Hey, Father! Why are bells rung at the consecration?

Why do some parishes ring the bells during the consecration (elevation of Body and Blood of Jesus) and others don’t? The silence is profound when absent! Also, why does the priest place a small piece of the Eucharist into the chalice before consuming it? Thank you.

Nancy in Springfield

Dear Nancy,

First, you ask why some parishes ring bells during the consecration of the Eucharist and why some do not. The simple answer is because ringing the bells is entirely optional. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the bells would always be rung, and were in fact required, during especially significant and holy moments of the Mass to draw people’s attention to what was happening. For example, the bells would be rung while the priest recited the words of the Sanctus (Holy, Holy), thus giving the bells the moniker “Sanctus bells.” Following the liturgical changes ushered in by the Second Vatican Council, the bells became optional. The current General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the document which governs the celebration of the Mass, states in paragraph 150, “A little before the Consecration, if appropriate, a minister rings a small bell as a signal to the faithful. The minister also rings the small bell at each elevation by the Priest, according to local custom.”  

In practice then, many parishes choose to ring bells just prior to the consecration as the priest calls down the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in what is called the “epiclesis.” The bells are next rung during the consecration as the priest elevates and shows the Body and Blood of Christ to the people. As the GIRM makes clear, bells are not a required part of the liturgy, but many parishes choose to utilize them as part of their liturgical customs to draw attention to Jesus Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. The celebration of the Mass is truly corporeal, meaning it is something that impacts us as much physically as it does spiritually. We sit and stand, sing and proclaim, kneel and genuflect, smell and taste, and the list goes on and on. All of our senses, and perhaps especially our hearing, are deployed in our worship. The Sanctus bells can be a significant aid to our worship.

Finally, you ask why the priest places a small piece of the host into the chalice prior to consuming it. This practice is called “commingling,” wherein the priest co-mingles the Eucharist under both species together. As the priest engages in this action, he prays quietly, “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.” This action first and foremost points to Jesus’ resurrection. Just as the bread and wine, that is the Body and Blood, come together in this moment of comingling, so will we who receive that very same Eucharist in eternal life be brought together as we share in the new life of the resurrection. As Jesus states in John 6:54, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

I hope this helps, Nancy!  

Father Zachary D. Samples is parochial vicar of St. Peter Catholic Church in Quincy and serves as associate chaplain at Quincy Notre Dame High School.