QUAERITUR: Ringing bells during Mass

From a priest:

I’m looking for the reference, which I once read, about the option of ringing a bell as a signal for receiving Holy Communion during the Mass. In the past, I’ve always instruted the altarboys to ring the bell once when the priest starts consuming the Precious Blood.

Is this correct?

God bless you and all your good work. I hope you had a holy and merry Christmas.

And Merry Christmas to you, reverend and dear Father.

You can also check this entry HERE.

I believe custom governs a lot of these bell choices. Most of the time a bell will ring during Low Mass when the priest stretches his hands over the bread and wine before the consecration, and again at the genuflections and elevations. Some ring at the uncovering of the chalice. Some ring at the Sanctus (which is why the bells are called “Sanctus Bells”.). Some ring when the priest has consumed the Precious Blood. It is not necessary to have a bell during a Solemn Mass.

You are probably thinking of the ring when the priest consumes the Precious Blood as a signal to people in the congregation to start coming forward. That works. I have seen it done and it is fairly effective.

No bells on Holy Thursday after the Gloria is intoned, however!

I am going to ask the readers to chime in on this.

If there are specific rubrics for this, nothing … rings a bell.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. jbpolhamus says:

    While serving at the London Oratory, I was told that the bell which is rung at the consumption of the Precious Blood is both a signal for the faithful to come forward for communion, but primarily a signal that, the priest having consumed both species, the sacrificial action is complete, and if you were pressed for time you might leave then knowing that you had satisfied your obligation. Later I noticed, when serving as 2nd MC at a Pontifical Requiem Mass, that the bell being rung at the consumption of the Precious Blood is actually prescribed in the pontifical. Given that the liturgical customs of the Oratory descend from the customs of the Roman basilicas (which involved pontifical services probably more frequently than anywhere else in the Catholic world), as outlined by Baldeschi, I suspect that the custom of the bell at the consumption of the Precious blood probably simply became universal in the Oratory for all masses, a remnant of their basilican/pontifical past.

  2. Inigo says:

    Usually in the extraordinary form we ring the bells like this:
    -3 times for the Sanctus
    -1 time for the Hanc igitur
    – Consecration as usual
    -1 time for the Per ipsum elevation
    -1 for the priest’s first Domine non sum dignus, 2 for the second and 3 for the third.

    If it’s a solemn mass each acolyte has a bell, and both ring it during the consecration the way described above.
    If it was up to me the bells would be ringin constantly during the elevation, but customs are customs…

  3. JonPatrick says:

    At our EF masses, same as Inigo notes, except we also ring it for the people’s domine non sum dignus. Also only one bell for each utterance, usually after the word “dignus” so as to not drown out the words. Low Mass and High Mass (Missa Cantata) usually the same.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    Love the Brompton Oratory and it was my parish from which I was married. You might be interested in knowing that the bell at the Consumption of the Host is also done at some other churches in England, and at the two Requiem EFs which I attended in Malta, (the only two public EFs which occurred in the entire diocese, in the more than two months I was there). I have also heard this bell at a special EF in Iowa several years ago.

  5. At our OF parish the bells are rung once when the priest raises his hands over the offering of bread and wine near the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer; and three times at each elevation (host then chalice). The first ring lasts for as long as the priest’s hand are raised. The next two instances are pretty well timed so the bells ring for the entire time of each elevation. When I am at a Mass with no bells, I miss them. I listen for them, then hear them in my memory.

  6. wmeyer says:

    At my parish, I don’t believe I have ever heard the bells rung. One of the priests, when I mentioned this, said that with the Mass in the vernacular, there is no need. Perhaps. Yet I was raised hearing the bells, and I hear them still, or more accurately, hear their absence.

  7. Andy Milam says:

    Fr. Z,

    Being a true Schulerian, I have always helped to institute the bells pattern of St. Agnes where I’ve gone. I know you’re very well aware of this, but I will share the Schulerian model with the other readers.

    1. At the quam oblationem (OF) and the Hanc igitur (EF)
    2. Three rings at the elevation of the Sacred Host.
    3. Three rings at the elevation of the Precious Blood.
    —-during the elevations, the tower bells are rung.
    4. At the consumption of the Precious Blood by the celebrant.

