When a priest shows the consecrated bread and the chalice to the people, the
server may ring a bell or the server may not ring a bell. It's an option. Some
Catholic communities exercise it; others do not.
Bells have harmonized with church life since the sixth century, when they first
summoned worshipers to church before the invention of beeping wristwatches. In
the early 13th century, the faithful were going to communion so infrequently
that the church had to require it once a year. When they attended Mass, the
faithful wanted to see the host. The priest, presiding with his back to the
people, lifted the host during the recitation of the words of Jesus at the Last
Supper so that the faithful who would not receive it could adore it. During the
same century, the server started ringing the bell to let the people
know the elevation had come.
Today when the priest shows the consecrated bread and cup to the people, the
ringing of the bell is optional. We approach the eucharistic prayer differently
today than we did in the 13th century. The differences are spiritual,
practical, and theological. First, at that time people came to Mass primarily
for adoration, not for eucharistic communion. So the elevation of the host and
chalice became the central feature of Sunday worship. Today we emphasize the
importance of everyone's participation in the Eucharist. Next, people faced
a practical problem. They could not physically see what they had come to adore
unless the priest held it aloft. Some parishes put a dark colored cloth behind
the altar so people could see the host more clearly during the elevation. The
bells drew people's attention to actions which otherwise excluded them. Today
we pay attention to the entire eucharistic prayer.
Finally, we have a more expansive theology of the eucharistic prayer today. We
focus less on the "moment of consecration" and more on the consecratory power
of the entire eucharistic prayer, from preface dialogue to amen.
Consequently, the bells during the eucharistic prayer no longer serve the
purpose they did when they were introduced. They are permitted, but an
assembly which prays attentively at Mass will not need them.
© 1998, Resource Publications, Inc. 160 E. Virginia St. #290, San
Jose, CA 95112, (408) 286-8505. This article may not be reproduced in any
form without permission from the publisher. For permission e-mail
Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate
in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University in Rome.