QUAERITUR: Ringing bells during Mass

I will leave this to the readers to help with.

I’m training the altar servers at my parish, and we want to add ringing the sanctus bells at the epiclesis. In the 3rd edition of the roman missal, when should the bells be rung at the epiclesis? Is there an exact moment that is preferable? I haven’t been able to find any detailed help online.

Help this fellow!

What do you do at your parishes? Have any quotes from manuals?

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37 Responses to QUAERITUR: Ringing bells during Mass

  1. jbosco88 says:

    I’ve seen posts suggesting contention over where the epiclesis occurs in the Novus Ordo. Bells are rung at the following places during a Novus Ordo Mass at the Church where I MC:

    Sanctus Bells:
    Old ICEL: “*Bless* and approve our offerings…”
    Current ICEL: “Be pleased, O God, we pray, to *bless*, acknowledge, and approve this offering…”
    Then when the Priest consumes the Precious Blood

    Gong:
    Twice during elevation of the Host and Chalice, once as the Priest genuflects

    Hope that’s useful and correct!

  2. Dr Guinness says:

    From what I’ve seen around, it’s common in Australia to ring the bells once when the celebrant places his hands over the offerings… “We ask you Lord to come upon **bells** these gifts”… [In the Extraordinary form at the Hanc Igitur]… Well, most places don’t use bells much, but that’s our view of it where it is done…

  3. beez says:

    As a purely practical approach, we have found training the servers to ring as the celebrant extends his hands over the gifts to be offered. It is the beginning of the epiclesis and a good visual note for the young people.

  4. frjim4321 says:

    Don’t think I can drop a link here without triggering the auto-moderation queue, but for a wonderfully cogent and helpful article on the topic you can Google “Paul Turner Bells at Mass.” It’s the best I’ve seen on the topic (except for my own).

  5. Pelicanus says:

    There is no rubric in the 1970 Missale Romanum for bells to be rung. However, they persisted through the reform because they were customary. My experience is that they are rung at the epiclesis, both elevations (with some of the more traditional servers trying to adapt the postures in the old Mass to that of the new, generally with minimal success in my view) and when the priest drinks from the chalice.

    The final occasion doesn’t correspond directly to anything in the old rite and, as I mentioned, it is difficult to exactly copy the rubrics in the old rite at the elevation. However, at the epiclesis, the situation is the same. The priest gives a visual signal by spreading his hands over the offerings and the bell is rung then.

    But PLEASE do everything to stop servers from ringing the bell for too long. It is totally incongruous to have the bell at the epiclesis lasting for longer than the bells for the elevation. Care must be taken to avoid servers getting the idea that they should ring until Father changes his hand position, which would result in about five to ten seconds of ringing. A short bell to warn of the approaching consecration is perfectly sufficient.

  6. ray from mn says:

    Minds still wander, even at Mass. The bells are great, as a reminder. and not just at the epiclesis.

    I don’t have time to research this now, but we rang them also, I believe, at the Sanctus, the Consecration and just before Holy Communion. And of course the glorious ringing of the bells throughout the entire Gloria on Holy Saturday, signifying Christ’s Resurrection.

  7. jbas says:

    The bells make more sense in the EF, since the canon is silent, but the 2002 GIRM-USA says, “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.” As for details, surely it is best to do what’s done at your cathedral.

  8. Banjo pickin girl says:

    At our parish the bells are rung at the elevation 3 times. At the epiclesis they are rung briefly and more muted in sound. They appear to be rung as the priest says certain of the words as the altar boy is behind and to the priest’s right and may not be able to see his hands. I think he rings them as the priest say the words about God making the gifts holy.

  9. CantareAmantisEst says:

    At my parish the servers used to ring the bell at the words ‘Spirit’ during the Epiclesis back in the days of the old translation (thankfully history, now… almost), as in ‘Let your Spirit come upon these gifts’ in EP II. Now with the new translation, it seems they have been instructed to ring at the words ‘holy’, as in ‘Make holy, therefore’, which I think draws appropriate attention to the liturgical action.

