“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I’m not going to pick a fight with Shakespeare. But Romeo was incorrect in imagining that being a Montague was irrelevant in his quest to wed a Capulet. Names do matter. Precision in language matters. Not everything is a “thing.” To learn the proper names implies we’re invested, in the way professionals know the terms of their employment. Would you hire a doctor who couldn’t be bothered to distinguish one bone from another? Or a plumber who couldn’t name his tools?
So it’s both useful and a matter of personal investment to know that the “bowl” you dip your hand in at the entrance to the church is a holy water font. It reminds us of the baptismal font—which these days may be a walk-in pool. Where the priest sits during Mass is the presider’s chair. The table at which he stands is the altar, also known as the Table of the Lord. The readings at Mass are proclaimed from a special stand called the ambo. (Most Catholics call it a lectern, because the book the lector reads from is the lectionary.) The priest proclaims the gospel from the Book of Gospels. Then he gives a reflection on the Scriptures called the homily. The book the priest reads the rest of the prayers of the Mass from is the Roman Missal.
A plate called a paten holds the big host which the priest raises during the elevation at Mass. The elevation is part of the second part of the Mass known as the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which we celebrate our communion with God and each other. The first part of the Mass is called the Liturgy of the Word, which celebrates the stories of our faith. The vessel holding the wine is called the chalice: however, cup is not incorrect. The bowl from which consecrated hosts are served is the ciborium (you get three points for knowing the plural is ciboria.) Once the hosts and wine are consecrated during the Eucharistic Prayer, believers recognize them as the Body and Blood of Christ.
The little room where the priest and servers dress (or vest) is the sacristy. This is not to be confused with the sanctuary—once descriptive of the priest’s side of the altar rail back when churches had railings. With the removal of the rail, we came to understand that we all stand in the sanctuary, that is, in the Holy Presence. The body of the church is more commonly distinguished as the nave, which is where the benches known as pews are. That’s where we, the assembly, sit. If I had more room, we could do this all day. Suffice it to say, thoughtful Catholics know these terms and many more.
Scripture: The significance of naming persons, places, and things reflects the biblical belief that names participate in meaning in the most intimate way.
Books: A Glossary of Liturgical Terms, by Dennis C. Smolarski (Liturgy Training Publications, 2017)
Praise the Name of the Lord: Meditations on the Names of God, by Michael Louis Fitzgerald (Liturgical Press, 2017)