Abba (N.2766)

In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, Abba is an intimate, respectful term we would use to address our father, like ‘dear father’.  It was the term consistently used by Jesus in speaking about God or in prayer to God.  Before Jesus it was never used to refer to God.  Its use by Jesus reveals the depth of his intimacy with God.  It also reveals the closeness of the relationship with God that Jesus expected his followers to have.  He taught them to pray “Our Father”.  See Mk 14:36, Gal 4:6 and Rom 8:15.

Abraham (N.144-46, 705-06)

Abraham is the original Hebrew Patriarch whose story is found in the Book of Genesis (Ch 11-25).  The name Abraham means “father of a multitude”.  Abraham answered a call from God to leave his home and travel to a new land.  In return God made a covenant with Abraham promising him many descendants and a land.  Abraham is revered as a model of faith by Jews and Christians.  This faith was demonstrated in Abraham’s obedience to God’s call and his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac.  In the Catholic Liturgy Abraham is referred to as “our father in faith”.

Acts of the Apostles

This book is found in the New Testament immediately following the four Gospels.  It is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke, written by the same author.  It was written to show how, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ first followers spread his Gospel “not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria and indeed to the ends of the earth”.  It is mainly concerned with the activities of St Paul and St Peter.


A Hebrew word meaning “Lord”.  It was used as a title for God by the Jews when, out of reverence, they wished to avoid using the name Yahweh.

Advent (N.524, 1093-95)

From the Latin adventus meaning “coming”.  This is a four-week season immediately preceding Christmas.  It is a period of joyful preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas (the Incarnation) and for his Second Coming at the end of time.

Advent Wreath

A circle of green foliage surrounding four candles which are lit successively during the four weeks of Advent.  The candles symbolise the coming of Christ, the “light of the world” at Christmas.
The colours of the candles traditionally match the colours of the Advent season, three purple and one rose.
The custom of the advent wreath originated in Germany and is now followed in churches and homes in many parts of the Christian world.


A Hebrew term meaning “Praise God” (halelu-jah – praise Yahweh).  This expression of praise is found in the Psalms and in the Book of Revelation.  In Christian worship alleluias are sung at Mass as the Gospel Acclamation except in Lent and in the antiphons and Psalms of the Liturgy of the Hours.

All Saints

The feast day of All Saints is celebrated on 1 November to honour all the saints known and unknown.

All Souls

The feast of All Souls is celebrated on 2 November for all deceased Christians that ‘they may rest in peace’.  Catholics are encouraged to pray on this feast day for their departed relatives and others (see entry on Communion of Saints).

Altar (N.1182)

The altar is the table upon which the sacrifice of the Cross is made present under sacramental signs.  It is the most important piece of furniture in a church – the focus of the sacramental presence of Christ and hence of worship.  The symbolic meaning of the altar includes both the understanding that it is a table for a ritual meal and an altar of sacrifice for the sacrifice of the Mass.  The altar is also the table of the Lord, to which the people of God are invited.

Altars may be fixed or moveable.  In churches they must be fixed, that is attached to the floor, but in other places designated for divine worship the altar may be fixed or moveable.
The General Introduction of the Roman Missal issued as part of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II sets down a number of directives for the construction and adornment of altars.  These include such things as the covering of an altar with a cloth and the use of candles and a cross on or near the altar.  Traditionally, fixed altars have contained relics of saints.  This practice is not obligatory today.

Amen (N.2865)

Pronounced ah’men or ay’men, this word is said as the formal conclusion to prayer, especially in the liturgy.  Saying amen signifies acceptance of a claim.  Thus to say amen at the conclusion of the recital of a Creed means that one accepts the beliefs stated in the Creed.  It comes from a Hebrew word meaning “established with certainty”.  The use of the term by Jesus is, in the New Testament, often translated as ‘truly’ or ‘verily’ as in the saying beginning “Truly, truly, I say to you ——”.  In English the meaning is often given as ‘so be it’.


