QUAERITUR: bells at the consecration

I receive this question by e-mail:

During the Consecration of the Mass if the church bells are rung how should it be done?  We had a TLM at our Cathedral the other day; very nice.  THe bells were rung, the church bells, continuously throughout the Consecration.  I had some inquiries as to why so long?  We have another Mass in Nov. and we want to get it right.  I am speaking of the large church bells here not the small bells at the altar.


At my home parish it was the custom to toll the large bell in the tower during the consecration at the Sunday Masses.  It initially struck me that this might be a German or Austrian custom, but I have experienced this in other places as well.   Perhaps some of you will have your experiences to share.  However, back at that parish, since the church was so large and the tower so high, the tolling of the bell… the bell being struck, rather than swinging… was not intrusive.  The tolling was also fairly slow, much like the tolling of a bell for a funeral.   It worked well and it was not intrusive.  I think that could be a factor: don’t make the bell intrude on the consecration.  Be subtle.  If you want to have the bell ring at the consecrations, and it is pulled by a rope to ring, perhaps a short ring at each consecration could be best.  

Very often, less is more.
That is a good adage for liturgy at times.  It allows for contrast in more solemn occasions.

As far as the smaller hand bells are concerned, customs vary.  Frankly I prefer shorter rings to signal the elevation, rather than sustained ringing.  Again, less is more.  Others may have a different preference.

There was no official rule about this, as far as I am aware.

Bells are wonderful.  They should be used.

Bells are "baptized", or that is what their consecration is called.  They were simply "blessed".  The new rite for bells is rather stripped of its meaning, but the old ritual is amazing and rich.  Bells are almost like living things: they speak with a voice… thus they are also given names when they are "baptized".  Bells were used to "speak against" coming storms, and to alert people of moments of danger and of joy.  They accompany us in subtle ways through our lives, especially at turning points, such as weddings and funerals.  They connect a church to the wider world beyond.  The shadow of bell towers often define a neighborhood in some countries.  Indeed, many people felt they were in a strange land if they strayed out of sight of their villages bell tower.  While that can also define a measure of "narrowness" of imagination in some cases – in Italian when you say a person is inbued with "bell-tower-ism" it means he is narrow – it also signals being deeply attached to a place, which can be positive.

So… use bells!  Make sure they are in good repair.  Learn about them.


La Smarrita of Santa Maria Maggiore …  from a comment below.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Genna says:

    At the Oratory and at Westminster Cathedral in London, it’s silence at the consecrstion. Hand bells are rung at the elevation. The cathedral tower bell is also tolled at the elevation. Not so sure about he Oratory tower bell, as the elevation at the Sunday ll.0 High Mass often coincides with the ringing of the Angelus.

    At the cathedral at Christmas and the first Mass of Easter, I believe multiple hand bells are also rung at the Gloria; not sure about the Oratory. Perhaps someone else can confirm, as I am usually out of London with family for those two great celebrations.

  2. Erick says:

    “The new rite for bells is rather stripped of its meaning, but the old ritual is amazing and rich.”

    After reading this line, I immediately opened a new tab and looked up the rite for the blessing of a church bell in the 1962 Rituale (tip of the hat to SanctaMissa.org).

    “O Christ, the almighty ruler, as you once calmed the storm at sea when awakened in the boat from the sleep of your human nature, so now come with your benign help to the needs of your people, and pour out on this bell the dew of the Holy Spirit. Whenever it rings may the enemy of the good take flight, the Christian people hear the call to faith, the empire of Satan be terrified, your people be strengthened as they are called together in the Lord, and may the Holy Spirit be with them as He delighted to be with David when he played his harp. And as onetime thunder in the air frightened away a throng of enemies, while Samuel slew an unweaned lamb as a holocaust to the eternal King, so when the peal of this bell resounds in the clouds may a legion of angels stand watch over the assembly of your Church, the first-fruits of the faithful, and afford your ever-abiding protection to them in body and spirit.”


    Can this blessing be used again, under Summorum Pontificum?

  3. Andrew says:

    I think (tongue-in-cheek) we might turn to Don Camillo for the answer. I believe that there’s a story where his little village in the valley flooded, but Don Camillo, attended only by his faithful dog, bravely celebrated Mass in knee-high water, managing to run into the campanile to sound the bell at the elevation, whereupon his far-off flock on a nearby hill fell to their knees and the men removed their caps. A beautiful image!

  4. Fachtna says:

    The Sacring bell was rung in every church in Christendom up to the reformation.

    The custom was to ring it from the beginning of the first consecration until the end of the second.

    The practice is still used in practically all of the major churches of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.

