Over at Cooees from the Cloister there is a very good expose' about Elizabeth Harringtons latest sermon on liturgy, which, as we have come to expect is full of errors and strange ideas.
First, I would like to say that I am quite ambivalent about bells whether in the Ordinary or Extraordinary forms of the Roman Rite.. Of course people think that bells are always used in the Extraordinary Form. This is not so. Bells were never rung at a Papal High Mass for instance.
Here is my commentary on this latest.
I have received requests to follow up my recent column on the ‘smells’ of Mass with one about ‘bells’.
The current Missal, which has been in use since 1969, dropped the compulsory ringing of bells which had been a feature of the Mass prior to the Second Vatican Council. (yes we know this).
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal mentions ringing bells only once:
“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
To understand the reason for the change from bells being mandated to being optional, it is helpful to examine why the ringing of bells was originally introduced into the Mass. (So here we go into the ideological diatribe. We start from saying that GIRM says bells are optional to launch into why they should be banned).
By the early middle ages, the priest celebrated Mass silently in Latin with his back to the people. Those at Mass could not see or hear what was happening and very often were engaged in their own private prayer. (He wa start with the same old record. Well no in the early Middle Ages he did pray silently in Latin. He did not have his back to the people - he prayed with the people. If we take Saxon churches as what happened in the EARLY Middle Ages, the churches were so small that the people would have gathered around the Altar facing east). Of course in the Harrington world the Middle Ages are evil anyway.
Because of a number of factors which had developed over time, people only rarely received communion. They believed that they still received the grace of the sacrament by looking upon the consecrated bread and wine. We are still trotting out the same old rubbish about what happened in a particular point in time, on the eve of the Reformation. It is amazing how the writings of Thomas Cranmer find their way into modern legend. All modern liturgists use Cranmer as their primary source to denigrate the Mass.
Priests began to raise the chalice and host above their head so that they could be more easily seen by all present. So that people engrossed in their own prayers and meditation would not miss the consecration and elevation, the practice of ringing a bell was introduced to alert the people to the fact that this holy moment was about to occur. No this was a practice that was started by Archbishop de Sully of Paris in the 12th cent to emphasise the Real presence. The bells came later and raising the Chalice came later after that.
Now that the Mass is celebrated in such a way that people can see, hear and understand what is happening at the altar, the need to attract their attention by ringing a bell no longer exists. Well reactions that I had from people is that even when the Mass is in English their minds tend to wander, and the bells are a bit of a wake up call.
In fact, to ring bells may give the wrong impression of the Eucharistic Prayer. The institution narrative (the story of Christ’s words and actions at the Last Supper) is one part of the whole prayer of thanksgiving. It belongs with the praise of God’s wonderful saving deeds, the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the memorial of Jesus’ death and resurrection and our joining in Christ’s offering. What wrong impression? She is very unclear.
Theologians no longer talk about a ‘moment’ of consecration; rather the whole of this great prayer is consecratory. To highlight just one section by the ringing of bells affects the unity and continuity of the Eucharistic Prayer. Which theologians? There are no quotes!. This is just extremely poor writing. Now at most Masses that I attend have no bells but the Eucharistic Prayer is interrupted by the Priest raising the Host and genuflecting and doing the same with the chalice. Then there is a further interruption by the memorial acclamation. Obviously in the Harrington world we pick and choose which bits of the Eucharistic Prayer are interrupted.
OK lets be really like the early Christians. How about the priest recites the Eucharistic Prayer from end to end with no elevations or genuflections (or bells) as was done up to the 13th century. The priest elevates the sacred species at the doxology (still recited in a low voice) and pronounces "in saecula saeculorum" and the congregation answers "Amen". Of course the modern liturgists cant go to this because the GIRM has instructions in it which are simplifications of the Tridentine style of Roman Rite, and they seem to want to follow this. Two-faced if you ask me.
In the end I cannot see why the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer is consecratory. You could say that the whole of the Mass is consecratory. Why are these modern theologians saying this? What is the underlying agenda here?
If we want to continue the ‘bells’ aspect of the Catholic ‘bells and smells’ tradition, it is more appropriate to use them to reinforce the highpoints of our participation in liturgy, for example, to accompany the singing of the memorial acclamation or the great ‘Amen’, rather than to continue ringing them for reasons which no longer exist oh yes everything has to be turned to the people and away from God otherwise it has no justification. Of course these is totally impractical as it then points to the incorrect points of the Mass. If you folled this people would be even more confused about the meaning of the bells than ever.
What about the other sort of church bells – those in church belfries or towers? The tradition of ringing bells to call people to worship began in the 6th century. Church bells were also used to announce the death of a parishioner and to call people to prayer at times of the ‘Angelus’.
The Sacramentary calls for the ringing of church bells twice only – during the Gloria on Holy Thursday and again at the Easter Vigil. Small handbells are usually rung at these times, but the ringing of outdoor bells serves to alert the whole neighbourhood to these sacred times and events. Where does the Sacramentary say this? Why would you spend so much money on a peal of bells and a belfry when according to Harrington and Co you can only use them twice a year?
Basically this woman is a total fraud. Unfortunately people read this stuff and believe it. Unfortunate too are the people who sponsor and employ her to write this rubbish.