Significance of bells in the mass?


I assume you are referring to the Sanctus bells at the Consecration. My understanding is that they are used simply to draw attention to the bread being consecrated as the Body of Christ, and then the wine as the Precious Blood. We were told in RCIA that it is a very old practice going back to the days when the churches housed the sick and suffering and it was a means of alerting everyone, whether at Mass or on a sick bed, to Christ’s presence. We were told, frankly, that it is an outmoded thing to do, but I responded that it works great with my younger kids, who are often wiggly by that time. I am glad our priest keeps with the Traditions.

This web site should detail the history and the current use of the Sanctus Bells during most Masses.

It’s funny… my husband and I were just discussing this the other night. He was born and raised Catholic in Ireland and served as an altar boy.
Our church that we go to does not use bells or anthing like that, but he says he still knows exactly when it’s supposed to happen. Apparently they had a gong like thing when he was an altar boy, because he says that the most exciting thing about being an altar boy was getting to hit it. And to this day he hears it in his head at just that moment. It was a fun nostalgic conversation about his growing up in the Church.

Outmoded or not, it apparently made an impression that he has kept with him and seems to treasure.

Thanks for making me smile.


Good question. I think that in the “old days” back in Europe, they built huge churches, cathedrals, etc. They also didn’t have pews, etc. So, people would gather and stand around, many praying the rosary or other private devotions, or listening to the liturgy of the word, or whatever. Then, when the consecration of the Mass began, in order to alert the crowd, they would ring bells. Everyone would then have the opportunity to turn their attention to the altar, etc., and prepare for Communion.

They gave an answer a couple of nights of ago on EWTN. The reason for the bells was to alert people in the rear pews to the act of the consecration of blood and body.

This is a broadly misunderstood subject. Many claim that the sanctus bells were rung to focus people inside of the church on the consecration. That’s simply not true. Sanctus bells were original big tower bells that were rung to let people not at the Mass know that something supernatural (the consecration) was taking place inside of the church. The bells are also rung as a celebratory gift at the time of such a miraculous event.

The problem with suggesting the bells were rung to focus people inside of the church is that people will then say that because the priest is now facing the people and that because the Mass is now in the vernacular there is no value in the bells and that’s simply wrong too.

My in-laws’ parish still uses sanctus bells, and I love it! I wish I knew how to convince my somewhat “progressive” and “contemporary” Director of Liturgy to bring them back at our parish.

Oh. That’s what I was going to say: The bells are vestiges that made sense when Canon was prayed silently facing Crucifix, a rood screen separated laymen from sanctuary, etc. However, since you mention it, I do remember reading that they used to alert people not at Mass what was happening.

Related point: What about the elevation of the consecrated host? That, presumably, really was because celebrant was praying silently, facing Crucifix, etc?


Traditional Latin Mass: Translation and Grammar

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