Episco-Fact #38
March 19, 2017

The Episcopal Church has all these strange names for clothing, spaces in the buildings, and for the articles on the altar, why?

The labeling of articles in technical terms is one of those ways we know someone has been in the Episcopal Church for a long time. And, it is a habit of humans to want to be insiders. I cannot account for that last statement except to say that it is an observation that I have found to be mostly true.

Having special names for things we use in worship, or the clothes we wear on worship, or even the building we inhabit during worship is also a function of things associated with God take on special reverence and the words, things, or buildings associated with that association become special by that association.

There is no necessary reason why we refer to our worship as liturgy if we want other people outside our community to understand, but for that word, we know it became associated with what we do in the Eucharist or at the Daily Office because it comes from a Latin word meaning the work of the people, especially associated in Rome when great citizens like Gaius Julius Caesar or Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus built a temple or other public building on behalf of the people of Rome. We could say worship in the Episcopal Church, but I think we do want to lay men and women who come to church to participate in the service fully and so, through their prayers, amens, song, and actions to celebrate the Eucharist with the Presider.

I cannot attempt to fit all the special names in this Episco-fact. But I will give a list that covers the items we use on the altar and in the Eucharist.

  • Chalice: Cup used to hold the wine.
  • Cruet: Small pitcher from which to pour the wine to be consecrated, much like the ones used to hold oil and vinegar at a restaurant.
  • Corporal: A white cotton or linen placemat upon which the vessels with wine, to hold wine, with bread, or to hold bread for consecrating.
  • Fair Linen: The white table-sized tablecloth on the altar table which is required by the BCP, and has been since Thomas Cranmer's first Prayer Book in 1549.
  • Pyx: Small round container used to carry blessed elements to the sick at home or in the hospital.
  • Oil Stock: A round container, often slightly larger than a pyx, used to carry oils blessed by the bishop to be used in the healing liturgy.
  • Purificator: A napkin used in the Eucharist for cleaning the edges of the chalice after communicants have taken communion.

The words become special to us because they represent a special moment in our lives each time we participate in the liturgy to be united with Christ and each other. More to come.


The Rev. David Lucey