    Three rings at each elevation also seems to be a norm here, and once more when the priest drinks from the chalice (to signify the beginning of the Communion of the faithful, perhaps?).

  10. robertotankerly says:

    The GIRM mentions bells only once, saying: “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,” (n. 150).

    A quick flip through Fortescue (Sixth Edition) reveals that in the Extraordinary Form the bells should be rung at the following times:

    1) Thrice at the Sanctus.
    2) Thrice at the Elevation of each element. (Though the traditional practice recommended by Fortescue was to time these chimes with the priest’s first genuflection, the elevation, and then second genuflection, in the Ordinary Form he merely elevates the host and bows afterwards. They ought, therefore, to be rung three times in succession as he elevates the host and chalice respectively.) These are the only bells called for by the old rubrics. Fortescue adds the following, though, as officially sanctioned and customary in many places:
    3) Once as “a bell of warning” before the Consecration. (This is the bell which has come to be associated with the Epiclesis. In most cases in which I have seen it used the server watches the hands of the priest and chimes it just as the priest extends his hands over the elements, which is the gesture of calling down the Holy Spirit upon the gifts.)
    4) Thrice at the Domine non sum dignus. (I have never seen this done at any Mass, Ordinary or Extraordinary.)

    Though Fortescue doesn’t mention it, in the past there was an additional chime at the Priest’s communion. Originally, all the bells would have been rung from the bell tower. Before the days of EWTN, they were intended to allow for a kind of participation at a distance on the part of those who were bedridden or otherwise unable to attend Mass. This last bell, then, was important because (in the days when most Catholics received Communion only once a year) the Priest’s communion was your communion as well, in and through him as the local Vicar of Christ. In practice nowadays this bell functions nicely as a signal to everyone that they may now come forward for Communion.

    The above represents the typical use at my Anglican Use parish, as well as that of the other Anglican Use parishes where I have attended Mass.

    Though some would undoubtedly disagree, it seems to me the flexibility in the Ordinary Form is a blessing (though a mixed one). As a result of its ambiguity, while perhaps not common or suggested by the rubrics themselves, it is at least possible in large part to celebrate a perfectly traditional and reverent Mass in the Ordinary Form.

    Stop by my blog, PopSophia.

  11. I would say it is best to tell the servers to a) listen for the words of each particular Eucharistic Prayer, and b) watch for the priest extending his hands over the bread and wine. The Roman Canon has the sign of the cross made over the bread and wine apart from the epiclesis (unlike the other EPs), so the server should be attentive to this.

  12. marknelza says:

    There are two books you need if you are training Altar Servers, or in fact if you are in anyway involved with the liturgy. They are by Peter J. Elliott. You can find out more here: http://bit.ly/pxp2IQ

    Anyway, he recommends that “the bells be rung, with moderation, just before the celebrant begins the epiklesis.” (Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite.) There are two books, the second is Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year. I have had mine for two years and they are already dog-eared with constant use.

    Hope this helps.

  13. Andy Milam says:

    To echo slightly what robertotankerly has said:

    A quick flip through Fortescue (Sixth Edition) reveals that in the Extraordinary Form the bells should be rung at the following times:

    1) Thrice at the Sanctus.
    2) Thrice at the Elevation of each element. (Though the traditional practice recommended by Fortescue was to time these chimes with the priest’s first genuflection, the elevation, and then second genuflection, in the Ordinary Form he merely elevates the host and bows afterwards. They ought, therefore, to be rung three times in succession as he elevates the host and chalice respectively.) These are the only bells called for by the old rubrics. Fortescue adds the following, though, as officially sanctioned and customary in many places:
    3) Once as “a bell of warning” before the Consecration.
    4) Thrice at the Domine non sum dignus.

