Ever since I arrived at St. Margaret of York three years ago, various parishioners have been encouraging me to use the consecration bells. Why would that be important? The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. The Eucharist points out a unique and important character of the Catholic Church, the original Christians. One annual opportunity to showcase the Eucharist is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus, Corpus Christi. This year, the Lord seemed to put on my heart a fuller sensory expression of our love for the Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. As Catholics, we bring our bodies to our prayer. As we got closer to the solemnity, I noticed all the other parishes enjoying the use of the consecration bells, including our cathedral and seminary. Some young families mentioned how it helps their little ones pay attention. I thought: Let's do that and keep doing it as we grow in our love for Jesus in the Eucharist.
- Fr. Bedel
Signals – we make use of them every day. Since we aren’t all-knowing like God, we often need signs to direct us to what is good and true. As children, the only way we knew that the ice cream truck was coming down the street was because we heard the music from far off. For those who grew up on a farm, mom or dad might have rung the “dinner bell” when it was time to come inside and eat. I grew up in a subdivision, but my family had our own version of the dinner bell; my dad would blow a loud plastic stadium horn when it was time for us kids to come home from our friends’ houses. It was a goofy and slightly embarrassing practice, to be sure – but it worked.
Starting in about the late 12th century, Catholic churches started to implement the use of bells during the Eucharistic prayer. Some churches rang their tower bells during the consecration and elevation of the Eucharist. The noise would stir those inside and outside the church to pause for a moment of praise and adoration. Since much of medieval Europe had deep Catholic roots, the sound of the bells would cause laborers, farmers, tradesmen, etc. to halt their activities and revere the Holy Eucharist. The practice, not yet being formally recognized by Rome, evolved as many churches moved to small hand-held “altar bells.” While these were only able to be heard by those inside the church, this was often a more practical way to reverence the miracle occurring on the altar. From the late 12th century until the mid-16th century, the ringing of bells during the consecration was at the discretion of each individual priest. It wasn’t until the Council of Trent (1545-1563) that the ringing of altar bells during the consecration was actually made a mandatory part of the liturgy. Finally, the practice was once again made optional in 1969 by Pope Paul VI.
There are several reasons that bells were initially introduced during the consecration of the Eucharist. One such reason was simply to create a joyful noise to accompany the miracle of Christ becoming truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. It should also be considered that bells can serve as a tool for non-Catholics who find themselves at Mass and are pondering what is taking place at the altar.
Perhaps we can simply embrace this practice as the Church’s version of the “dinner bell.” While a farm is still a farm and a meal is still a meal even if no bell is rung, many farmhouses embrace the practice of ringing the dinner bell. And what does the dinner bell signify to those living on the farm? It’s time to come, to eat, and to rest from the day’s labor. As we spend our days working in the Lord’s vineyard, Christ invites us to the Eucharistic feast with the same message: Come, eat, and find rest for your soul.
Article written by: Curtis Gross, Seminarian in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati