Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ask Fr. Tom: Why do some parishes use bells at the Consecration, and others don’t? (I miss it!)

Why do some parishes use bells at the Consecration, and others don’t? (I miss it!)

There we have it our very first question! The simplest answer to your question is that some churches use bells and others don't because the ringing of bells during the Eucharistic Prayer is not an official part of the rubrics of the Mass. It is a custom. And so, as a custom, some churches make the choice to use the bells while others don't. So, where does this custom come from?

Well, bells have always been an important part of Mass - or at least since the middle ages - when the Church bell was used to summon people to prayer. Of course, this was an age before the wristwatch, and a time when people lived within earshot of their church. So the large church bell served not only a good liturgical function, but also a good social function as well.

The way bells entered the Eucharistic prayer was a bit more on a very basic common sense level. Remember, the Mass used to be celebrated in Latin with the priest facing away from the congregation. It is only in our own recent times that the faithful have returned to frequent reception of Holy Communion. For a very long time, the faithful were so focussed on their own sinfulness that they regularly felt unworthy to ever receive communion. This is why the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 introduced the Easter duty which said in part that every Catholic must receive communion at least once a year.

So, you can imagine, if people were not receiving communion, they engaged in what was called an "ocular communion" or gazing upon Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament when the sacred elements were presented to the people. With the priest's back to the congregation, the people didn't want to miss this important moment of gazing, so they introduced the ringing of the bells. The bells rung at the elevation was a way of saying, "Look now, Jesus is being presented to you."

So, today, in an age when the priest faces the people, speaks in a language you can understand and when most people do in fact receive communion when they go to Mass, the bells no longer serve that functional purpose they once did. It remains, optionally, as an allowed custom.


  1. At daily Mass, we don't have bells. Some people do some kind of chest-thumping thing. I don't want to stare :) but it kind of looks like the right fist on the left upper chest, and there is a rhythm: long-short-long.

    What's up with that?


  2. That's interesting! Thank you for the information.
    It is helpful to parents of small children, I will say. When my youngest was a toddler we belonged to a parish where the bells were used. We'd whisper to him, "Jesus is with us!" when the bells would ring.

  3. (eo barb, sfo: Jesus was with you before the bells rang too!)

    comment on the post: ...might be good to also include the idea of engaging as amny senses as possible in teh celerbation...e.g. Januarius does when he uses the censer with the bells

  4. Fr. Tom, is up to each individual priest to ring the bells? Because I have a friend who's angry that the new priest at her parish chooses to use the bells while their former priest and other priests in their Diocese don't. She thinks it goes against the customs of their Diocese, but I always heard that it was up to each individual priest and not up to the Diocese. Which is it? Thank you!