Glossary of Christian & Religious Terms
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Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is the Catholic feast day of St. Valentine, bishop of Interamna, martyred in A.D. 271, and celebrated on February 14. Traditionally, it predates St. Valentine as an ancient Roman festival of love. One such Roman festival was the drawing of partners by lot by young men and women for the February feast of Lupercalia and as sexual partners throughout the year. It is said that St. Valentine secretly married such young lovers in matrimony, for which he was imprisoned by the Roman emperor Claudius II, who had made marriages illegal for the sake of a better soldier. Legend holds that while in prison awaiting execution, Valentine signed a farewell message to the jailer's daughter, "From Your Valentine." In A.D. 496, Pope Galasius changed the Lupercalian lottery to the drawing of the names of saints, of which young participants were to imitate the lives of their chosen saints throughout the remainder of the year. Cupid was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and fertility, and a derivation of Eros, the Greek god of lust. Often depicted as a winged child with a bow and arrow, he is the origin of many modern images of the cherub (known as putti), a popular depiction in Italian Renassiance and Rococo art. Valentine cards come from the Roman custom during mid-February of giving women hand-written letters of admiration and affection. The earliest known Valentine card dates from 1415 and is on display in the British Museum. Although original, hand-made cards were preferential, by the nineteenth century publishers were printing "mechanical valentines" with sentimental verses. Another association of this festival with love is that it is the mating season of most birds.


From the Latin Vaticanus Mons, "Vatican Hill" or Hill of Prophecy, derived from the root word Vatic, meaning prophetic (plural vaticinia, prophecies): the governmental capital of the Catholic Church in west central Rome, consisting of the Roman Curia and its buildings, including St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Apostolic Palace. Vatican City is a 108-acre, independent city-state constituted in 1929 by the Lateran Council as a Roman enclave (population cerca 1,000) endowed with extraterritorial rights. The State of the Vatican City, as it's officially known, provides a temporal jurisdiction for the Diocese of Rome (Holy See). The Curia, or Vatican, is a royal court representing the international government of the Catholic Church overseen by the Bishop of Rome (Pope) and includes various offices, such as the Governor, Apostolic Chancery, Apostolic Dataria, Secretariate of Briefs, Roman Conrgregations, Cardinals, Tribunals, and Pontificul Councils. It is also associated with either of the Roman Catholic Ecumenical Councils held in St. Peter's Basilica in 1869-70 (Vatican I) or 1962-65 (Vatican II).


Sanskrit, "knowledge" -- a collection of four ancient, sacred books of Hinduism, or Samhitas, consisting of psalms, chants, sacred formulas, rituals, incantations, and scripture, which includes the Rig-Veda (Veda of Verses), Yajur-Vida (Veda of Sacrificial Prayers), Sama-Veda (Veda of Chants), and Atharva-Veda (Veda of the Fire Priests). Hindu tradition holds that the Vedas are eternal, revealed from time to time to sages (rishis) by the divine principle (one true god) through Paramatma (a super spirit) and transferred orally from generation to generation. The rishi Krishna Dwaipayana, or Veda Vyasa ("editor"), compiled these oral traditions into the four Vedas. The age of these texts have yet to be determined, but are considerd by many to be some of the oldest scriptures in the world. The oldest veda, the Rig-Vida, is dated at approximately 1500 B.C. (codified around 600 B.C. and written about 300 B.C.). Along with the four Vedas, Hindu scripture also includes the Brahmanas (rituals and sacrifice), Aranyakas (philosophy and sacrifice), Upanishads (philosophy and meditation), Upavedas (vedic applications), and Mahabharata (history), which expound on the original Vedas. Although the Hindu religion (Sanatana Dharma) originally recognized one god, millions of prophets, angels, and minor dieties have been elevated in status throughout the centuries and worshipped as gods, or devas. Vedanta is a system of Hindu monistic or pantheistic philosophy based on the Vedas. Vedic is the Old Indic language of the Vedas, an early form of Sanskrit.


The temple curtain which separated the altar of God's presence (Most Holy Place) from the outer sanctuary of the Levitical priests (Holy Place) in the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:14 -- adapted from the Tent of Meeting, Exodus 26:31-33). Only the high priest was allowed beyond the veil once a year (Leveticus 16). The Temple veil was torn open at the time of Jesus' death (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45), allowing for believers to enter into the presence of God (Hebrews 10:19-20). Also part of a nun's headdress, a piece of cloth draped along the sides of the face and over the shoulders, thus the term "take the veil" -- to become a nun; the state or life of a nun or novice.


Parchment prepared from calfskin, lambskin, or kidskin, used for writing manuscripts or binding books.


Latin venerabilis, to be reverenced -- the lowest title of the three degrees of sanctity in the Roman Catholic Church (among beatification and canonization); a title given to an archdeacon in the Anglican Church.


Theological term for sin that does not cause death to the soul because it is committed either without awareness of its seriousness or without full consent (distinguished from mortal sin).