    I have seen this employed most often in the TLM, but I know of one parish in particular where this is the custom in the Novus Ordo. I think that the introduction/reintroduction of bells is a great thing, for two reasons. First, it is a call to attention of the action going on. If one has his head in his hand Missal or eyes closed meditating on one of the many things one can meditate on, it is a great way to remind him to look up. Second, it is a call to movement. The ringing of the bells at the Domine non sum dignus is a signal for the faithful to prepare to approach for Holy Communion.

    As an aside, I have seen, both in the TLM and the Novus Ordo (in one place only), the ringing of the bells at the priest’s reception of the Precious Blood as the signal for the faithful to approach the rail.

    IMHO, I think that bells can be a matter of taste. If you want to use more, use more. If you want to use less, use less. I think the elevations need them at a minimum, simply as a call to attention. If you want your ceremonies to be “higher” use more bells. If you want them to be “lower” use less. I think that since there has never been a proscription on the use of bells, the Tridentine formula should be retained. That is my personal preference.

    1. Three at Sanctus
    2. One at Epiclesis
    3. Three at each elevation (how is up to taste)
    4. One at each Domine non sum dignus

    Good luck.

  14. NonSumDignus says:

    At the Chapel where I serve, I gently ring the bell when Father extends his hands over the Offerings.

  15. AlexE says:

    It is harder, I think , to maintain a strong reason for the bells at the Priest’s Communion and the Domine non sum dignus, as they aren’t rubical anymore. That said, in my parish we still ring them at the Priest’s Communion so I am not opposed to it. They shouldn’t for the same reason be done at the Sanctus. Getting to the question at hand, the answer I have found is that in ALL Eucharistic Prayers, the moment is when Father holds his hands over the gifts NOT the sign of the Cross, this will help when the Roman Canon is used. I too agree with a short ring at this point, at the elevations it is up to custom and taste at this point wether one long ring is used or three short ( I prefer the later)

  16. I train the servers in my parish. We train them to give the bells a good sharp ring when the priest extends his hands, palms down, over the gifts at the epiclesis. I tell them that, among other things, they are telling the congregation “Something important is happening here, so pay attention!!”. Of course, sometimes they ring the bells when the priest turns his head to them to give them a Meaningful Look because they zoned out for a moment.

    We also ring thrice at each elevation.

  17. Joshua08 says:

    Those quoting Fortescue are either misquoting him, or Fortescue is wrong, or the rubrics changed in 1962

    Ritus servandus chp 7 § 8 directs that the server ring the bell at the Sanctus (it does not say how many times). Chapter 8 § 6 directs that the server ring a bell shortly before the Consecration. It also directs that the bell be rung thrice at each elevation or once continuously. So there is an option there. Chapter 10 §5 directs that a bell be rung to alert the faithful who wish to communicate

    So in the EF we have, by the rubrics
    1. The Sanctus ringing
    2. A warning bell shortly before Consecration
    3. Bells thrice or once continiously at each elevation
    4. Some bell warning of impending communion

    In practice
    1. The bell is rung thrice at the sanctus
    2. Rung at the Hanc igitur, probably because you can see the gesture of extending hands…a good cue. In the Dominican rite, as in the NO when EP 1 is used, it is generally rung at the Quam oblationem but the priest extends his hands then instead. So again, visual cue. Practicality
    3. Aside from where I have trained servers and FSSP/INstitute Masses, I find servers generally ring the bells 5 times, which doesn’t work well (one at each genuflect, thrice at the elevation itself…but as the priest is not supposed to pause in suspended animation, it just sounds rushed).
    4. The three rings at the Domine non sum dignus of the priest serves as the communion bell (the Dominican rite, and some places with the Roman rite do this at the Agnus dei)

    In addition, I have seen
    1. Ringing the bell at the offertory (why I have no idea…only have seen or heard this from East costers).
    2. Ringing the bell at the minor elevation (perhaps to signal the end of the canon, but that really is the purpose of the Nobis peccatores)
    3. Ringing the bell when the priest receives the precious blood. This serves to tell the priest that there are communicants. Fortescue says this is unnecessary. Certainly in earlier times the server beginning the 2nd confiteor worked as a cue. But even without that, merely getting the paten should be enough.
    4. In a few Churches, probably through misunderstanding, at the Domine non sum dignus of the people. This is horrible and should not be done. That is because the whole prayer to be said aloud, unlike the priest’s, and the bell just covers it up and prevents the laity from saying it.