    Custom at St. Agnes was never to ring for the Sanctus, even for low Mass…so it is something I’ve never instituted in my travellings. However, in every place where I’ve been a Master of Ceremonies, the adjustment to this model has been accepted with no reservation.

  8. Basil says:

    The custom in my experience of Anglo-Catholics (such as those who will make up the Ordinariate is):

    – bells through the “Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus” of the Sanctus (either continuously or three bells)
    – before the consecration
    – triple bells (each) at the elevation of the Host and Chalice, with the people making the sign of the cross on the middle one
    – bell after the choir has finished communing (in these churches, the choir is usually at the front, and they commune first so they can sing the communion chant or motet)

    But of course, as with all things Anglo-Catholic, it varies from parish to parish.

  9. TomGMS says:

    Father, first let me say well done on two excellent bell-related puns.

    Second, at the church where I serve Low Mass, I ring one bell at the Hanc Igitur to alert the public that the Consecration is at hand. Then there is one bell as the priest genuflects, three bells as he elevates the host, and one bell as he genuflects again. The same goes for the wine. Then, the bell is rung for each of the first three “Domine, non sum dignus…” prayers. After that, I wait for the priest to consume the wine, which does not merit a bell-ringing; rather, at that point, I recite the second Confiteor. Upon finishing, the priest turns to give the general absolution (the “Misereatur vestri…” and “Indulgentiam absolutionem…” prayers), then turns back to the altar briefly to pick up the chalice and host, and turns back to the people to say “Ecce: Agnus Dei. Ecce: qui tollis peccata mundi.”, and then say three more “Domine, non sum dignus…” prayers, during which I ring one bell each. From that point on there are no more bells during Low Mass, and the distribution of Communion commences.

  10. jlduskey says:

    Our custom (EF) is very similar to the custom described by JonPatrick, above, with three small exceptions: (1) We ring the bells when the chalice veil is removed from the chalice, to signal the beginning of the Eucharistic action (those who arrive after this point are seriously late for mass), and (2) We do not ring the bells at the Per Ipsum, at the end of the Canon and just before the Pater Noster. (3) We ring the bells each time the priest says “Domine, non sum dignus” prior to the priest’s communion and prior to the communion of the people, however, if the mass being said is the kind of dialog mass where the people recite the words “Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur anima mea” prior to the communion of the people, then the bells are not rung during this recitation.
    One other note about the elevation: in the 50s and 60s, before the changes, the general rule was one ring at each genuflection and one ring at each elevation. From the 198os onward, the common practice was to have three rings at each elevation. I believe either way is legitimate, but it is good to have a consistent practice.

  11. tealady24 says:

    At our EF masses we have bells rung in the usual places as it should be.
    At the NO mass I attended on Christmas Day, no bells were rung anywhere at anytime!
    Just what is wrong with the American Catholic Church??
    I can’t speak for those who belong to that parish, but the atmosphere does not promulgate holiness at all! It’s a feel-good, back-slapping, “hey, how ya doin’ ” attitude from start to finish.
    What are we teaching young people about holiness? The secular world has just come in like a giant wave over all aspects of our lives, and the Church has gone right along with it. I don’t see any push to change anything. Where are the Latin masses at the hundreds of churches that I know of in places like NJ, for instance?
    If people availed themselves of these, they would probably never go back to what they have now on Sundays. We just need to pray for things to be right again. That’s what I plan on doing in 2012.

  12. Andy Milam says:

    @ tealady24;

    You answer your own question in your first question. The American Catholic Church. We are not American Catholics. We are Catholics in America. That is a small but very important distinction. The reformers of the Church ran with the misguided notion of “inculturation” after Vatican Council II. Inculturation doesn’t mean do whatever you want. Inculturation means that there are certain aspects of the Mass which can be exposed to the individual culture, like proclaiming the readings in the vernacular….and that’s about it.

    The question isn’t what’s wrong with the American Catholic Church? The question is, why do we think that there is an American Catholic Church as opposed to the Catholic Church in America? When TPTB can authentically answer that, then I think that we can start addressing the issues at hand.

