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Why Do We...
Ring Church Bells?
|Why Do We... Ring Church Bells?|
This quaint verse, engraved on an ancient bell in an old church in England, describes the many roles church bells play in worship and in the life of the surrounding community.
The use of bells and chimes for religious purposes has been ascribed to Moses, who had been educated in the priestly class of Egypt where small bells much like gongs were used in worship. He introduced bells into the ceremony of the Jewish religion. As early as the year 400, bells came into use in Christian churches in Italy. They not only summoned the faithful to religious services, but also sounded an alarm when danger threatened.
The very large bells, commonly used in church towers and steeples, appeared in the eleventh century. In the intervening centuries, they were refined with the addition of multi-toned chimes and carillons. These chimes varied in number from eight to twelve or fourteen, arranged so the notes of the musical scale sounded upon them.
A touching custom which prevailed in many Catholic countries was the “passing bell,” rung slowly when a death was imminent in the parish. Its solemn tones reminded the faithful to pray for a happy death. Even today this custom prevails as bells toll mournfully when the departed is borne into the church to receive the Church’s last blessing.
At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Latin churches instituted the practice of elevating the Sacred Host and the Chalice at Mass after each was consecrated. To invite those not present at the Mass to adore their Eucharistic Lord, one of the great bells of the church was rung. This tradition has carried over into the ringing of small sanctuary bells, or sanctus bells, when the consecrated host and chalice are raised to proclaim the presence of Christ during the Eucharist.
Thus, bells aid us in our worship of God. They call us to services. They peal joyfully on wedding days and on the great feast days of the Church. They toll mournfully as the departed receive the Church’s last blessing. They ring as the Angelus bells, reminding us to raise our hearts to God three times a day.
The sweet voices of the bells direct our hearts toward God and draw us to church, to experience the presence of Christ, to listen to the word of God, and to offer our prayers.