To ring bells or not to ring bells. Is that the question?

At some churches locally and around the world, bells are rung during the consecration of the Mass, while other churches don’t use the bells.

So which is correct?

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The answer is the use of bells is an option. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which is the manual on how to celebrate Mass, states bells may be used at two different times during the Mass. “A little before the consecration, when appropriate, the server may ring a bell as a signal to the people,” the GIRM states. This normally occurs when the priest prays that the Holy Sprit will come down upon the gifts so that they may be become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The GIRM continues, “According to local custom, the server also rings the bell as the priest shows the host and then the chalice.” This can occur as the priest elevates the precious body and blood.

Church rubrics leave the decision of whether bells should be used to the discretion of the pastor.

The use of bells during Masses dates to a time when the Mass environment was very different from today. Most people were located far from the altar table, there were no sound systems, people did not receive Communion regularly, the priest had his back to the assembly, and the Mass was said in Latin. Bells were used to make the assembly aware that consubstantiation had taken place.

In 1570, The Missale Romanun of the old Tridentine Mass, promulgated by Pope Pius V, prescribed the ringing of a bell also at the Sanctus as well as the consecration. When Pope Paul VI issued a revision to the Mass, the practice of ringing bells was made an option, as it remains today.

Many liturgists today praise the increased participation of the assembly in the liturgy and contend the consecration consists of the entire Eucharistic Prayer from the preface to the amen, so that the focus is on the entire Liturgy of the Eucharist and not just the moment of consecration.

Bells have been used to acclaim joy for centuries and remain one way to add to prayerfulness and joy to the church’s worship experiences. For this reason, most churches ring bells during the Gloria at the Easter Vigil, to give praise to the God who has granted salvation to his people.