The Sacred That Surrounds Us: The Altar Bells
July 11, 2021, 12:00 PM

Do you hear the bells? They ring a few times during Mass to let us know that something amazing is happening! The altar bells are used to signal the coming of the Holy Spirit at the epiclesis (a Greek word meaning “calling down upon”), and to signal that Jesus is now sacramentally present in the Holy Eucharist, which the priest elevates for all to see. Some churches may not ring altar bells, but if you hear them, you will know exactly why they are being rung.
The use of bells is ancient in practice. We read in Exodus 28:33-35 that bells were used on the clothing of the High Priest in order to signal his arrival into and departure from the sanctuary (the presence of the Lord). However, with the threat of capital punishment, early Christians made as little noise as possible during the Liturgy. It was not until the seventh century, when Pop Sabinian introduced the exercise of ringing bells at Mass, that they made they appearance in the divine service.
To alert the faithful, the altar bell is run once or in three separate rings. In some countries, when the priest holds up the consecrated Host, it is customary to say with great reverence, “My Lord and my God,” which St. Thomas the Apostle said when the Risen Lord appeared to him. We are a people of senses. We are brought to higher reverence in our worship with the smell of incense, the movement of our bodies, and the sound of bells. The custom of ringing a bell is a beautiful and valuable practice.