    Anyhow, how does this apply to NO? I would say as a guide

    1. Customary ringing at the Sanctus
    2. Ringing at the Quam oblationem (when the priest extends his hands)
    3. Thrice (not 5 times) at the elevations, or once continuously

    Seems like a good guide to me

    I once knew a priest who demanded that it be continuous because the EF had three rings, and the NO had to be different

  18. At Corpus Christi Cathedral…the tower bells are rung

    1) just prior to the Sanctus (3X)
    2) as the priest extends his hands over the gifts (1X)
    3) at both consecrations and at the priest’s genuflections (3X and 1X)
    4) as the priest elevates the Host and pronounces “This is the Lamb…” (3X)

    The priests in the rectory really like this “system” because it reminds them to go help out distributing Communion. It also pays tribute to Our Lord in the Sacrament and helps remind the World outside that something miraculous is taking place.

  19. Speravi says:

    What is customary where I have been:
    1. A quick single ring when the priest extends his hands over the oblations for the epiclesis.
    2. 3 slightly longer rings during each of the elevations.

    Comment: MATTER AND FORM. The ceremonies of a sacrament unpack what is contained in the joining of matter and form. At the consecration, the sacrifice is effected. Mass is not a just memorial meal which magically calls down the Eucharist. Mass is a true and proper sacrifice in which we most fully participate by partaking of the Sacrificial Victim in Holy Communion. This whole modern scramble to de-emphasize the moment of consecration forgets that a sacrament is effected in the joining of the form to the matter. Therefore, it is difficult to see how anything other than the words of consecration (and the epiclesis) could be the climax of the Mass. (the “Through him, with him etc.” is a doxology summing up what has taken place in the Matter and Form). Paul Turner’s line of thinking, in my opinion, is not very helpful to the important work of re-emphasizing that the Holy Mass is pre-eminently a sacrifice, and only a meal in relation to its being a sacrifice. We don’t speak of re-presenting the Last Supper, we re-present Calvary, which re-presentation was instituted at the Last Supper in the context of a sacrificial banquet.

  20. DLe says:

    At the OF mass that I serve, I ring the bells when the priest extends his hands over the gifts during the epiclesis. Originally, I (and the other servers at my parish) would ring them for about a little less than a second, ideally. However, having gone to the EF, I have noticed the shorter, sharper rings of the bells there and, liking that approach, adopted it.

    In practice, I find it better to use a short, sharp ring because it does not aurally obscure the priest’s words as much as a longer ring would. This is helpful in, say, the EP II (where the priest usually speaks while extending his hands)–although for the EP III I have usually seen a pause between the gesture and the continuation of the priest’s reading of the canon.

  21. Catholicman says:

    Here at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, MN the bells are rung as follows:

    1. A single ring as the priest extends his hands over the gifts
    2. A triple ring at each elevation

  22. dmwallace says:

    The G.I.R.M. found in the new Roman Missal, 3rd edition (2011) states:

    150. A little before the Consecration, if appropriate, a minister rings a small bell as a signal to the faithful. The minister also rings the small bell at each elevation by the Priest, according to local custom.

  23. Martin_B says:

    As the GIRM says: The bells should be rung “a little before the consecration”.

    This could only mean after the “…through Christ our Lord” or “…Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ (…)”.
    At this point the bells should be rung once as a “warning”.

