From the Pastor’s Desk: Consecration Bells at St. Vivian

Since I have been Pastor at St. Vivian, I have made some small changes in the way we celebrate the Eucharistic Liturgy (as I have at several other of the churches of our family). In the near future, I plan to re-introduce the ringing of bells during the first half of the Eucharistic Prayer.

The Roman Missal, the official book that instructs us how we are to celebrate the Eucharistic Liturgy, states, “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.” The use of such a small bell (or a set of four small bells) to signal the faithful is usually traced back to medieval times, when the Mass was celebrated in Latin, and the people attending Mass could scarcely hear or understand what was being said by the priest.

In the middle Twentieth Century, during the time of liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council, the ringing of bells fell out of favor with many liturgists. They said the need for the bells is no longer present. The ringing of those bells was nothing but an annoying vestige of a bygone age. Many churches throughout the world abandoned the practice. Some liturgists went as far as to interpret the Roman Missal’s phrase “if appropriate” to mean “if theologically appropriate” (and they were sure it was not!). (I believe that “if appropriate” means “if you don’t have a server who can ring the bells or if the Mass is at the house of nuns or monks, you don’t have to ring them.”)

A new generation of liturgists sees the ringing of the bells not as an obsolete, unnecessary wake-up call to the faithful, but a beautiful celebration of the reality that what was bread and wine are becoming/have become the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ now present on the altar. It can also serve as a reminder for the inattentive (which most of us are sometimes) to “wake up” and focus. I believe that the sound of the bells is even more impactful for small children (and the altar servers who get to ring the bells!).

In light of these considerations, I think that it is time for this practice to be revived at St. Vivian, as it has been at St. Bartholomew, Assumption and countless other parishes throughout the Archdiocese in recent decades. I hope that it adds something good to your participation at Mass!

-Fr. Umberg