ASK THE LITURGIST (2) - The Sound of the bells on Easter Vigil

Enrico Finotti

Easter is approaching and its rites are planned. Since the Easter Vigil takes place late, the sound of the ‘Gloria’ bells, for some collaborators, becomes problematic. But it seems that in many other cases the bells are a problem. It is not always easy to respond to disputes. Any help? Thank you!

Historically the bell rang for all the main hours of the day. Today there are clocks and the same bells, at least in the city, are lost in the noise of traffic. Do they still make sense? Precisely because of this new situation the bells take on a more specific role, they are today more than ever the voice of faith and the call to prayer. We have thus moved on to a civil use to an exclusively religious use. The bells, at least they, raise to God the threefold tribute of daily praise: pray in the morning, at noon and in the evening, as the Holy Scripture exhorts us: “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:17). It is the sound of the Angelus.

In secular society, when in the family, in public institutions and in the personal life of so many people, daily prayer seems to have disappeared, at least our bells watch and their sound is faithful. A little like the hurried Christian, who lights a candle and flees from the church quickly: that candle interprets his prayer. So do the bells on our bell towers. Overwhelmed by the rhythms of life they represent us and their regular tolls remind us of our infidelity. They then describe the value of the festivals with varying degrees of solemnity and mark the march in the liturgical year.

The observance of precise rules, codified in the secular tradition of our communities, ensures a diversified approach to the various liturgical days and to the different rites of the Church. Thus we distinguish the weekday from Sunday, the feast from solemnity, the minor solemnities from the greater ones. One is the sound of joy other than mourning, the tolling of the feast is distinguished from those of penance. The festive peal at sunset on the Sabbath announces the day of the Lord and the solemn vigil of the Vigils introduces into the joy of great solemnities. The austere sound of the major bell announces the Lord’s death in the ninth hour of every Friday and calls to the adoration the hearts of the sick at the moment of consecration in the main Mass on Sunday. A rich concert of bells and an artistic bell tower has always been a source of pride for a community. A good bell program is not only a liturgical and religious tradition, but also a cultural, historical and social one.

The bells are then the public voice of the Church. But it is precisely this that today some are fighting: it is no longer desired that the Church has a public value and affects the social. For this reason the bells disturb. Silencing our bells means accepting the logic of refolding in the private of our faith and contributing to the marginalization of it in the social arena. It seems that every opinion has the right to citizenship, except for the Christian proclamation, which is instead accused of improper interference and injury to the freedom of others. Defending our bell tradition is ultimately affirming the public dimension of the Faith, conquered in so many centuries of Christian history. Unfortunately today it is misunderstood.

It must also be said that the bells have been blessed, that is, they are a sacramental. This means that their sound, by an agreement made by the Church with the Lord in the act of blessing, has a supernatural appeal in the soul of all who hear it. For this reason the good and upright Christian rejoices when he or she hears the bells and his or her soul is gladly raised to a prayerful thought. Otherwise one can understand the reason for a stubborn and unconscious rejection of the sound of the bells by those who are not well disposed in their consciousness. So let go of every sense of inferiority and every unfounded scruple. The sound of the bells, in the due balance, is meant to be able to hold high the voice of faith and the prayerful plea of the Christian people, who do not want to fall into the cultural and social anonymity of a secularist mentality. And to conclude the two holy nights, that of Christmas and Easter, they have full right to host the solemn sound of the bells, which respectively announce the birth and resurrection of the Lord. It is not possible to justify the explosion of the barrels on New Year’s Eve [including the Chinese New Year] until very late and incriminate the sound of the bells, much more harmonious and contained, in the two most holy nights of the liturgical year.

(From Il mio e il vostro sacrificio. Il liturgista risponde, 2018©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.)


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