Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Joy of Bells

Today the new electronic bell system was installed in our parish. The old system lasted 31 years but broke down and we can’t find the part we need anymore. The new system (computerized, of course) is so much easier to program and has a great variety of peals and music.
As I share personal details about myself in this blog, I thought I’d share about how I love bells. I was thrilled when I came to Holy Faith to know that the parish has bells. Bells have been used in churches since the 6th century at least. They are often named and inscribed with dates, prayers, and Christian symbols. They popularly were thought to scare way demons and avert storms.
St. Meinrad
When I was growing up as a Methodist, we lived nowhere near a church with bells. The first time I "lived with bells" was in my first year in seminary at St. Meinrad’s monastery in Southern Indiana. Monasteries have a set schedule of prayer times and other celebrations and these are usually marked by the monastery bells ringing. At St. Meinrad, the monks had  morning prayer at 5 am. The bells would call them to prayer. Fortunately, I didn’t hear those 5am bells too much in the dorm I was in; it’s amazing how we can get used to bells from afar so that they don’t wake you up unless you want to be awakened.
The bells are like the voice of the monastery. They have a "language" to be learned. I became accustomed to hearing the bells call the monks to Mass and prayer with special tolls (the seminary had it’s own chapel and schedule), and the bells also tell the time on the hour.
One day, after about a month at St. Meinrad, we were going to our different classes when I heard a bell sound I hadn’t heard before. It was very deep and slow. I asked someone who had been at St. Meinrad’s several years what that bell sound was for? He told me that a monk must have died. It was the death toll and it would ring once for every year he was in the monastery. The monk who had died must have been there about 60 years, so that deep sonorous bell went on for quite awhile. It sounded somewhat like this HERE. (It’s the same sound for 4 minutes on the video)
The whole monastery and any who wished from the seminary attended that monk’s funeral. Afterwards, processing with the body down to the monastery cemetery, I heard what is called the celebration bells ringing. The death bell  sounds solemn and sad; but for a Christian, death leads to our dwelling in heaven and the eventual resurrection. The bells are then celebratory after the funeral. You can hear the actual St. Meinrad’s "celebration bells" HERE when they tolled to mark the election of Pope Francis.

To hear some really impressive celebratory bells listen to the bells of the 14th century Coventry Cathedral, England, which was bombed out in World War II and is now a monument. Note that in this video you can see at times the bell-ringers at work pulling the bell ropes. That’s a skill all its own: HERE.
Also at St. Meinrad, I got to see occasionally the monks pulling the ropes for the bells. Usually the young novices were trained for this; it takes some strength to pull these ropes. I would also occasionally see the monks  pulling the bell and then being pulled up off the ground as the rope retracted! I found a video of this action HERE.
When I was sent for the remainder of my seminary studies to Florida’s regional seminary, I had no more bells to speak to me. Eventually, after I was ordained, I purchased my first chiming clock. Now I have quite a few. Three in my study (and yes I can sleep at night without being awakened), and chiming clocks in the rectory living room, dining room, and chapel. There is another in my office. It may sound unusual but they become like familiar friends, some have deep chimes, some higher, and they mark the  hours pleasantly.
At Holy Faith, the electronic bells are rung before certain Masses, and on the hour, and at Noon for Angelus. At Funerals the death toll is rung beforehand. Afterward, the celebration bells recalling the joy of the Resurrection. These celebration bells are also rung after a Baptism and after a Wedding. Sometimes they are rung on special occasions, like when a Pope is elected. How blessed we are with these reminders of God’s presence in celebration and in time.