By NBC News analyst
updated 4/8/2005 5:09:19 AM ET 2005-04-08T09:09:19

"Altar of the Chair": In the apse of St. Peter's, or behind the main altar, a bronze masterpiece by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, crafted in 1655-56 to hold what tradition claims is the "cathedra," or bishop's chair, of St. Peter. The bronze "chair" is held aloft by four great theologian-bishops known as "doctors of the church": St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom (KRIS-us-tum). The sculpture encloses a giant alabaster window portraying the Holy Spirit, through which light floods at certain times of the day.

Baldacchino (bal-duh-KEE-no): The Italian word for "canopy," the baldacchino surmounts the main altar of St. Peter's. It is another Bernini masterpiece, completed in 1633; the bronze used was taken from the Pantheon.

Camerlengo(kammer-LENG-oh): The cardinal "chamberlain" of the church, who administers the Holy See during the interregnum. The incumbent is Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, a Spanish veteran of the papal diplomatic service and former "sostituto" (papal chief of staff), who will preside over the placement of the pope's body in the cypress coffin before the Mass of Christian Burial, and over the entombment of the pope in the crypt beneath St. Peter's.

Cardinal: From the Latin "cardo," for "hinge," because, according to ancient tradition, the cardinals are the "hinges" on which the church turns.

Cardinal "Orders": The College of Cardinals is organized into three "orders," which once had some relationship to the cardinals' work in Rome but today are honorific.

The six "cardinal bishops" (Ratzinger/Germany, Sodano/Italy, Gantin/Benin, Etchegaray/France, Lopez Trujillo/Colombia, Re/Italy) are the most senior members of the College and are the honorary bishops of dioceses immediately surrounding Rome; the three eastern-rite Catholic patriarchs (one from Lebanon, one from Egypt, one from Syria), who also are cardinals, are ranked in this order as well.

"Cardinal priests" are local bishops and archbishops from around the world (like Americans Egan, McCarrick, Keeler, Mahony, Maida, George and Rigali), who are the honorary ("titular") pastors of Roman parishes.

The "cardinal deacons" are officials of the Roman curia or retired curialists, who also are honorary pastors of Roman parishes.

Consecration: The most sacred part of the Mass, during which, according to Catholic belief, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ through the celebrant's recitation of Christ's words at the Last Supper and the invocation of the Holy Spirit.

Crypt (also known as the Vatican Grottoes): Popes buried here include Benedict XV (1914-1922), Pius XI (1922-1939), Pius XII (1939-1958), Paul VI (1963-1978), and John Paul I (1978). John XXIII was buried here until he was moved upstairs into St. Peter's several years ago; John Paul II will be buried in this vacated niche of the crypt. The space was renovated under Pius XI and Pius XII; lowering the floor to accommodate the Pius XI memorial given by the people of Milan (where Pius XI had been archbishop) led to the rediscovery and excavation of the Christian cemetery beneath the high altar, which archaeologists believe contains the  remains of Peter the Fisherman.

Eucharist: From the Greek "thanksgiving;" the Eucharistic celebration is also called the "Mass."

Eucharistic Prayer [Canon of the Mass]:The central prayer of the Mass, including the consecration.

Holy Communion:The reception of the body and  blood of Christ, under the forms of bread and wine, by those who share the church's belief in Christ's real presence and who are "in communion" with the bishop of Rome.

Holy Water: Blessed water, used in the funeral rite to recall the deceased's baptism.

Homily: The reflection on scripture that follows the reading of the Gospel (sometimes referred to, inaccurately, as a "sermon").

Novemdiales: The nine official days of mourning for the deceased pope, which will begin on April 9 and conclude on April 17. A senior cardinal will celebrate a public Mass for the deceased and preach each day.

Offertory: A brief part of the Mass, between the Prayer of the Faithful and the Eucharistic Prayer [Canon], during which the bread and wine to be consecrated are brought to the altar and offered (hence the name) to God's service.

Pall: The white cloth that covers the coffin at Catholic funerals and is meant to recall the white garment with which the newly baptized are clothed.

Paschal Candle [Easter Candle]: Lit at the beginning of the Great Vigil of Easter every year, the Paschal Candle — the church's primary symbol of Christ's Resurrection — is always placed near the coffin of a deceased Catholic during the Mass of Christian Burial.

Prayer of the Faithful: Intercessions for various needs of the church and the world, offered at every Mass after the homily (when there is one) or immediately after the Gospel. The Prayer of the Faithful was restored to Catholic worship after Vatican II. At John Paul II's funeral Mass, the intercessions will be offered in various languages: English, Spanish and Tagalog (a Philippine native language) among them.

St. Peter's Basilica:The "Patriarchal Vatican Basilica" and the seat of the pope as head of the Universal Church; the Roman Basilica of St. John Lateran is the pope's cathedral as Bishop of Rome.

The original St. Peter's was built (320-350 A.D.) over the tomb of St. Peter by the Emperor Constantine, who leveled the ancient Vatican Hill in the process. This "Old St. Peter's" lasted until the 16th century, when it became clear that it was falling apart. The decision was then taken to pull it down and build an entirely new structure, which is the "St. Peter's" we now know. The cornerstone was laid in 1506 and the structure completed in 1626.

The famous Bernini colonnade (the "arms" surrounding St. Peter's Square) was completed in 1666. A total of 153 (the number of fish in the "miraculous draught" recorded in John's Gospel) statues top the basilica and the colonnade, but there was no representation of the Virgin Mary until John Paul II had a mosaic icon of the Virgin affixed to a part of the Apostolic Palace facing the Square in the mid-1980s.

The principal architects of St. Peter's were Donato Bramante and Michelangelo (who designed the dome); Carlo Maderno added the famous facade in the early 17th century.

Swiss Guard: Established in 1505, the Guard now numbers about 100 men, all drawn from the Catholic cantons of Switzerland. The Guard is led by a colonel, and there are twenty-some non-commissioned officers.

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