Bells and Boys

 

Peregrinus Gasolinus: Wandering Notes on the Liturgy

Chapter 5

 

“What about the Sanctus Bell,”[1] queried the Antiquary, as he pottered around the klaxon[2] of the antiquated flivver, which had temporarily suspended operations, and so delayed the start of an afternoon ramble. “Isn’t it a matter of both bells and boys?” was the mild reply of the Liturgiologist, who leaned, clad in the inevitable duster, against the wall of the tin garage awaiting with singular patience the restoration of function to the klaxon. “Because, given the liturgical bell there’s a right way and a wrong for the boys to ring it.”

 

“Apparently you prefer a small hand bell, rather than the ‘chime’[3] of several which is often seen hereabouts, but never in Rome,” said the Antiquary.

 

“But surely,” came the quick reply of the Liturgiologist. “Fortescue speaks of ‘a small hand bell.’ So, too, the rubrics of the Mass (Tit. VII no 8)[4] refer to parvam campanulam.[5] Chimes may be handled to conform to the prescribed mode of ringing but it is difficult to see how gongs, electrical or otherwise, can be.”

 

“Somewhat involved as to rhetoric, but fairly easy to follow as to meaning,” scoffed the Antiquary, who was having more trouble than he liked with the klaxon.

 

“We will now proceed from Rhetoric to Philosophy” calmly went on the Liturgiologist. “Myself, I think the confusion as to the number of bells comes from the fact that the directions as to ringing require a plurality of pulsations.”

 

“Oh, come now, Pere,”[6] broke in the Antiquary. “Less formal diction will do on a hot day like this! Besides, you couldn’t instruct an altar boy to produce a plurality of pulsations with, or on, the campanula!’”

“The point you raise has its merits,” admitted the Liturgiologist. “Since it’s a matter of telling the altar boy when and how to ring the bell”—

 

“That’s better,” interjected the Antiquary. “But I insist on knowing what kind of a bell is really proper. One hears so many, nowadays. Gongs, chimes, tiny bells like the housekeeper uses to call us to lunch, electric tubular tune-playing chimes—”

 

“All of which, except the gong, have something to be said for them,” went on the Liturgiologist. “You might think tubular chimes would fall under the head of gongs, but the reason given by the Congregation for forbidding gongs was that they might have been used in heathen ceremonies, so that lets the chimes out. But to return to the ringing thereof: The Ritus Celebrandi[7] says that the bell is to be rung thrice at the Sanctus, and thrice at each Elevation, and it makes no mention of any other pulsations.”

“Pulsations, again! You must like that word,” said the Antiquary, disguising the fact that the klaxon was still beyond him.

Sanctus bell
A liturgically-correct altar bell
Carillon type of altar bell
A carillon is also allowed, provided each bell has a single tongue
Gong
The gong has been positively forbidden by the SRC
Tubular chimes set
A tubular set made by the Duncan Sanctuary Chimes; though popular in America, these have been proscribed by the SRC
Crotalus
A crotalus, also called a
clapper or clacker, customarily used to replace the altar bell during part of Holy Week
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“Don’t you?” said the Liturgiologist, with suspicious mildness. “Some boys ring the bell when the Priest uncovers the chalice at the Offertory.[8] I don’t know why, unless someone has told them to. The same remark holds good for the customary ringing of the bell at the Domine non sum dignus. There is no authority in the missal for any pulsations then, or at the Hanc igitur,[10] tho some ‘Approved Authors’ mention the practice, and the S. R.C. apparently tolerates it.”

 

“Ah!” exclaimed the Antiquary, “I have it at last!”

 

“The ratio of these ceremonies with the bell?” asked the Liturgiologist.

 

“No, the ratio of the klaxon.” And the Antiquary blew a long blast (if one does blow with a klaxon) as the Liturgiologist climbed into the flivver with him, and they started off, with the customary jerks and rattles, on their afternoon ride.

 

“At Benediction, of course, and when the Blessed Sacrament is carried from one altar to another. The church bell should be rung during such a procession, and I suppose if the church has no large bell in the tower, a small bell might be used during the procession. On Maundy Thursday the crotalus[10] should not be sounded during the procession to the Repository, and the same is true of the returning procession on Good Friday.”

 

The Antiquary’s mind was evidently not centered on the disquisition of his confrere. “The crotalus doesn’t sound today, either!” he glumly remarked, punching the button which should have caused the klaxon to klax. “We’d better stop at an electrician’s and see what’s the matter.”

 

It usually took the Liturgiologist several blocks to settle down to any sort of enjoyment of the Antiquary’s somewhat eccentric driving.

 

The open roads of the country, however, brought him comparative peace of mind, and, as was his wont, he reopened the discussion as if it had not been interrupted at all, by saying, “Now the question is, how does the boy make three pulsations of the bell at each Elevation?”

 

“Anything wrong with the usual way, one when the priest genuflects, another when he holds up the Sacred Host, and a third when the priest genuflects again?” asked the Antiquary.

 

“That is, as you say, the usual way, and Fortescue says it may be so arranged but seems to favor a continuous ringing, yet somehow divided into three periods to conform to the rubric.

 

A much more interesting and important point is that while he is ringing the bell with his right hand, the boy is supposed to be holding up the bottom of the chasuble with his left. He does this at the Elevation, not at the genuflections, and on this analogy it might be supposed that he should ring the bell also during the Elevations, and not at the genuflections.”

 

“Isn’t that cutting it rather fine?” said the Antiquary.

 

“Not nearly so fine as you cut that corner! But, to resume: there are certain times when the Sanctus Bell is not used. Maundy Thursday after the Gloria of course, and Good Friday, but I mean especially the case when Mass is said at another altar in a church where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on the High Altar for the Forty Hours Devotion. Then the bells at the other altars are silent.”

 

“Isn’t that true also of Low Mass said at a side altar while High Mass is going on at the High Altar?”

“Yes, and generally when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, no bells are rung, even when Mass is said at the Altar of Exposition.”

 

“There are other times when the bell is used besides Holy Mass, aren’t there?” asked the Antiquary.

 

“At Benediction, of course, and when the Blessed Sacrament is carried from one altar to another. The church bell should be rung during such a procession, and I suppose if the church has no large bell in the tower, a small bell might be used during the procession. On Maundy Thursday the crotalus should not be sounded during the procession to the Repository, and the same is true of the returning procession on Good Friday.”

 

The Antiquary’s mind was evidently not centered on the disquisition of his confrere. “The crotalus doesn’t sound today, either!” he glumly remarked, punching the button which should have caused the klaxon to klax. “We’d better stop at an electrician’s and see what’s the matter.”

 

Footnotes

 

1 Cf. the article, The Altar Bell, for further details.

 

2 An alarm (from the Greek word "to shriek"), in this case, the automobile horn.

 

3 Commonly called a "carillon", which is a set of connected bells.

 

4 This refers to the Rubricae Generales section in the altar missal (Missale Romanum).

 

5 Latin for “a small bell”.

 

6 “Pere” is French word for “Father”.

 

7 Another rubrical section in the missal.

 

8 As Liturgiologist rightly surmises, there is no rubrical reason for this. Originally it was cited by Wapelhorst as a local custom in the United States, but this was later rectified by L. O’Connell and Britt; this peculiar practice (whose only possible significance could be to signal the faithful to ready their wallets and purses for the Offertory collection!) was also absent in earlier editions of The Baltimore Ceremonial as well.

 

9 In fact, ringing the bell at both times is the established custom in the United States.

 

10 “Clapper” in Latin.

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