Elevated so that all may see

By | January 21, 2010

This Sunday’s readings have strong visual imagery connected with the Word of God. In the first reading, the Book of the Law has been found and Ezra, the scribe, brought the book before the assembly. He read from the book, “standing on a raised platform that had been constructed for the occasion,” and opened the scroll “that all might see it.”

In the Gospel, Jesus came to the synagogue in Nazareth and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Taking his place on the raised platform used for the reading of the Scriptures, he unrolled the scroll, read from it and handed it back to the attendant. He then declared, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

At the Eucharist there are two tables from which we are fed — the table of God’s Word and the table of Christ’s Body. The “General Instruction” directs that in every church, there be a special place suitable for proclamation and a natural focal point during the Liturgy of the Word (GIRM 309).

Since about the fourth century when the celebration of the Eucharist moved from family homes to church buildings, the Word has been proclaimed from the “ambo” from the Greek for “elevation.”

Originally, there was only one ambo. Sometimes it was portable. Throughout the ages the ambo became fixed, more ornate and lavishly decorated with precious metals and carvings, and in later years, there were even two ambos used for the reading of the Scriptures.

In recent years, however, the church has directed that there be only one ambo from which all the Scriptures, the Responsorial Psalm, and the Exsultet are proclaimed. The homily may also be preached from the ambo (or the presidential chair) and the General Intercessions may be announced from the ambo (or another suitable place). Songleaders and those doing annoucements use another simpler lectern — but NOT the ambo.

“One ambo” signifies the one Word of God in which Christ is present. The ambo is no longer portable but fixed, representing Christ’s presence in the Word which stands forever (“Dei Verbum” 26). The placement and elevation of the ambo are chosen to ensure that we are able to see and hear well.

Besides highlighting the dignity of the Word of God, a well-designed ambo for the Scriptures facilitates our hearing and participation so that we might listen with inward and outward reverence and strive harder to commit ourselves to the Word of God made flesh in Christ.

Sunday, as the Scriptures are proclaimed, instead of reading along, perhaps we can focus our full attention on seeing and listening with open ears and open hearts, so that God’s Word might take root more deeply in our lives.


Sr. Rehrauer is the director of Evangelization and Worship for the Diocese of Green Bay.

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