Handy book defines Catholic terms
DO YOU SPEAK CATHOLIC? The Little Book of Catholic Words: Definitions, Explanations and Illustrations. Compiled by Frank Nunan. SA Catholic Online Books. 2020. 117pp
Reviewed by Günther Simmermacher
Catholic jargon can be confusing, with all those words adapted from Latin, specific applications and distinctions of terminology, and the extraordinary versatility of the word “ordinary”. Frank Nunan’s book Do You Speak Catholic? offers relief to such confusion, and serves as a useful catechism even for those who speak Catholic pretty well.
For example, we may instinctively take it for granted that candles are lit during Mass, but might not really know why, or what the liturgical requirements governing their use are. This little lexicon explains the why and how.
Even this reviewer, whose job it is to be fluent in Catholic, had a couple of “aha!” moments. Who knew that the circular container in which the Blessed Sacrament is placed for exposition in a monstrance has a name: lunette (which I had known only as an architectural and artistic term).
The book also offers some basic instructions which parishes might be unaware of. For example, the ambo may not be used for non-liturgical purposes, such as parish notices or an account of the funds raised at the bazaar (and if you’re not sure what an ambo is, you might need a book like this).
The book may be useful in settling points of pedantry in the common use of terms, such as the difference between the Eucharist, Holy Communion and the Mass; or between feasts, solemnities and memorials; or between auxiliary and coadjutor bishops (the former is an assistant bishop, the latter a co-bishop). That knowledge avoids misleading error, promotes precision of terminology, and helps avoid hair-splitting arguments.
Nunan presents his definitions in brief, accessible and clear terms, drawing the sting of intimidation from complicated words. Going through them is educating, edifying and entertaining.
Some entries will surely move the reader to explore certain terms more fully. The author encourages that. The brief he set himself is to provide an overview rather than a comprehensive discussion of the terms he treats. With the Internet, it isn’t difficult to build on Nunan’s information.
Readers will find some of the many illustrations helpful, such as photos of clerical dress, or the graph of the liturgical year, or the layout of churches.
However, I am not a great fan of decorative medieval fonts in headings; I must have misread the word “sacred” as “sacked” a few times. Future editions of the book, which surely there will be, might usefully add the correct pronunciation for some featured terms, such as kerygma.
In his erudite introduction, Bishop Vincent Zungu of Port Elizabeth, the diocese Nunan lives in, expresses his hope that the book will help deepen the reader’s Catholic identity and “appreciation of our heritage and enhance your full, conscious, meaningful and active participation in the Eucharist, the source and summit of all our Christian life”. No doubt, Do You Speak Catholic? accomplishes that task as it reveals the wealth of our Church’s great traditions and the delightful quirks which underpin the richness of our faith.
• Do You Speak Catholic? is available at R175 (plus p&p) at www.sacatholiconline.org/ index.php/the-store
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