    Later on the bells should be rung thrice at each elevation.
    If incense is used, care should be taken, that the bells and the censer are alternated, like “ring – chuck chuck — ring – chuck chuck — ring – chuck chuk.
    If the tower bells are also rung at this point, they are simply added to this sheme.

  24. jfm says:

    I only rarely have heard the bells rung at the epiclesis in most OF Masses I have attended. I have only heard ringing at the elevations. And then, at each elevation, it is either 3 short rings, one continuous ring with 3 distinct accents, or just one long ring.

  25. Warren says:

    Current practice:
    1. one short ring at Epiclesis as the priest extends his hands.
    2. at the consecration: three rings at each elevation and, on occasion, once at priest’s genuflections.

    Likely moving toward the practice of:
    1. short single ring at Epiclesis as the priest extends his hands.
    2. at the consecration: three longer rings at each elevation.

    Ordinary Form: campus Masses, Victoria, B.C.

  26. Serviam1 says:

    As with robertotankerly and Andy Milam above, at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes [Newton Upper Falls, MA] at a typical Solemn High or Missa Cantata we follow Fortescue; we typically add an additional bell following Holy Communion when the Blessed Sacrament [remaining consecrated Hosts] reserved in the Tabernacle.

    For many folks in the congregation, that they may be seated. The majority remain kneeling however. Technically, He (Particles) is likely still present on the Altar, as the Priest continues to purify the Chalice and consumes the Remains. This is my rationale to remain kneeling…

  27. Serviam1 says:

    [Typos Corrected, Sorry for the re-post:]
    As with robertotankerly and Andy Milam above, at Mary Immaculate of Lourdes [Newton Upper Falls, MA] at a typical Solemn High or Missa Cantata we follow Fortescue; howevver, we typically add an additional bell following Holy Communion, when the Blessed Sacrament [remaining consecrated Hosts] are reserved in the Tabernacle.

    For many folks in the congregation, this is taken as a signal that they may be seated. The majority remain kneeling, however. Technically, He (Particles) is likely still present on the Altar, as the Priest continues to purify the Chalice and consumes the Remains. This is my rationale to remain kneeling…

  28. smcollinsus says:

    @Martin_B: “If incense is used, care should be taken, that the bells and the censer are alternated, like “ring – chuck chuck — ring – chuck chuck — ring – chuck chuk.” I’m not so sure. I don’t think it’s right or wrong either was. But I have heard it done simultaneously, and it looked and sounded good. As a matter of fact, it raises a question:

    The incense is used 3 triple swings IIRC. Now, if this were in an Orthodox Liturgy (i.e. if they actually do it the same way) their censors have many bells on the chains. Therefore you get “smells & bells” all at once from the same person and same instrument. But in the EF Mass, you only have incense at a Solemn Mass, not at a simpler sung Mass. Did the western rite divide the censing from the ringing for convenience sake? Is there any historical relationship between the censor action and ringing of the bells?

  29. RickMK says:

    When I learned to serve at the EF (in the 1990′s) it was with a couple of men who remembered perfectly how to serve the Mass from the times before the OF.
    One of them pointed out to me that the total number of times the bell is rung is 13, as a help in remembering the rubrics of the bells.

  30. Martial Artist says:

    From the USCCB edition ©2003 of The English translation of the GIRM (Third Typical Edition)©2002:

    ¶ 150. 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.

    If incense is used, a server incenses the host and the chalice when each is shown to the people after the consecration.

    The above is the rubric observed at our Noon Mass, at which incense is used, and the eucharistic prayer usually chanted by the celebrant.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  31. Precentrix says:

    Wouldn’t it make sense to ring the bells at the ‘hanc igitur’ as in the EF? Of course, if the priest isn’t using the Roman canon then that might be difficult.

    I’m a girl but used to do the bells in the absence of a server and I learnt the French way so there are extra rings (the minor elevation at the ‘per ipsum’ and the moment when the priest receives from the chalice, for example) or were in the parishes I attended at any rate.