    Here is a recording of the Sacring Bell of Cologne Cathedral:


  5. Fachtna says:

    And here is Maria Gloriosa from the Mariendom in Erfurt:


  6. Berthold says:

    There are also different customs on when to ring the small bells. Standard seems to be at the Sanctus, the ‘Hanc igitur’, the Elevations, and the priest’s ‘Domine, non sum dignus’. In some churches in Munich, however, there are additional signals when the priest uncovers the chalice at the Offertory, and at the little elevation at the end of the canon. I have no idea how wide-spread this habit is. Ringing a tower bell at the consecration (it is normally one of the larger bells) naturally needs someone in the sacristy to switch the motor on, something that is not always the case in small churches. I never found that sound intrusive, having the slow bell chimes outside seems rather to stress than to destroy the silence at the consecration.
    Another, quite wide-spread habit in Bavaria is to ring the tower bells for some ten minutes on Saturday afternoon (ca 2 or 3 pm), to mark the beginning of the Sunday.
    On many places on the continent (including more or less all Germany) bells are rung electrically, often even steered by an electronic clock. This enables ringing them frequently because no-one has to be there, but it is a shame for the parish life because no ringing-band is needed, as is very common in England (especially in Anglican churches).

  7. patrick f says:

    Bells, Like the extraordinary form, never went anywhere. Its sad, people think there are a pre vatican 2 thing. I grew up ringing the hand bells, I remember we had a particularly heavy pair at my grade school that hurt my arm (Hey, I was like 10-14, gimme a break :P ). Any how when I told that story to a lady in my parish, (which I havent gone to my whole life) , she looked at me like I was cookie “You rang bells? Thats pre vatican 2 isnt it?”. I politely explained no, it wasnt.

    I know its a pastoral preference, but a guideline on this would be nice, simply because its my personal belief it A) shuts people up during the elevation B) (more politely) Draws our attention to the true purpose of the mass.

  8. Dan says:

    The only church that I can recall the steeple bells being rung at the Consecration is in the oldest church that the SSPX have.
    It is “Old St Marys”, in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and it is so reverent, beautiful and moving.
    They still do it there, we shall be assisting there today.

    I wish all churches that have large bells, either electronic or real, would ring their bells at the moment Christ becomes substanially and physically present on the altar.

    Deo Gratias!

  9. Fachtna says:

    The festive peal of the Cathedral of Aachen:


  10. Astorg says:

    Bells would be ‘christened’ rather than ‘baptized’, surely?

  11. Fachtna says:

    The tradition in many parts of the German lands is to ring full peals on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Thursday evening a special peal is rung to remember the Last Supper usually at 8pm. Simple peals are rung on Friday with a special peal at 3pm to remind the faithful of the Crucifixion, Saturday simple peal; with full peal again early on Sunday morning.

  12. Fachtna says:

    Bells are consecrated.

  13. Fachtna says:

    The full peal of the Cathedral of Freising in Bavaria on the feat of St. Korbinian


  14. athanasius says:

    There was no official rule about this, as far as I am aware.

    Actually there is in the 1962MR. Our FSSP pastor has the servers ring the bell shorter than they are accustomed, because the ring of the bell should be short so that when the priest reaches the apex of his elevation he is not permitted to hold it, and must lower it down. The bells should cease ringing at the apex so that the priest can be faithful to the rubric.

  15. Fachtna says:

    And here is the Petersglocke or St Peter’s Bell, the largest bell in the Cathedral of Cologne:


  16. Fachtna says:

    And here is the Susanna in the Frauendom in Munich. The nmae derives from the dialect German “Hosieanna” or Hosanna, since this is the bell that was -and still is – used to announce the consecration:


  17. Fachtna says:

    And the Cathedral of Olomuc in Moravia where the bells are still hand rung:


  18. Fachtna says:

    The sacring bell in the Vitusdom in Prague:


  19. mpm says:

    Just speaking for myself, I appreciate a short ringing of the small bells by the
    servers. Often, it seems, altar boys compete to see who can ring the most vigorously
    and longest: I find that a bit annoying, and sometimes intrusive. I think they
    have about the right touch at the daily EWTN Masses.

  20. SMJ says:

    In the good old days, our church bells rung the Tantum Ergo during the consecration!

  21. mitch says:

    They sound so soothing when not at Mass and walking outside and suddenly you hear them and are reminded during a busy moment of your faith and that other people are celebrating it…..I d not hear them anymore and miss them….Once in a blue moon I will hear it and it gives me comfort…

  22. Fachtna says:

    Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

    The last bell to ring in Rome every evening is La Smarrita from Santa Maria Maggiore at 9pm.


