Friday, May 2, 2008


Fear not, we are almost finished with bells!

Most parishes still have bells at the starting gate, that is they ring a bell to start the mass. It is a wonderful device for coordinating musicians, people, ministers, and the priest when everything is ready to begin (as opposed to the rather more clumsy methods of waving at the musician, having walkie-talkies, or someone announcing, “Please stand now and sing.”)

In many parishes the sanctus bells are still rung. This is a small bell or cluster of bells that the server rings a little before and during the consecration. Contrary to popular belief they have not been banished from the liturgy like the maniple. In fact in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2003) it states in paragraph 150, “A little before the consecration, when appropriate, a server rings a bell as a signal to the faithful. According to local custom, the server also rings the bell as the priest shows the host and then the chalice.”

Some people make the point that now that the mass is in the vernacular and not in Latin (most places anyway), we do not need the bells to tell us where we are in the Mass. I suppose there is a kernel of truth to this. But on the other hand it goes against the grain of popular culture to such an extent that I am surprised that more people do not use them. Think about it. If you get a point in a video game, win a jackpot on a machine, - even if your elevator doors open at your floor successfully there are bells. But even better than these at mass we have Jesus Christ now present! Ah, but – that’s just me. When bells are used it usually occurs at the epiclesis and at the major elevations. They may be rung once, or three times in imitation of when the bells were rung in the Latin Mass, or there may be a tower of three bells struck with a hammer.

Finally, a tradition that has almost completely died out save for some very special occasions in limited situations is the ringing of a tower bell during the consecration. It gives those not in attendance at mass the opportunity to unite their prayers with sacrifice of the mass in a moment of prayer.

None of this is required and is not essential (or even necessary.) But in an age with diminishing belief in the reality of the Eucharist, it might be something at least worth contemplating employing.


Anonymous said...

I remember a story about St. Pascal Baylon & how he tended the fields on Sundays. He prayed the prayers of the Mass & knew when the Consecration took place because of the ringing of the tower bells. At which point, he prostrated himself on the ground. What faith!! LM

Rev. Daren J. Zehnle, J.C.L., K.C.H.S. said...

Father, I would heartily suggest the return of the bells for the very purpose of signaling to the faithful the consecration.

Just because the Mass is now largely in the vernacular does not mean that people are paying attention or realize what is happening.

I can't tell you how many people each week go to the restrooms in the middle of the consecration! Bring back the bells!

The bells certainly are no guarantee that people will pay more attention or recognize that something important is happening, but they can't hurt, either.

Unknown said...

re: Contrary to popular belief they have not been banished from the liturgy like the maniple.

I am hearing conflicting reports on this score. Was the maniple suppressed or made optional?

Anonymous said...

At the parish that I attend the bells are used as you have mentioned. The 'starting bell" the small bells and the church bells during the consecration. Truthfully I love it and consider it all a part of the mass celebrations.
I wish more churches would do this but many of the 'new' designed churches do not even have real bells just a loudspeaker on the roof and they paly a taped version of bells.
Thanks for your wonderful posts. I read your blog and enjoy it every day.

Anonymous said...

I guess the reason most places stopped using the bells during the Eucharistic Prayer was that they were such a distraction for the faithful who have a pretty good understanding of what is going on during that mass. Maybe the bells are helpful to people who can't see, hear or understand what is going on, otherwise the are at best a distraction. At worse, they can be seen as an insult to faithful Catholics, reducing any appreciation of their genuine piety to perceiving it as little more than a Pavlovian response.

Anonymous said...

I may have a good understanding of the Mass, but it's comforting to know when "Jesus is in the building", so that I'm worshipping Him and not worshipping bread.

A little anecdote: I heard about a local priest who had eliminated the bells because, as he said: "We don't really know exactly when transubstantiation occurs" (this is profoundly disturbing to me because of what I said in the above paragraph.

So at the appropriate parts of the consecration, about a dozen older ladies in the congregation would take out their keys and jingle them. :)

Anonymous said...

Exactly. The concept "Jesus is in the building" trivializes the nature of the Eucharistic Presence. We know that Jesus Christ is present, par excellence, body, blood, soul and divinity, in the sacred species, but it is clear that there are other ways in which Christ is present (presider, assembly, word) which are conveniently disregarded when a "now he's here, now he's not" mentality predominates. Also, did Jesus become bread and wine for us so that we could be "comforted" as Ormemus states, or so that we could be challenged and confronted by the Truth. Do we participate in the Eucharist so that we can be affirmed in our self-congratulatory pietism?

Where and when did this so-called anecdote take place? Who was the priest? Absent those indications of an such an actual event taking place, I would suggest that the story is fiction, and is ridiculous enough to be presumed so.

With regard to "when transubstantion occurs," ask your neighborhood Byzantine priest (in FULL communion with Rome) when this takes place. The other lung of the church (JP2) understands the epiclesis as that point; and I suggest would consider the trivialization of the Eucharistic presence as "Jesus in the building" as being overtly insulting.