  13. Patti Day says:

    This is quite an education. I wasn’t aware there were so many opportunities for the ringing of the bells. At our NO mass, the bells are rung at the elevation of the Sacred Host and again at the elevation of the Precious Wine. The sisters at my grade school taught us to strike our breast once at each elevation, saying “My Lord and my God” at the first and “My Jesus Mercy” at the second elevation. I’ve only seen one other person do this, a very elderly lady.

  14. Random Friar says:

    There’s an interesting document at smellsbells.com on:
    -Sacred Signs

    I don’t know if it’s 100% accurate, but worth a read.

  15. TheAcolyte says:

    Try these article offered at romanitaspress.com:

    As shown in the Baltimore Ceremonial, Wapelhorst and L. O’Connell (as well as many other minor serving guides), in the USA the liturgical custom (which has force of law) of when the ring the bells during is:
    -Sanctus (universal)
    -Hanc igitur (USA custom)
    -Elevations (universal; 1 = genuflection / 1 = Elevation / 1 = genuflection is the recognized universal practice. The 1-3-1 method has no liturgical sanction whatsoever and is not mentioned by a single rubrician)
    -Celebrant’s Domine non sum dignus (USA custom; NB: this is the signal for the communicants)

  16. TheAcolyte says:

    It should be further noted that it was never the liturgical custom in English-speaking counties (American, British Commonwealth) to ring the bell at the Per ipsum (Minor Elevation) as denoted by all major English-speaking rubricians and a host of minor serving guides dating from 1829 to 1964. However, this is the custom in some places in Europe, such as France and Belgium (but not in Italy).

  17. Supertradmum says:

    Andy Milam,

    As early as 1850s, there was a move among American Bishops on the East Coast to want autonomy from Rome on certain matters, including Liturgy, politics, the Constitution, moral values. This was the condemned heresy of Americanism. This did not start with Vatican II or the aftermath of such. It is an earlier and persistent illness in the Roman Catholic Church in America. Several famous bishops in the 19th century were called to Rome because of their insistence that Rome did not understand the American Experience. Some repented and became champions and others did not. Some were stripped of being heads of important dioceses on the East Coast and ended up in the Middle West, where they continued their heretical ideas of separatism. Cardinal Gibbons was sent Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae by Pope Leo XIII on this very heresy. When I was teaching, this heresy was one of the most common one among my students, especially in the Midwest.

    Bells may be connected to this heresy, believe it or not, as part of the emphasis was to reach out to Protestantism, even then, and not be so “ultra-montane” and an effort to create an American Catholic Culture at the expense of obedience to Rome. The Americanist heresy was not merely one aimed at politics, government (separation of Church and State), but also moral teaching and liturgical norms. Vatican II and the aftermath cannot be blamed for everything…

  18. Andy Milam says:

    Yes, I understand that, Supertradmum. And thanks for the refresher on Americanism. I appreciate it.

    I was, however, under the impression that Americanism was more or less suppressed when Card. Gibbons accepted the encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, from Pope Leo XIII. I’m not so naive as to believe that it was a complete suppression, but the basic ideas were driven underground until a neo-Americanism resurfaced in the wake of the reformers after the Council. I would daresay that neo-Americanism is the issue that the worldwide Church faces today.

    We are on the same page….and I do think that this whole notion drives directly down into the minutiae of the Church, even to the ringing of the bells.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    Andy Milam,

    You did not grow up in the Dioceses of Dubuque or Davenport. When you have the chance, look up the movement to the west of Americanist bishops. Sadly, the heresy kept on going, like the Energizer Bunny, up to the present day.

  20. MattnSue says:

    At my parish, we generally follow as has been stated above, (hands over the chalice, both elevations, and when the father consumes the precious blood, except when we use the clacker on Holy Thursday). However, there was one time when it was additional. My wife, a professional pianist, was hired to play the organ at a wedding at our church when the regular organist was not available. Since she had never played this particular organ before, she obtained permission from the pastor to come into the church, on the afternoon of the day before the wedding, for about 15-20 minutes to familiarize herself with the instrument. She arrived, played a few tunes just to get her bearings, and then saw another keyboard, and began to play that one as well (I believe the tune she was playing was either “Lights” or “Open Arms” by Journey), before realizing that this particular keyboard controlled the Carillon, and the whole neighborhood got to enjoy her cover of Journey. Within moments, the pastor came in, ostensibly to check some items in the sanctuary, but he kept looking up to the loft. She never said anything else to him, and he politely never mentioned it either.

  21. Fr. W says:

    The book says that the reason for a bell at the priest’s Communion is for the server to signal to the priest whether there is someone who wants to receive Holy Communion. (If someone has approached the rail, or if the server himself wishes to receive)

    I was once told that the reason for the bell at the Hanc Igitur is not for any theological reason (since there was no teaching that this was an epiclesis), but rather as a signal to the choir to bring the music to an end for the consecration.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    Father Z,

    The second one is a good reason, having been in Gregorian Chant choirs in lofts, where we have been very far away from the altar and even with a mirror, had trouble following the rubrics of the priest at the altar. The first reason I did hear from another priest who served in a convent, as the server used the bell to indicate that the laypeople visiting the monastery were going to receive. Interesting. Does that mean we should approach the rail before the bell? I have never thought of that.

  23. Andy Milam says:


    No I didn’t grow up in the dioceses of Dubuque (Arch) or Davenport. I grew up in the diocese of Sioux City. I am well aware of what went on…I’m also old enough to say that Bishop Greteman was Ordinary when I moved to Iowa as a child. I know about the push West.

    This really isn’t so much about Americanism though, as it is about the fact that the reformers had an agenda and it was not what the Conciliar Fathers wanted. At all!

  24. rollingrj says:

    I found this website a few days ago. Perhaps it will help contribute to the discussion.

  25. kellym says:

    I asked this question of my pastor a year or so ago (as did a couple of other folks). I was told that the bells are no longer rung because “it’s bothersome to those who are trying to meditate in quiet prayer”, or some close approximation. Ugh.

    I really like my pastor, and most of the time he gets to the meat of the matter. But he whiffed on this one.

  26. edm says:


    In my Anglo-catholic parish the custom is to ring 3X before the Sanctus, 1X before the words of consecration, 3X at the elevations (before, during, after) and finally as the priest receives from the chalice. I think this closely resembles what you mentioned except for the last ringing. I must say, I have never heard bells rung at an Anglo-catholic parish after the choir receives. And, by the way, our parish choir is also “upfront” in stalls between the roodscreen and the communion rail. They know to move up to the altar rail after the last (single) ringing.

  27. Gaz says:

    I’m a bit surprised that no-one has yet mentioned the ringing of bells when the server trips over them.

    For the record, Sanctus (3), Hanc igitur (1), Elevations (3 apiece), and one to alert the priest that communicants are waiting.

    Not so long ago, I served a low Mass at a side chapel whilst a High Mass was being celebrated at the main altar of the Cathedral. Of course, there were no bells. I figured that I could simply kneel and pray for a while instead of carefully watching for extended hands etc. I completely forgot to hold up the chasuble during the Elevations. … (Father mentioned it to me afterwards.)

  28. Centristian says:

    At the church at which I am a sacristan, there is a great, ancient “gong” struck by a hammer, usually ineptly, by an acolyte, first when the priest extends his hands over the gifts, then once at each elevation.

    When there are no acolytes and I am on duty, I, by remote control from the sacristy, ring the bell in the bell tower at each elevation, which always causes much amazement since nobody knows how it is done. When one visiting priest, amazed as anyone, asked me about it, I told him that there was a sensor near the altar which detected hands being raised at a certain height, which triggered the bell to sound.

    After enjoying his stupefied expression for a moment, I explained the truth of the matter.

  29. Diogo says:

    In Portugal, bells during mass are rarely seen (let, oh Lord, our Patriarch go to his retirement and grant us a brave bishop!). However, some good young priests are trying to revitalize their usage. I’ve seen many ways of ringing the bells, but the most usual one is: 1 when the priest lays his hands over the bread and wine; 1 at each elevation; 1 at each genuflection of the priest after consecration.

    Fortunately, Opus Dei oratories keep the bells ringing: the bell is heard once at laying of hands over the bread and wine; three times at each elevation; once at each genuflection of the priest.

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