The World of Grandpa Don

The Bells

In some Catholic parishes bells or chimes are sounded as the priest raises the Host, the now consecrated Body of Christ and then the Challis of the now consecrated Blood of Christ. In some parishes the bells or chimes are not used. Why this inconsistency in a church that thrives in consistency?

To answer that question we must first understand why we had the bells in the first place. Going far back, the Catholic (Christian) mass started as a small group gathering in the homes of the faithful. No bells. With the acceptance of Christianity by the Roman Emperors and the construction of churches the mass became formalized but the bells did not appear until the mass became the almost private practice of the clergy. The commoner was considered unworthy and indeed came to see himself as unworthy and churches included a rood screen between the sanctuary and the nave. This extended from the 13th into the 15th century. The bottom part of the screen was solid and the laity could not even see the priest.  However, as the Host and Chalice were raised at the consecration, bells came to be rung to alert the faithful to the fact that they could see them. During the Protestant Reformation the screens were torn out of the churches. The bells remained in the Catholic Churches.

The sounding of the bells alerted the faithful to the consecration of the Body and Blood. It is a solemn and indeed miraculous moment to be reverenced by all present. It is something very special and deserves special notice.

However, one of the concerns of the Second Vatican Council was that the Catholic Church had not been giving The Word of God sufficient emphasis at the Mass. This had been recognized by our Protestant brothers at the time of the Reformation and it took us several hundred years to catch up. (It is sometimes difficult to admit you are wrong.) The telling of the stories of Christ was of equal prominence with the Eucharist at the early Christian gatherings and should be restored. It was also decided that the mass should be celebrated in the local language rather than in Latin to allow and encourage full participation by the laity. All very well and good.

There were theologians who felt that the use of the bells signified that the Consecration of the mass was more important than the rest. Indeed, there were many Catholics who contended that their obligation to hear mass was fulfilled if you were there for the Consecration and until after Communion is distributed. (We have many who think nothing of arriving late and leaving after communion to this day.) The term "to hear mass" is a symptom of the problem ... just be there for the important part. It didn't matter that you didn't understand much less participate. Just giving some time to God was all that was required. The theologians felt that the use of the bells sends the message that the rest of the liturgy is unimportant. Since their original need is now gone, they recommended their removal. The problem is that when you mess with tradition it sometimes takes several generations to convince everyone that what you are doing is right.

The important thing of which we must be aware is that there no part of the mass which is more or less important than any other. Every word, hymn, gesture or action is included for a reason.  Even the ringing of a bell has it's symbolic meaning. To some it has more meaning than to others but even it's omission has meaning. There are prayers and actions that can be omitted or modified at the discursion of the presider but the context of that modification or omission is important.

I like the logic of not sounding the bells but is it worth messing with Tradition? Probably yes, in the long run, but we live today. Its a dilemma.

Grandpa Don Plefka


My Church

This is not so much about St. Julie Billiart parish, but about the NEW Catholic Church. It may not seem new to my children and definitely not new to my grandchildren but it is no longer the same church that I grew up in and did not understand during that time. It is new and dedicated to Jesus as a result of the Vatican II council of bishops.

The Bells

The World of Grandpa Don 

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