So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Ambo, throne of the Word, and "catwalk priests".

Ambon of King Henry II, Aachen Cathedral/Wikipedia

We've all seen it happen. I.e., priests strutting around during the homily.

The ambo or pulpit has become another casualty in the war on the Liturgy perpetrated by often well intentioned but thoroughly ignorant men whose seminary formation has produced priests who have little or no appreciation of the proper orientation of the Liturgy and appropriate behaviour in the sanctuary:
Confused Choreography

Though one may argue that a priest's movement toward or around the people during a homily can better engage the attention of the congregation, an obvious liability is that a cult of personality is reinforced. Bishops should not be surprised when parishioners become partisan and canonize their popular priests, ignoring the heresy-ridden content of their homilies while lapping up the delivery. Parishioners who are so enamoured of their priests that they will follow them into schism is a sad commentary on the state of catechesis. One might argue that had such a congregation received better catechesis and pastoral oversight by the local ordinary to help inoculate them against the errant teachings and bizarre practices of some dopy pastor, things might not have ended up as badly as it has in some locales.

Homility, er... humility.

It is far too easy—and there have now been decades of precedents—for priests to become self enamoured to the point they think themselves above any kind of criticism. When legitimate criticism points out loose play with the Liturgy, or a politicization of the Liturgy, or lax attention to authentic catechesis, such criticism is typically dismissed out of hand.

Ambon (ambo)/Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna/Wikipedia

Bishops who similarly wander about during the homily should not be surprised that their own example has permitted circumstances to develop where defiant priests, emboldened to make changes in the Liturgy or stretch the boundaries of liturgical propriety, endanger souls and parishes become divided against the local ordinary.

When a bishop does not preach from the pulpit or ambo, the throne of Holy Scripture, and moves about the sanctuary and occasionally into the nave of the church, his example will almost certainly be appealed to and copied by priests, especially when a bishop's apparent deviation reinforces in some priests' minds a license to engage in additional rubrically-challenged activities.

That such incidents involving loose play with the Liturgy occur all too frequently is a sure sign that Catholics, clergy in particular, have lost a sense of their connection to the altar of the Word, i.e., the ambo.
  • Ambos are believed to have taken their origin from the raised platform from which the Jewish rabbis read the Scriptures to the people.
  • (Ambos) were first introduced into churches during the fourth century (and) were in universal use by the ninth, reaching their full development and artistic beauty in the twelfth, and then gradually fell out of use until in the fourteenth century when they were largely superseded by pulpits
  • In the Ambrosian Rite (Milan), the Gospel is still read from the ambo. 
  • The most celebrated ambo was the one erected by the Emperor Justinian in the church of Sancta Sophia at Constantinople, which is fully described by the contemporary poet, Paulus Silentiarius in his work Peri Ktismaton. The body of the ambo was made of various precious metals, inlaid with ivory, overlaid with plates of repoussé silver, and further enriched with gildings and bronze. ... In St. Mark's, at Venice, there is a very peculiar ambo, of two stories; from the lower one was read the Epistle, and from the upper one the Gospel. This form was copied at a later date in what are known as "double-decker" pulpits.—Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent. Edited by CS.
Pedestrian preachers?

Priests who leave the pulpit and go for a stroll during the homily usually do so for no better reason than some imagined benefit of an improved connection with the congregation. If the word of God preached cannot engage and connect people to Jesus Christ, then getting in people's faces will only have the effect of refocussing attention on the messenger, not the message.

Those priests who work the crowd like a talk show host are frequently not as good at preaching as they might think they are. The priests, themselves, are prone to distraction. A priest's train of thought is typically derailed in these kinds of encounters and often these meandering homilists demand that congregants participate in educational theatrics that have the unintended effect of generating general mayhem. Children, sensing a rising tide of informality, add their own input to a cacophony of voices.
The bema in the Chaldean Liturgy.
  • The bema is a platform somewhat higher than the rest of the nave. In the middle of the bema a table is set, symbolizing Gaghultha (Golgotha), on which the living cross and gospel are placed. At its right side (North) there is the lectern for the New Testament readings and at its left side (South) the lectern for the Old Testament (and Acts), namely, the first two readings.
  • The Word of God and the liturgical prayer are on the bema, while the Eucharistic Liturgy is celebrated in the heavenly Holy of Holies.
  •  The sanctuary symbolizes heaven and the sacrifice offered on the altar is the symbol of that which exists in heaven. The veil separating the sanctuary from the nave symbolizes the firmament; the nave of the church is the earth and the bema is Jerusalem from where Christ teaches us through the readings of the scriptures.
A word from our sponsor: In the beginning was the Word... .

Most priests could and should better prepare their homilies. A sure sign a homily has not been prepared, apart from the obvious lack of coherence and stumbling and fumbling for words, is repetition of content beyond what is necessary to emphasize the importance of an aspect of revelation. There is acceptable, elegant repetition of ideas woven together, revisited and developed in the manner of a sonata or symphony, and then there is burdensome repetition that could easily be of the mind numbing kind one hears in some drippy pop song. There is no sin in writing down and presenting a coherent, well organized, substance-oriented homily.

The homily is too important to the salvation and edification of the people to be thrown together or subject to the whim of an attention hungry pastor. Priests who "perform" their homilies should quit the theatrics and concentrate on content. It is enough to vary one's tone of voice and pacing to engage, thereby preserving the focus on the word (of God).

Curiously, pastors suddenly become anchored to the pulpit when they must ask for contributions to a particular fundraising event or annual appeal. However, their discomfort with having to beg for funds is poorly hidden behind the ambo they otherwise habitually ignore.

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Thesaurus of Terms

Ambo or Ambon (plural: ambones)
Bema (Chaldean)
Tebáh (synagogue)

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