Keen-eyed observers at Mass may have noticed a recent change in the sanctuary. The platform has been lowered by the ambo (pulpit). This is the beginning of a small project to install a new ambo in our church’s sanctuary. Thanks to a very generous donation, we are able to update some of the furniture in the sanctuary as well as build a new, more substantial ambo, as well as reface the current altars. The ambo is the beginning of the project.
I wanted to take a moment in the bulletin column to talk about what an ambo is. We often hear of the terms ‘podium’ or ‘lectern’ or sometimes ‘pulpit’ but what is an ‘ambo’? All of these terms are similar but are nuanced in their meaning.
Let’s take a look at the different terms. A podium is a platform used to raise something a short distance above its surroundings and, in North American English, also means a lectern. We sometimes call the ambo a podium because it is often raised higher than the surrounding floor. A lectern is a stand or raised desk from which readings are proclaimed. Lecterns are used not only in churches but also in lecture halls and classrooms. The difference between a lectern and a pulpit is that while Scripture readings are proclaimed from a lectern, sermons or homilies are not. A pulpit is the proper place for a homily to be given. Often pulpits are larger or higher, more ornate, and, in older churches, may in the middle of the church building so that everyone could hear the homily before microphones were invented. They are often round or roundish with a canopy or “sounding board” above them to help with acoustics.
But what about an ambo? In churches that have only one lectern from where the Scripture readings are read and also from where the homily is given call the lectern an ambo. This term comes from the Greek word ‘ambon’ meaning ‘crest of a hill’ or ‘pulpit.’ It is rather confusing; I’ll give you that. The instructions for celebrating Mass instruct us that the dignity of the Word of God requires that in the church there be a suitable place from which it may be proclaimed and toward which the attention of the faithful naturally turns during the Liturgy of the Word. From the ambo only the readings, the Responsorial Psalm, and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) are to be proclaimed; likewise, it may be used for giving the homily and for announcing the intentions of the Prayer of the Faithful. The dignity of the ambo requires that only a minister of the word should stand at it.
Other liturgical rubrics tell us that in order that the ambo may properly serve its liturgical purpose, it is to be rather large and that great pains must be taken, in keeping with the design of each church, over the harmonious and close relationship of the ambo with the altar. As you think about our current ambo, it is rather small and was hidden by the raised platform in front of it. In order to help draw attention to the Word of God, we have decided to build a larger ambo raised a bit from the sanctuary floor. I believe that this is in keeping with the liturgical rubrics and also will add to the beauty of our sanctuary. Be on the lookout for these renovations in the near future.