Last week, we explored in our liturgical myths the “smells” of the “bells and smells” era. Now it’s time to focus on the bells.
Myth: Bells need to be rung at the consecration
This is a common debate topic – should we ring bells or not? Legally, bells are optional. The latest General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) makes this statement about ringing bells during the Eucharistic Prayer (“Sanctus bells”):
“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.” (GIRM 150, emphasis added)
The use of bells then, is a local decision (usually made by the parish priest) based on need and appropriateness. So when is it appropriate to use bells? Well, this is a more subjective matter.
A search of the Internet reveals the websites that speak most commonly about bells have a particular liturgical viewpoint. One, however, does quote the Vatican (its Congregation for Divine Worship) which, in 1972, sought to clarify the matter of bells somewhat. It says that bells would be unnecessary where the understanding of the people is such that the appropriate attention is already given to the consecration. It goes on to suggest that parish churches may or may not be such places. Remember too, that our parishes have continued to learn and understand more about the liturgy since 1972.
In our community, my experience and observation indicates that our parishioners do not need a bell “as a signal to the faithful”, as they are focussed on the altar at the Eucharistic Prayer. For those who are occasional visitors unfamiliar with our practices, I would have to question how much the ringing of a bell would help them to understand what is occurring. I think the prayerfulness and reverence of those around them is the best indication to them of how much we value the bread and wine becoming “the body and blood… of our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this eucharist.” (Eucharistic Prayer III)
photo credit: Wikipedia