Antwerp, Churches and Tourism
Tourism Pastoral, Diocese of Antwerp (TOPA vzw)

Church terminology



In the municipal boys’ school in the outskirts of Antwerp, my day invariably started with half an hour of catechism. Later, my favourite subject was added: Sacred History. And in the sixth year, we even had a textbook on liturgy. In the first year, our teacher prepared us for our first communion, including a visit to the sacristy, where the father who would administer this sacrament initiated us in the meaning of the various church vestments. Since then, we also went confessing all our sins with the entire class every month and we were encouraged to go to Mass every day. That we did this every Sunday was obvious and to actively take part in the worship, a father came to teach us a song on Saturday that would be sung in Mass the next day. As I say, this was a municipal school. I suppose this was just a poor substitute of what happened in a genuine Catholic school.

You may think I am Medieval, but I am not – at most, a man who has just passed middle age. At my first communion, the priest stood with his back to the faithful for most of the celebration and prayed in Latin, but six years later the altar had been moved forward, the pastor looked at us and spoke Dutch.

So, like many of my peers, I have been educated as a decent Catholic. But the dust of time covers so much knowledge. As a result, when reading the above text, some may have wondered what I meant by “father”, “priest” and “pastor”. Because a father is a priest, but not every priest is a father and certainly not a pastor. And what is a “sacristy”? And if anyone asked you to explain what a “sacrament” is, or an “altar,” would this work?

Like every other domain in our society, the Church has its specific vocabulary. This web page is intended for people who want to dust off or refresh their former knowledge, but also for anyone who wants to know the correct terminology for whatever reason.

Because words only take on meaning in a context, I have tried to put as many words as possible in a text about one specific aspect of the church and its servers. On the right you can access a glossary of definitions, descriptions and/or explanations.

I have limited myself in this. Maybe some curiosity has crept in, but I tried to avoid this as much as possible. Some of the glossary concepts are filling libraries, so I sometimes had to simplify greatly at risk of not being 100% correct. I apologize for this.

I hope you will enjoy reading and refreshing.

Fred Vanderpoorten
Oud Turnhout 2020

Many thanks to Kristin De Raeymaecker, Louise Stroobants, Dirk Vermeiren and Revd. Rudi Mannaerts for their critical look and advice.

Translated from Dutch in English by Fred Vanderpoorten