A canticle sung at matins or morning prayer in the Roman Catholic Church, consisting of parts of Psalms 95 and 96, so named from the opening word of the 94th Psalm in the Vulgate and the 95th in the King James Version (Latin venire, to come).


A woman who, according to legend, wiped the bleeding face of Jesus on the way to Calvary (saint celebrated on July 12); the bloody image of Jesus' face on the cloth used to wipe his face; any cloth or garment with a representation of the face of Jesus.


Biblically, the numbered divisions of a chapter, usually one or two sentences.


A short verse, particularly one of the short sentences said or sung by a church minister which is followed by the response of the congregation.


A particular translation of the Bible, such as the King James Version or the Revised Standard American Version.

Vespers (Evensong)

Latin vesper, "evening" -- an evening prayer or service; the sixth of the seven canonical hours in the Roman Catholic Church, recited or sung in the late afternoon; Evensong in the Anglican Church. A vesperal is a book containing the chants and psalms used at vespers (also a cloth cover for protecting the altar cloth between services).


A person who is the repository of a spirit.


Garments (robes and gowns) worn by Ecclesiastic officials and their assistants. A vestry is a room in a church where sacred vessels are kept and where clergy put on their vestments (sacristy); in the Anglican and Episcopal Churches, a vestry is a group of members who manage the temoral affairs of the church. A vestiary is a supply room for clothing in a monastery.


A church deputy: in the Anglican Church, a parish priest who is not a rector and receives a stipend instead of tithes; in the Episcopal Church, a minister in charge of one parish chapel as deputy of another minister; in the Roman Catholic Church, a church officer acting as deputy of a bishop. Because the Pope is regarded as the earthly vicar of Christ, he is known as the Vicar of Christ. Vicarage is the position, residence, salary, and duties of a vicar. Vicariate is the office, authority, or district administered by a vicar. Vicar apostolic (V.A.) was formerly a bishop or archbishop to whom the Pope delegated part of his jurisdiction; titular bishop administering a vacant diocese; missionary bishop acting as a delegate of the Holy See in a region where no regular see has yet been organized. Vicar-general in the Anglican Church is a layman serving as a deputy to a bishop or archbishop; in the Roman Catholic Church, it's a priest acting as administrative deputy to a bishop or a general superior; title given to Thomas Cromwell as vicegerent of Henry VIII. Vicar forane is a dean in the Roman Catholic Church; in general, the rural part of the episcopal city.


A watch kept during sleeping hours; the devotional services held on the evening before a religious festival. Vigil light is a candle burned as an act of devotion or petition.


Seven Hills of Rome

Vincent de Paul

(1580-1616) French priest who founded charitable orders, celebrated July 19.

Virgin Birth

Birth of Jesus to Mary, who conceived by the Holy Spirit while betrothed to Joseph.

Virgin Mary

Holy Mother of the Roman Catholic Church; doctrine that since Mary was the mother of Christ and Christ was God, then she was the mother of God.


Sanskript Visnu, "all-pervader" -- second member of the Hindu trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva), called the "Preserver" and supposed to have had several human incarnations, including Krishna. Vaishnava is a devotee of Vishnu.


Something seen beyond normal sight, such as in a dream, a trance, or supernaturally revealed.


A supernatural being perceived by a person, such as a ghost, phantom, or spirit. Visitation is a personal reward or infliction of punishment by God; an official visit of a bishop to a church in his diocese.

Vis Major

Latin, "greater force" -- an act of God.


Doctrine that life in living organisms is caused and sustained by a vital force distinct from physical and mental forces and is self-determining and self-evolving.


A call or impulsion to a certain career, particularly a religious one


Exercise of the will; conscious or deliberate decision.


French writer and philosopher, born François Marie Arouet (1694-1778).

Voodoo (Hoodoo)

French Creole vodu, "fetish" or "demon" -- primitive religion that originated in West Africa and is practiced primarily in the West Indies, based on a belief in sorcery and the power of charms, fetishes, spells, and black magic.


Latin votus, "to vow" -- a person bound to religious vows, such as a monk or nun; a person devoted to a particular religion or object of worship (devout); concecrated by a vow.


An offering concecrated in fulfillment of a vow; a special Mass in the Roman Catholic Church said at the priest's option.


Medieval Latin volgata, "popular" (Latin volgatus, common or ordinary) -- a Latin version of the Bible commissioned by Pope Damasus and prepared by St. Jerome in the fourth century A.D., which served as an authorized version for the Roman Catholic Church. The Old Testament was translated from Hebrew and Aramaic and the Gospels from the best available Greek manuscripts. Among the canonized scriptures of the Old Testament, it also includes the apocryphal books of Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and I and II Maccabees. In 1546, the Council of Trent declared it the authentic Latin Bible. The current, official edition of the Vulgate was issued in 1592 by Pope Clement VIII.

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