders of prayer. NPM is devoted to serving the life and mission of the Church by fostering the art of musical liturgy in Catholic worshiping communities. The organization is a partner of ACLEM. The USCCB Subcommittee approved standards and procedures in 2011 and approved their revision in 2018.

National Conference of Catechetical Leadership (NCCL): A professional organization for catechetical leaders that provides networking, resources, and training opportunities for its members and those engaged in catechetical ministry. The organization is a partner of ACLEM. The USCCB Subcommittee approved its certification standards in 2011 and approved their revision in 2018.

National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM): An organization of diocesan, regional, and national structures encompassing the United States and its territories that strives to raise awareness of and foster the ongoing development of ministry to, with, by, and for youth. The organization is a partner of ACLEM. The USCCB Subcommittee first approved its certification standards in 2011 and approved their revision in 2018.

ongoing formation: The ongoing program of academic studies, days of reflection or retreat, lectures, readings, workshops, and other activities that enhances the competencies of specialized ministers. Ongoing formation is often understood as continuing education. This formation should integrate a candidate's self-evaluation and growth plan for each of the four dimensions of formation of Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral.

organization: A national professional organization of specialized ecclesial ministers or an organizational structure in a region or state Catholic conference that submits certification standards or certification standards and procedures to the USCCB Subcommittee for approval.

pastoral formation: One of the four dimensions of formation. Pastoral formation cultivates the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that directly pertain to effective functioning in the ministry setting and that also pertain to pastoral administration that supports direct ministry (Co-Workers, p. 47).

peer review committee: An essential part of the approval process. The members are named by the chair of the USCCB Subcommittee and include at least one bishop member, office staff person, consultant, and/or advisor of the office from a similar organization or diocese. For more details, see peer review process.

peer review process: A process guided by the peer review committee that involves a liaison visit by one member of the peer review committee followed by a detailed review of the self-study report and documentation submitted to the peer review committee by the diocese or organization seeking approval for its standards and procedures. After documentation is reviewed, an online presentation/meeting is arranged for a representative of the organization or diocese to answer any questions from the peer review committee. Upon completion of that presentation, the peer review committee members vote to recommend approval or not. At the next meeting of the USCCB Subcommittee, the peer review committee's recommendation would be discussed and a final decision made. The decision would then be communicated to the organization or diocese after the meeting with any recommendations or additional requests.

periodic review cycle: A period of seven years during which an organization or diocesan office strives to fulfill the recommendations of the last periodic review and to respond to changing needs of the local Church and participants.

policy: A set of rules and/or directions in a designated area congruent with standards, procedures, and guidelines by which decisions are made.

procedure: A set of mandatory steps to be followed in a regular and defined order for the accomplishment of a designated purpose.

follow up report: A report sent to the USCCB Subcommittee that is written by a director and certification commission/committee after receiving notification of the USCCB Subcommittee decision and recommendations.. It states when and how recommendations in the site review report will be integrated into the program based on a detailed multi-year plan with clear goals, objectives and timeline.

recommendation: An advisory course of action for improvement included in a peer review committee report and/or USCCB Subcommittee notification of decision letter.

renewal of certification: A process through which candidates certified by the diocese or organization demonstrates their commitment to maintain and enhance the competencies called for by certification standards and requirements. Renewal of certification takes place after a period of time designated by the organization or diocesan office.

report of a site liaison: The written report of a site liaison to the director and peer review committee that states the site liaison's findings regarding the program's process of self-study review, compliance with standards, affirmation of strengths, recognition of limitations, and recommendations to improve the program, which will contribute to the overall report of the peer review committee.

review: The formal process of assessment or examination of all components of an organization or diocesan office to recognize strengths and limitation and to evaluate whether the organization or office is in compliance with USCCB Subcommittee recommendations. Also referred to as a 'detailed review'.

role of bishop: Entrusted with the pastoral care of all within his diocese, the diocesan bishop oversees all catechetical (Code of Canon Law, no. 386), liturgical (no. 387), and apostolic works (no. 394) carried out in the diocese, and he enjoys the authority necessary to meet these responsibilities (no. 381). (See also Co-Workers, 55.) Those certified for ecclesial ministry and service seek the endorsement or authorization by the bishop in the diocese they serve because they as individuals and their professional organizations acknowledge the relationship of all ministries to the bishop and therefore seek to be known by him or his delegate and to be acknowledged to be in full communion with him and approved to serve in their role. Certification procedures assess the competence of ecclesial ministers and should not be confused with any form of authorization for ministry, which is the province of the local bishop.

self-study process: A period of time within which an organization or diocesan office director and a certification commission/committee carefully examine all the components of the office for compliance with USCCB Subcommittee standards, recommendations, policies, and procedures; identify the strengths and limitations; and make recommendations for improving quality.

self-study report: A report written by an organization or diocesan office director and certification commission/committee stating the results of the self-study process and the office's compliance with USCCB Subcommittee recommendations. The report also includes a description of the strengths, limitations, noncompliance with standards, and recommendations to improve or change the office.

site liaison: A reviewer appointed by the USCCB Subcommittee who meets established criteria and travels to the site of an organization or diocesan office to interview and coach those involved in the certification process and with developing the report to the peer review committee in order to make recommendations to improve any discrepancies between what is found in the report submitted to the USCCB Office and what is observed in the review of the site.

spiritual formation: One of the four dimensions of formation. Spiritual formation aims to arouse and animate the hunger for holiness, desire for union with the Father through Christ in the Spirit, daily growing in love of God and neighbor in life and ministry, and the practices of prayer and spirituality that foster these attitudes and dispositions. It promotes and strengthens that fundamental conversion that places God, and not oneself, at the center of one's life. Openness to this ongoing conversion is a prerequisite for fruitful spiritual formation. (See Co-Workers, p. 38.)

sponsor: The authority that partially or totally finances a ministry formation program so that it can operate.

standards: Criteria established by which the competence of ministers is assessed and evaluated for certification. Each of the four pillars of formation—human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral—is to be addressed in development of these criteria.(See Co-Workers, p. 34.)

statement of approval: A statement given to dioceses and organizations whose standards and procedures for certification have been approved. The statement lists their name, the name of the role or roles approved the year they were approved, and the year their approval ends.

USCCB Subcommittee: The term used for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service. The USCCB Subcommittee has a mandate from the USCCB to establish, review, and approve standards and procedures to be used on a voluntary basis by dioceses and national organizations for the certification of ecclesial ministers. It also offers consultative services aimed at improving the quality of lay ministry formation programs that are sponsored by dioceses and academic institutions.

USCCB Subcommittee-approved: A phrase that refers to the approval of certification standards and procedures for certifying specialized ecclesial ministers by dioceses and organizations. This indicates that the subcommittee has been asked on a voluntary basis to review the materials submitted and has discerned that they embody the concerns and priorities of the bishops of the United States, and if followed, they will help to ensure that those certified, according to his or her status in the Church, are humanly and spiritually mature, well-prepared through education and formation, possess professional competence and pastoral skills, and adhere to the authentic teaching of the Church. (The subcommittee's approval is guided by each of the four dimensions formation outlined in current national and universal church documents such as Pastores Dabo Vobis and Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord.)