  32. Precentrix says:

    ding at the first ‘suscipe’.
    ding, ding, ding at the Sanctus.
    ding at the ‘Hanc igitur’ (priest extends hands so you get a clue)
    ding, dingdingding, ding twice at the consecration
    ding at the minor elevation (priest genuflects first)
    ding, dingding, dingdingding at ‘Domine, non sum dignus’
    ding as the priest receives from the chalice

    I think that was it. I got quite good at remembering where the page turns in the altar missal were…

  33. Dear Joshua08,

    Where do you attend Dominican Rite Mass? I assume at one of our Western Dominican Province churches? They are the only place I know of where the Rite is regularly scheduled.

    What you describe for the Dominican right use of bells does not match what I was taught in the 1970s at St. Albert’s Priory in Oakland, our house of studies, nor does it match Bonniwell or the Caeremoniale of Jandel (1863). That is not to say that it is therefore wrong, there are all sorts of local customs and bell-ringing was never really that standardized — e.g. all sorts of Roman practices got introduced to avoid “admiratio populi.”

    The normal Dominican practice was:

    1. Three rings at the Sanctus
    2. One ring at the five crosses made at the Quam oblationem (the OP Rite has no extension of hands over the gifts in the Canon at all)
    3. Thrice at each elevation (usually at the 2 genuflections and elevation)
    4. Before Communion, when the priest did his half turn to signal the servers to say the Confiteor at low Mass; which was also the signal for the friars to prostrate during that prayer at Sung Mass with friars Communion. When the Confiteor was abolished in 1960 and replaced by the Roman practice of the Domine non sum dignus (previously absent from our rite), some places multiplied this ring to three because this was a Roman prayer and Romans rang for each Domine. Today the practice at this point is all over the map because some places say just the Confiteor (old Dominican), some only the Domine (post-1960), and some do both (hybrid).

    I might add that just as we do not clank the censer chains so as not to disrupt the singing, so the ringing was traditionally muted, esp. when music was going on, e.g., the Sanctus, or the Communion Verse (which often covered the Communion Confiteor).

  34. pedantic_prof says:

    The habit of ringing bells five times at both elevations, i.e. a triple ring when the Host and Chalice are raised, is a French one. It has spread from the SSPX out into the wider world and seems to bear the hallmark of authenticity, even though it was largely confined to France before Vatican II. That magisterial liturgist Martinucci, former Papal MC, opined that three rings (genuflection; elevation; genuflection) was the Roman practice but that a longer, continuous ring was tolerated for the final genuflection after setting down the Chalice (perhaps as a signal to the organ or choir?).

  35. Joshua08 says:

    I remembered ringing the bell at the Quam oblationem! But right, I mixed up the OF extending the hands there with the Dominican rite. I just remember looking for hand motions as a cue.

    The Agnus Dei. Thanks for correcting me. I learned to do it then when I first served the Dominican rite, in Santa Paula. I had since been corrected on that point and haven’t done it the last several times I served, but I guess my memory reinserted it for the post.

    I believe the last Dominican Rite Mass I went to was yours at the DSPT ;)

  36. Dear Josh[usa08],

    No problem. I might add again that there is so much local custom on bell-ringing, that there is no absolute “Dominican way” of doing it. All bell ringing (with little bells by servers) is really modern and part of the development of the Low Mass. In the middle ages (at least until the late 1300s at the very earliest) there was no Low Mass since ALL Masses were sung. So from the time of Humbert (1256) until the Reformation there wasn’t any “Dominican” practice about the little bells. Church bells may have been rung at the consecration, but that was probably it. So, In Dubiis libertas.

  37. gviele says:

    We follow the “Coalition in support of Ecclesia Dei” Booklet
    Missal for praying the traditional Mass. It is simple and clear as the bells to be rung are indicated by a bell symbol.
    I have no idea where the Ecclesia Dei’s rubrics are from but I do remember from the 1950′s and early 60′s that this is the way we always heard the bells during Mass.