What do the words mean?

Many of the words used in the Eucharist or in books on the Eucharist may be unfamiliar to some readers, so here are explanations for the main terms. I’ve also included a clarification of some of the words used in the new translation.

First, a brief history of the new translation.

The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s gave permission for the use of the local languages in the liturgy.

The bishops of the English speaking countries combined to form the International Commission for English in the Liturgy – ICEL. The first translation came into use in 1973, so is known as the 1973 translation. It was done fairly hurriedly and not always accurately. ICEL revised the translation in 1998. However, the authorities in Rome wanted a more literal translation of the Latin, and the version that we are using now is the result. It came into use in Australia in November 2011. Some of the words and phrases are obscure to many Catholics so I have expanded the glossary to include these words and phrases.


In the Eucharistic prayer, this means remembering Jesus’ death and resurrection.

And with your spirit

This is a literal translation of the Latin, Et cum spiritu tuo. I understand the 1973 translation used this in all languages except English.

Breaking of Bread

Earliest name for the Eucharist; used in the Acts of the Apostles.


The act of setting aside something as holy, as in consecrating an altar. In the Eucharist it refers to the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.


The word comes from a Greek term of philosophy used by Aristotle (384-322 BC) and by Christian theologians. See chapter 8 for a full explanation of the root word ‘substance’. Christ is ‘consubstantial’ with the Father, that is, of the same ‘substance’ as the Father. The 1973 translation said ‘of one being with the Father’ which is a little clearer, though we must remember we are dealing with the mystery of the Godhead.


In the context of the Eucharist, ‘the elements’ are the bread and wine. The words ‘the gifts’ are sometimes used instead of ‘the elements’.


In the Eucharistic prayer, this means asking the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.


From the Greek word for ‘thanksgiving’. It means the ritual of prayers and actions that take place when the people gather for the sacred meal to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is also called the Mass, the Breaking of Bread, and the Lord’s Supper.

Eucharistic prayer

The official prayer of the Church used in the Eucharist from the Preface to the Great Amen. Today there is a choice of Eucharistic prayers.


The term used when consecrated bread is exposed for public worship.


‘all gathered here’ occurs in Eucharistic Prayer I and ‘those gathered here before you’ occurs in Eucharistic Prayer IV. The Latin here is ‘circumstantium’ which literally means ‘standing around’. This is an instance where the translators did not use a literal translation. Nicholas King SJ speaks of a ‘coyness about encouraging people to stand during the Eucharistic Prayer’ and a preference for the ‘relatively recent posture of kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer’.


The Apostles Creed has ‘He descended into hell’. In the Old Testament it was believed that everyone who died went to Sheol, a grey place of neither reward nor punishment. Matthew says that when Jesus died, ‘The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.’ (Matthew 27:52-53) 1 Peter 3:18,19 says, ‘[Christ] was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.’ The creed is saying that Jesus went to Sheol and brought the souls of the just to share in his resurrection victory. Eucharistic Prayer IV speaks of Christ’s ‘descent to the realm of the dead’ which avoids the confusion of our thinking of ‘hell’ as the place of eternal punishment – with flames.


The word has two meanings; the first refers to the breads that are used for the Eucharistic meal. The second meaning is large numbers of people as in ‘the Lord God of hosts’. This phrase is now used in the preface in the new translation.


From the Latin ‘carnis’ meaning flesh. It refers to God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ. The Nicene Creed says Christ was ‘incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man’.


Prefaces of Easter: ‘It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously, when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.’ ‘To laud you’ means to praise you, from ‘laudare’ to praise; pronounced the same as ‘Lord’ in the previous sentence which can be confusing.


The official public worship of the Church. It includes the Eucharist, the Divine Office (the Hours and the Breviary) and the celebration of the sacraments.

Lord’s Supper

The Eucharistic meal.


The new translation has Jesus saying ‘. . . blood of the new and eternal covenant . . . poured out for you and for many’. The 1973 version had ‘for all’. The Latin is pro multis which literally means for many. Nicholas King SJ says, ‘The Semitic languages that underlie our text use ‘many’ to imply a very large number, virtually everybody.’ (Nicholas King SJ, ‘Lost, and found, in translation’, The Tablet, 19 November 2011). In Matthew’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus says, ‘. . . my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many’. Mark also says ‘for many’. This may refer to Isaiah 53:12 which says the suffering servant ‘bore the sin of many’. The Eucharistic prayers make it clear in other places that Jesus died for all. We need to be careful not to take every word literally, but allow for metaphor and for similar references to scripture.


The most common name for the Eucharist in the Catholic Church.


The vessel in which a bread consecrated in the Eucharist is placed when exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is used for public worship. The monstrance is usually very decorative. The word comes from monstrare meaning ‘to show’.


This comes from the Latin ‘oblationem’, a word which was coined by the church to indicate the bread and wine of the Eucharist. When the church adopted Latin as its official language in the second century, it continued to develop the language for new ideas and concepts. ‘Oblation’ is one of those words. In recent times the church also had to coin words for aeroplane, television, radar etc. The 1973 version used ‘offering’ or ‘sacrifice’. ‘Oblation’ is used in most of the Eucharistic prayers and elsewhere.


The first part of the Eucharistic prayer. The Preface almost always begins as a prayer of thanksgiving.


The payment of money, a ransom, for the release of someone held in detention, such as a slave. In Christianity redemption means Jesus’ act of taking our punishment for us so that we can be set free from slavery to sin. He has done this through his death on the cross and resurrection. Because of his redeeming act, Jesus is called the ‘Redeemer’.


Any combination of words, gestures, actions and symbols designed for a specific purpose, such as for worship.


The act of being saved. Salvation comes to us through the teachings of Jesus, but, most importantly, through His death and resurrection. In this book salvation is sometimes referred to as the ‘saving event’. Because of his saving act, Jesus Christ is called the ‘Saviour’.


Acknowledgement through public or private ritual of the existence of a divine power. Christianity calls this divine power ‘God’. Elements of worship include praise, thanksgiving and petition.


‘I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof . . .’ This refers to the gospel story of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant; Jesus said he would come and heal him, but the centurion said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.’ (Matthew 8:8) The new translation has this clear reference to the gospel whereas the 1973 translation did not do justice to the Latin prayer. No, it does not refer to the roof of the mouth!