  23. John Polhamus says:

    At Corpus Christi in Maiden Lane the tower bell is rung at the consecrations in the form of three doubles which coincide with the genuflexion-elevation-genuflexion of the priest, for each of the sacred species. The way to get an exact ring is to pull heavily upon the bell-rope which swings the bell enough to achieve the first toll and throws the clapper aside; then use your own weight resistance to slowly lower the bell from its swung position, which allows the clapper to ring only once more as it falls back onto the side of the bell which is being lowered in a controlled fashion. Of course, this assumes that the bell doesn’t weigh more than YOU do! But this tidy, exact method would seem typically English, and less (one might say) sloppy than simply clanging away during the length of the consecrations.

    The same weight resisted double-ring approach is also appropriate for the angelus, with one ring (two tolls) for each of the responsories, then continuious ringing through the collect prayer, which might also serve as the hurry-up bell if the Angelus immediately precede’s Holy Mass.

    This pattern has been introduced in San Diego whenever an external bell is to hand, which is getting to be more often than it has been in the past.

  24. joshua says:

    Here is what the Rubrics say about the hand bell

    Minister paulo ante Consecrationem campanulæ signo fideles moneat. Deinde, dum celebrans elevat hostiam, manu sinistra elevat fimbrias posteriores planetæ, ne ipsum celebrantem impediat in elevatione bracchiorum ; quod et facit in elevatione calicis ; et manu dextera pulsat campanulam ter ad unamquamque elevationem, vel continuate quousque sacerdos deponat hostiam super corporale, et similiter postmodum ad elevationem calicis.

    The server a little before the Consecration warns the faithful with the signal of the bell. Then, while the celebrant elevates the host, with his left hand he holds up the bottom edges of the chasuble, lest it should impede the celebrant in raising his arms; he also does this at the elevation of the chalice; and with his right hand rings the bell thrice for each elevation, or continuously until the priest put the host down on the corporal, and likewise afterwards for the elevation of the chalice.

    Fortescue/O´Connell/Reid recommends that the ringing be arranged thus: once at the genuflexion before, once at the elevation, once at the genuflexion after, precisely so the priest can keep the rubric of immediately bringing the Host back down (he should not hold it there suspended). This allows the server also not to rush. The custom of ringing it at each genuflexion and thrice again between, for a total of 5 rings, is alien to the rubrics and I think is too rushed.

    We rang the bells for the Church in sync with the hand bell of the server.

  25. When I was in high school, at high mass a tower bell was rung at the elevations, usually along with a small bell at the altar. Here is a link
    to the canon and elevations of a mass said in 1964 (my graduation) where the tower bell is quite clear but it appears the small altar bell was not used except for the single stroke before the consecration. This is an anglican mass, so you will hear the canon said out loud and in english.

  26. Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o. says:

    Here are two very different uses of bells at Mass from my own experience:

    In the traditional Cistercian Use a bell in the tower is tolled after each verse and responses of the Preface Dialogue, then at the mediants, flexes and cadences throughout the Preface itself and finally three tolls at each elevation. This is imitated at Vespers when it precedes Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament: the tower bell is tolled at the mediants and cadences throughout the Magnificat and then at Benediction, three time to signal the beginning of the blessing and three times when the priest turn back to the altar with the monstrance. There is no mention in the rubrics of bells at Low/Private Mass but it was and is the custom in our monasteries to ring the hand bell only twice, once at each elevation.

    While in Venice in 1992 I assisted at the Sunday Solemn Mass in San Marco. As the Preface Dialog began a full peal of bells rang out from the great campanile and continued throughout the Canon. In the vast interior of the basilica the bells could be heard but were not overwhelming.

    Fr. Aidan Logan, O.C.s.o.
    U S Naval Academy
    Annapolis, MD

  27. William says:

    At my parish, in the old days, a small xylophone was used at the Elevations (done by altar server on the right). “Bong, bong, bong bong; bong bong, bong, bong” (chimes)! All during the dark ages of the past forty years the memory of it asserted itself at Masses where no bells were rung.

  28. William: Xylophone would be made from wood. Maybe it was made from metal? Like a little glockenspiel?

  29. Rob says:

    At Holy Trinity (German) Church in Boston’s South End
    the bells in the bell tower were always rung concurrently
    with the altar bells at the Consecration per the German and
    Austro-Hungarian tradition of the parish’s founders. This was true
    particularly of Traditional Latin High Mass (from 1990 through 2007). In effect it announced to the South End (and the world), our Lord’s Presence.

    In French Canada, particularly in Quebec it is interesting
    that most traditional parish churches always included a
    minor steeple with a small bell over the Sanctuary that
    fulfilled this same function at all Masses. It was operated
    in proximity of the Sanctuary during Mass by either an
    acolyte or sacristan.

