Is there a a single specific word for a the group of people when they assist at Mass in a church?

Religious assembly (Ngram) is a common expression whose usage appears to have been decreasing in the last decades.

The term I am looking for may fit also to other religious contexts as long as it refers to people who gather for an official religious rite.

Synonyms like: convocation, ingathering, meeting, etc. do not sound appropriate.

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    A suggestion to clarify the question... The people who assist a rite are not (necessarily) the same as the people who gather for the rite. For example, in a Christian context, few of those who gather for Eucharist would be said to be assisting in it. Which are you looking for?
    – Morton
    Jun 13 '15 at 15:33
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    I'd use congregation. In some Protestant denominations that's also used loosely for all the members of a particular church, but that's really just an extension of the meaning. Jun 13 '15 at 15:33
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    @Morton Until quite recently (basically VII) all those who participate in a Roman Catholic mass were said to "assist at" it. I don't know whether that's derived from the old sense of "attend" (still the fundamental meaning of French assister) or has some deeper spiritual significance. Jun 13 '15 at 15:37
  • @StoneyB Thank you - I should have said "Christian protestant", since that's all I really know about. In that sense, +1 for congregation... but I'll duck out here since the question was about Mass in particular.
    – Morton
    Jun 13 '15 at 15:41
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    churchgoers ?
    – 0..
    Jun 13 '15 at 17:05

The word I would use is congregation:

Full Definition of CONGREGATION 1 a : an assembly of persons : gathering; especially : an assembly of persons met for worship and religious instruction. - Merriam Webster

  • That is an interesting term , to me it is mainly associated with a group of people regularly attending a particular place of worship, like a member of the Emmanuel Chapel congregation.
    – user66974
    Jun 13 '15 at 15:52
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    @Josh61 The congregation is the group of people in the church, rather like audience is the group of people in a theatre.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 13 '15 at 17:04
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    @AndrewLeach - yes, I see that is one of its main meanings , it is just me probably that have always associated it with specific congregations.
    – user66974
    Jun 13 '15 at 17:09
  • @Josh61 As per SamuelVimes answer, that would be the parish.
    – Mazura
    Jun 13 '15 at 21:31

A more poetic answer would be "flock." Which is used metaphorically in Christianity when to Jesus is referred to as the Good Shepard. Otherwise congregation is the best, more descriptive and commonly used word.


This reference from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops seems to use ministers as a term that would include ordained celebrants and lay participants assisting in the mass. But they're pretty adamant the only celebrants are ordained.

In a religious gathering, conclave--whatever you want to call it-- where the participants are peers, though, I think you could call everyone celebrants, though perhaps that is because I am North American.

All that said, I think the other answer of congregation/congregants is more appropriate, especially if everyone attending is to be included.

  • I would avoid celebrant as freighted. In Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions it indeed refers solely to the priest saying the Mass, and not to any other participants. When applied to any other participants, therefore, some may infer a theological position of the priesthood of the faithful as opposed to the ordained priesthood.
    – choster
    May 15 '17 at 15:11

I would use parish or parishioners. Otherwise, I think that Margana's congregation is another good choice.

According to Collins:



1) a subdivision of a diocese, having its own church and a clergyman related adjective parochial
2) the churchgoers of such a subdivision

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    IME, members of the parish are those who regularly attend that specific church. The congregation are those who are present today, regardless of their affiliation. E.g., Today's congregation welcomes members from the parish of X, as X had a roof leak.
    – Mazura
    Jun 13 '15 at 21:27
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    A *parishioner, as Collins says, is somone who lives in the parish. They may not go to church at all, much less for a specific Mass. Jun 13 '15 at 21:41

Communicants, as mentioned in comments, is the word specifically for those who take communion in any Christian denomination. It is sometimes necessary to distinguish those who partake from the remainder of the congregation; if so the record may show "Attendance 100: communicants 80". (The stationery for this, called church service registers, is largely interdenominational, implying but not proving that Roman Catholics also use the word.) I do not believe there is a word (other than non-communicants) for the other 20.