St Finbar's Glenbrook Parish

Other Symbols - Ambo, Chair & Altar

(An Explanation of the Symbols of St Finbar’s Church Glenbrook)

Symbols of St Finbar's - Ambo
The Abmo represents the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) respectively with the corresponding symbols: 'Man', 'Lion', 'Ox' and 'Eagle'. Photo: Peter McMahon

We think of things as being new when we have not experienced them in our lifetime, which is quite reasonable.

But when we look at the same things from the perspective of 2000 years of church history, we often find that they are not so new after all.

Why is the priest's chair in the centre of the sanctuary? Well, if you are setting about arranging things on the sanctuary, you do not start with the priest's chair.

A good starting point is one of the documents of Vatican II, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, 'Dei Verbum', n.21:

"The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since from the table of both the word of God and of the body of Christ, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life, especially in the sacred liturgy."

This idea that the Sacred Scripture and the body of Christ should be venerated equally will perhaps come as a shock to those of us who come in late for Mass, somehow believe (mistakenly) that the readings from Scripture, the Liturgy of the Word, is a preliminary action that is of little importance.

Contrast this with the view of a writer in the 6th Century, Caesarius of Arles: "The one who is negligent in hearing the word of God is no less guilty than the one who, through carelessness allows the body of Christ to fall to the floor."

Therefore, the altar, upon which Christ becomes present in his body and blood, and the ambo, or lecturn, from which his presence in his word is proclaimed, are of similar material and given equal prominence. That done, it is fitting to have the priest, in his role of presiding over the whole liturgical action - word, sacrament, community - in the central position.

Ambo, Chair & Altar

Ezekiel 1:5-26 and Revelation 4:6-7 describe four living creatures serving before the throne of God, having faces of a man, of a lion, of an ox, and of an eagle. Matthew's Gospel often uses the title 'Son of Man' and it tells us a lot about Christ's humanity. Mark's writing is direct and straight to the point, like a lion. Luke gives us the account of the stable in Bethlehem, with special mention of the ox. John's Gospel is distinct from the other three, and stresses the relationship of Jesus with his Father, looking beyond our earthly status as does an eagle from the heights above. So the four symbols on the ambo of man, lion and eagle represent the four evangelists.

To summarise:

Evangelist     Symbol

Matthew         (Man)

Mark              (Lion)

Luke              (Ox)

John              (Eagle)

The front of the altar suggests a reference to Revelation 5:5-10 - the Lamb of sacrifice has been found worthy to receive the scroll and break open the seven seals.