The Deacon's Bench

Finally, someone has devised a handbook for the ordinary Catholic who doesn’t speak Latin, or Hebrew, or Italian — but keeps tripping over foreign phrases that pop up routinely in mass or in conversation.

According to the Catholic News Service, it’s the brainchild of a priest and, believe it or not, focus groups:

In student focus groups conducted either before or concurrently with the release of the glossary in September 2006, students frequently cited undefined terms as a barrier to their grasp of the Catholic faith.

Minnesota professors Marian K. Diaz, from the College of St. Benedict, and Miguel H. Diaz, from St. John’s University, began the work of compiling terms and writing out definitions, then Father Ford took over the manuscript and became the principal author in the summer of 2005, McHugh said in a phone interview with Catholic News Service.

In an e-mail interview with CNS, (Holy Cross) Father John T. Ford discussed the task of deciding which terms to include and which terms to omit. In his decision-making process, he would consider whether the term was one that students might encounter in their readings and would consult with various professors to get their opinion about whether the word should be added.

Father Ford is a theology professor and coordinator of Hispanic and Latino studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington. His search for words to define included observing which ones students most frequently asked about. Once he had identified a term to use, that term often led to a second, third and fourth term to include. The glossary includes several Latin, Greek and Spanish terms.

When Father Ford identified a word for use in the glossary, he composed an appropriate definition.

“I tested most terms on the Internet by sampling a variety of online dictionaries to see how the term was defined — then I composed a definition for the glossary,” he said.

St. Mary’s Press Glossary of Theological Terms can be ordered for $15, plus shipping and handling, on the St. Mary’s Press Web site.

Sounds like a perfect gift for that new deacon in your life — or anyone who wants to bone up before an appearance on “Jeopardy: The Catholic Edition.”

Image: “Old Man Reading the Bible” by Julius Komjati (1928)

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