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Glossary of Church Terms



than 200 pages to the listing of titular sees, where it gives basic biographical

information about the bishops who hold them.




(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 enumer-

ated in the 1983

Code of Canon Law

and the 1998 apostolic letter



. 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 reor-

ganization in 2001 resulted in the USCCB.


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 dur-

ing 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.


A promise made to God with sufficient knowledge and freedom. Its pur-

pose must be a moral good that, with God’s grace, can be achieved. The prom-

ises 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.