September 24, 2017
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Bells at Mass
The ringing of bells at Mass has been a wonderful tradition of the Church for a long time. Here at Immaculate Conception, we usually ring the tower bells five minutes before Mass, and the Sanctus Bells or Altar Bells during the Consecration. Here is a short history of the use of bells in Catholic worship.
The beauty and solemnity of bells has a long tradition of being rung in praise of God, as Psalm 98:4 says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praise!” And again as Psalm 150:5-6 says, “Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with the loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”
Church bells have had widespread use as far back as the 9th century as a way of summoning the faithful to prayer. Especially in a time when most people did not have a watch, these bells would be very helpful, and would be heard loud and clear anywhere near the church. Church bells are also rung for special celebrations or events, such as weddings, funerals, feast days, or the time to pray the Angelus.
About the 13th century, what has become known as the Sanctus bells appeared in the Mass. This name comes from the Latin word “Sanctus” which means “Holy”, and which is written on the wall of our sanctuary around the crucifix: “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth”, meaning, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts”, which we sing during the Mass. The Sanctus bell is rung to honor and glorify God, as well as to focus the attention of the faithful on the mystery of faith taking place on the altar, and to inspire us and fill us with joy. For, through the miracle of transubstantiation, the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Sanctus bell indicates this and invites our adoration.
The Council of Trent (1545-1563) mandated that bells should be rung during the Mass. Today, the ringing of bells during the Mass is not mandated, but still encouraged. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal says: “A little before the Consecration, if appropriate, a minister rings a small bell as a signal to the faithful. The minister also rings the small bell at each elevation by the Priest, according to local custom.” (#150)
As this indicates, a bell ought to be rung “before the consecration”, more specifically, it is rung at the Epiclesis, which is when the priest holds his hands over the bread and wine, and calls down the Holy Spirit.
The bell is then usually rung three times at the consecration of the Body of Christ, and again three times at the consecration of the Blood of Christ. This three-part ring is in honor of the Holy Trinity.
You are in my daily prayers.
God bless you,
Fr. Nick VanDenBroeke