    This tradition continued into the early 1960’s throughout
    Quebec and Acadia (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI) to
    a lesser degree. Sadly, the deformations of the post
    Conciliar period and the “Quiet Revolution” have silenced this
    venerable tradition of New France to this day. FYI, many of the Quebecois
    and Acadians are descended from the 17th Century French
    originating from Brittany and Normandy. I suspect this
    custom originated from those areas of France.

  30. Rob says:


    The Fr. Charles J. Higgins, Pastor of Mary Immaculate of
    Lourdes Church in Upper Newton Falls (a suburb
    immediately west of Boston), Massachusetts offered the
    following regarding bells and the Catholic traditions
    associated ith them in his Parish Bulletin of
    7 September 2008.

    Refer to page 3.

  31. William says:

    Father Z, yes is was of wood, at least the sound box was and the strikes were of a high quality metal, an octave worth, and were struck with a small rubber mallet. It resonated beautifully, gently throughout the entire church. C E G C + C G E C

  32. Blonde Bertha says:

    In merry old England, the size of the bell/tower was roughly related to the size of the parish so that it should be heard by all. For example in the eastend of London one is officially a ‘cockney’ if one was born within the sound of Bow (Church) bells indicating one resided within the parish.

  33. Aaron says:

    You must be from Denver… excellent work

  34. Fr J says:

    Certainly in England and Wales it has been customary to ring bells at the Consecration and where possible for the Church bell (often called the Sacrum bell for this purpose) is rung simultaneously with the sanctuary bells. In the EF this would mean three distinct rings at each consecration = once at the first genuflection, second at the elevation and third at the last genuflection.

  35. Petros says:

    Yes,I remember the church bell being rung six times,at the consecration. It was difficult to get the three by three rings exactly,the church bell being huge,and very heavy.

  36. Romulus says:

    The traditional order Militia Templi – Pauperum Christi Militi Ordo has its tiny magistral church of St. John in Jerusalem at the
    Castello della Magione in Poggibonsi, Tuscany (between Siena and Florence). When we attended Sunday Mass (EF) there two years ago, the tower bell was rung continuously during the consecration.

    Last winter, we attended Mass (a weekday evening) in the Blessed Sacrament chapel of the enormous basilica of St. Mary Magdalene in Vezelay – now administered by the monastic community of Jerusalem. Here too, during the consecration the tower bell was rung – a powerful, penetrating sound that seemed to come straight from heaven.

    As senior MC at my parish in New Orleans, I have obtained permission to ring the tower bell so that (as closely as possible) it coincides with the ringing of the hand bell at the consecration. Yesterday for the first time we extended this practice to Benediction. I am very pleased with the effect.

  37. Fachtna says:

    Hand bells are substitutes for the main church bells during the consecration.

  38. Fachtna says:

    Here is an article from the German Wikipedia that tells you everything you could ever want to know about bell ringing and how to do it. Unfortunately, I do not think there is an English version:


  39. Fachtna says:

    One of the largest bells in Austria is the Angstglocke or Agony bell in the Abbey of ST. Florian in Upper Austria, cast in 1717, it is rung only on Holy Thursday evening to commemorate the Lord’s agong in the garden

  40. Melody says:

    The Norbertine Abbey of St. Michael where I attend has a smaller bell on a pedestal outside the church. Just before consecration one of the Confreres silently opens the doors and rings it at the moment of consecration. It is also rung to call the people to mass, during the recitation of the Angelus at noon, and at eucharistic benediction. The sound is much more penetrating than the handbells I’ve grown up with.

  41. John Enright says:

    Many, many years ago – I don’t want to even think about that – I was an Altar Boy in a northeast Philadelphia parish. Fr. McCloskey, who was the Major Domo of the Altar Boys squad, used to refer to the Altar Bells by the name “James.” Of course, all of us thought that he was going a little soft in the head! Boys being boys, “James” became “Jimmy,” and after a brief interval, the Bells were eventually called “Jimbo.”

    The Bells had a little niche in the wall of the Priests’ sacristy (the Altar Boys had their own sacristy on the opposite side of the Church) with a door. When not in use, the Bells were deposited there to await a new term of service.

    Recently, I had the misfortune to attend the funeral of a grade-school friend who passed away rather unexpectedly. The Mass was celebrated by another friend, who was also a classmate. I went into the sacristy after the Liturgy to say hello to my friend. I was immediately struck by a little paper sign on the wall near the abode of the Bells which said “Don’t call me Jimbo.”

    I have to confess, I’m the guy who first called the Bells Jimbo! I’ve returned to that Church since then, and I purposely addressed the Bells as James! Fr. McC. wasn’t daft!

  42. Fachtna says:

    Here are the names of the bells in the peal of Cologne Cathedral:


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