An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Glossary of Terms


Harmony with a fixed theme in music. It is usually a higher soprano part sung to complement one or more verses of a hymn. For example, “While shepherds watched their flocks” (Hymn 94) has descants on the second and sixth verses, and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” (Hymn 390) has a descant on the […]


” These “desks,” sometimes called “ethnic desks,” refer to the staff at the Episcopal Church Center in New York who have networks, or commissions and committees, whom they represent at Episcopal or ecumenical meetings. These “desks” may also provide program services if funded in the general church program budget. These have included American Indian/Alaska Native […]


Once fallen into disuse as an inferior order used mainly as a stepping stone to the priesthood, the diaconate (order of deacons) has been restored in the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and several Protestant churches. In the Episcopal Church the diaconate is a full order equal to the presbyterate and the episcopate, and it plays an […]

Dialogue, Opening (Eucharist)

The practice of opening the eucharistic prayer with a dialogue between presider and people dates from the early church, as recorded in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus in about the year 215. The dialogue consists of three exchanges: the salutation, “The Lord be with you,” the command, “Lift up your hearts,” and the request, “Let […]

Didache, The

This document, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, and sometimes called The Teaching of the Lord to the Heathen by the Twelve Apostles, dates from the early second century. Its author, date, and place of writing are unknown. “Didache” is Greek for “teaching.” The document, an early church order, is essentially a […]

Dignus es

Canticle based on Rv 4:11; 5:9-10, 13, which describes hymns sung before the One seated on the heavenly throne and to the Lamb in the heavenly vision. These may be drawn from early Christian hymns. Dignus es is also known as A Song to the Lamb. It identifies Christ as the “Lamb that was slain,” […]


The territorial jurisdiction of a diocesan bishop. The term also refers to the congregations and church members of the diocese. Before the church adopted the word it had a long secular usage. It was originally used in the Roman Empire for an administrative subdivision. A diocese was a division of a prefecture of the Roman […]


A set of two tablets, made of wood or metal, and bound together by rings. The names of saints, bishops, rulers, and the faithful departed were inscribed on the inner surfaces. These names were read out by the deacon during the eucharistic liturgy.

Direct Ordination

Sometimes called per saltum (by a leap), it is ordination directly to the order for which one is chosen. In the early church those elected presbyter or bishop were commonly ordained directly to that order. Although direct ordination continued in Rome and elsewhere until the eleventh century, notably in the elevation of archdeacons as popes, […]


A mournful hymn. It can be a hymn that expresses grief, and it may be a lament for the dead. The term comes from the Latin Dirige, the first word of the antiphon Dirige, Dominus Deus, “Lead me, O Lord God” (Ps 5:8). This antiphon preceded the first psalm in the Office of the Dead […]

Disciple, Discipleship

A follower or pupil of a great master. A disciple is a learner who follows a movement or teacher and helps to spread the master's teaching. The term is used in various senses and contexts in the NT to indicate the followers of Jesus. Although it is used at times relative to the Twelve, it […]

Disciplina Arcani

The term is from Latin for the “discipline of secrecy.” It concerns the secrecy practiced by the early church so that certain teachings and practices were not shared with converts until they were initiated and had begun full participation in the life of the Christian community. Catechumens in the early church were dismissed from the […]

Disciplinary Rubrics

These rubrics are found among “Additional Directions” at the end of the eucharistic services in the 1979 BCP. The rubrics derive from the 1549 Prayer Book and involve the prohibition of communion to those known to be living in major contradiction to the Christian life. The rubrics require notification of the bishop within fourteen days […]


1) In a general sense, the right ordering of Christian life and community. The Constitution, Canons, Prayer Book rubrics, and rules of the church are meant to govern the proper conduct, responsibilities, services, and actions of church life. At the time of ordination, all persons being ordained bishop, priest, or deacon state that "I do […]


A deacon, or the presider if no deacon is present, ends the eucharistic liturgy by dismissing the people. The term comes from the Latin Ite, missa est, “Go, it is the sending.” The Episcopal Church allows the dismissal in Rite 1 and requires it in Rite 2. There are four alternate texts: 1) “Let us […]


(1) The exceptional relaxation of a church law or penalty by the canonical authority owing to the needs of a special case or occasion. The dispensation must be for good cause. The church law remains valid despite the dispensation, but it is not applied to the case or situation specified by the dispensation. Members of […]


A Prayer Book containing the monastic Daily Office, except for the night hour of matins. Anglican versions include The Monastic Diurnal (1932, rev. 1963), with relevant material adapted from the English and American Prayer Books, and The Monastic Diurnal Noted (1952), a plainchant version edited by Winfred Douglas. The term is derived from the Latin […]

Divine Liturgy

A title for the eucharistic liturgy, used primarily by Eastern Orthodox. It is one of six names for the Eucharist given in the Catechism (BCP, p. 859).

Divine Office

See Daily Office.


See Apotheosis; see Theosis.

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Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.