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Why Do We Ring Bells at the Consecration?

8 Nov

The bells at the time of the consecration at Mass signify the coming of the Person of Jesus Christ under the appearances of bread and wine at the consecration. It is interesting to note that bells are mentioned several times in Scripture, and in every instance it is in connection with liturgical worship (e.g., Ex. 28:31-35; Zech. 14:20; Sir. 45:9). In most instances, the bells draw attention to the coming of a sacred person.

When it comes to the use of bells during the Eucharistic Prayer, as the assembly anticipates and welcomes the coming of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (“GIRM”) provides:

“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” (no. 150).

By “a little before the consecration” is generally understood the epiclesis, when the priest put his hands over the gifts and calls down the Holy Spirit upon them. The priest “shows” the host and chalice immediately after the consecration by elevating them so that the faithful can see them.

In 1972, the following question was posed to the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: “Is a bell to be rung at Mass?” The Vatican’s authoritative reply provided this illuminating explanation:

“. . . From a long and attentive catechesis and education in liturgy, a particular liturgical assembly may be able to take part in the Mass with such attention and awareness that it has no need of this signal at the central part of the Mass. This may easily be the case, for example, with religious communities or with particular or small groups. The opposite may be presumed in a parish or public church, where there is a different level of liturgical and religious education and where often people who are visitors or are not regular churchgoers take part. In these cases the bell as a signal is entirely appropriate and is sometimes necessary. To conclude: usually a signal with the bell should be given, at least at the two elevations, in order to elicit joy and attention” (Notitiae 8 (1972), 195-196, as quoted in Documents on the Liturgy 1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal, and Curial Texts, 1452, emphasis added).