A term used to describe the Church of England and those churches throughout the world in communion with it.  The Church of England arose from the reform of the English Church in the sixteenth century.  It understands itself as a middle road between papal authority and Lutheran reform.

Anointing (N.695, 1499-1532)

To anoint someone is to pour or rub oil on them in a religious ceremony.  In the Old Testament anointing is a sign of election by God.  Thus priests, prophets and kings were anointed.
The title Messiah, or Christ, means “the anointed one”.  So Christ is the one, above all others, anointed by the Holy Spirit.  This is the source of the Catholic understanding of anointing as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Anointing is used in this way in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders.

Holy oil is also used in the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to heal or strengthen those ill or dying.


Literally “standing apart”.  The deliberate and complete rejection of the faith by a baptised person.  In the early Church the term was used to refer to those who defected from the believing community in times of trial and persecution.

Apostles (N.857-65)

The word apostle comes from the Greek word meaning “one who is sent”.  In the New Testament it is used in a broad sense to refer to many followers of Jesus who spread his message.  St Paul refers to himself and his co-workers as apostles.  More precisely however the term is used to refer to the Twelve called by Jesus (Mark 3:13-19).  The Catholic Church regards the Pope and the Bishops as successors of the original Twelve apostles with Peter at the head.  The Pope and the Bishops, through this apostolic succession, inherit Christ’s mandate to the original apostles, to be shepherds of his flock.

Apostles’ Creed (N.194)

A statement of belief from the early centuries of the Church.  It was once thought that this creed was written by the Apostles but that has been disproved.  There is evidence that the Apostles’ Creed was being used in Baptismal rites by the early 5th Century.  It is shorter and simpler than the Nicene Creed, and includes a clause on the doctrine of the Communion of Saints.


A term meaning pertaining to, or coming from, the twelve apostles.  Thus apostolic succession is the name of the doctrine which claims that bishops today are in direct line of succession to Christ’s original apostles and are charged with the same mission.  The diocese of Rome is referred to as the Apostolic See because the present Bishop of Rome, the Pope, is the successor of the Apostle St Peter.


A Semitic language related to Hebrew.  It began to replace Hebrew as the spoken language of the Jewish people from the time of the Exile (6th Century B.C.).  It was probably the language spoken by Jesus.  Some passages of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic especially in the Books of Daniel and Ezra.  Some words are also found in the New Testament – ‘Abba’ being the best known.

Ascension (N.659-67)

This is the name given to Christ’s going to heaven forty days after his Resurrection (Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51 and Acts 1:9,11).  Christ’s Ascension marks the completion of the stage of salvation history that started with the Incarnation.  Following the Ascension, Christ reigns in glory ‘seated at the right hand of the Father’ until he comes again ‘to judge the living and the dead’.  Christ’s Ascension is a forerunner and pledge of our own.

Ash Wednesday

This is the first day of Lent (see entry).  It is so called because on this day ashes are applied to the foreheads of worshippers as a sign of penance.  Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence.  To fast is to limit one’s intake of food.  Christians have observed periods of fasting since early times in imitation of Christ, and in commemoration of his passion and death.  Church regulations on fasting apply to those over 21 and under 60.

Abstinence is another form of penance.  It involves refraining from certain food or drink.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days on which Catholics abstain from eating meat.  Church regulations on abstinence apply to those over 14.

Assumption (N.966, 974)

This is the dogma that the Blessed Virgin Mary was taken (assumed) body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life.  Pope Pius XII promulgated it in 1950, and it is the only dogma proclaimed since the decree on papal infallibility in 1870.  Mary’s Assumption is a sharing in the Resurrection of her Son and an anticipation of the resurrection of others.  The Assumption is celebrated liturgically by a Feast Day on 15 August.  It is the patronal feast for the Church in New Zealand and is a holy day of obligation. The feast of the Assumption is one of the oldest of the Church’s Marian feasts.