Most Catholic Christians are familiar with Sanctus bells. Though the bells are still heard in many parishes, many wonder about them. Some long to hear their joyful sounds; and some erroneously believe their use during the Mass is now prohibited.
Sanctus bells1 derive their name from being rung first during the Sanctus [Holy, Holy, Holy Lord…]. They have been rung as part of the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Church for more than 800 years.2
Most Sanctus bells used today are small hand-held bells or assemblies of three to five bells that are rung during the Mass as directed in Chapter IV, paragraph 150 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM):
A little before the consecration, when appropriate, a server rings a bell as a signal to the faithful. According to local custom, the server also rings the bell as the priest shows the host and then the chalice.
The majority of Sanctus bells being rung during Mass today are of the handheld variety. Bronze Sanctus bells, while quite expensive (typically $200-400/set) are sonically far superior to their brass or cast iron counterparts. Sanctus bells are traditionally kept on the epistle (left) side of the credence table during the Mass, and ringing them has long been the responsibility of the instituted acolyte or altar server.
The bells are rung at three or four points during the celebration of the Mass:
1. Sanctus bells are first rung prior to the consecration at the epiclesis when the priest prays to the Holy Spirit to change the gifts of bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
2. The bells are rung a second time as the priest elevates and presents the Body of Christ.
3. The bells are rung a third time as the celebrant elevates and presents the chalice filled with the Precious Blood.
4. The bells may be rung a fourth time as the priest-celebrant consumes the Precious Blood. This custom, which originated from the rubrics of the Tridentine Mass, may be continued since it is not forbidden nor suppressed in the latest version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.
Sanctus bells may also be rung at specified times outside of the Mass, such as during Holy Benediction and during adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Ringing techniques can vary as well. In some cases the bells are rung for three short bursts at both of the elevations/presentations as defined by the rubrics in the 1962 Missale Romanum. These three short bursts are said to represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity. If executed well this triple ringing can sound quite solemn, but a single ringing of the bells at each specified point in the Mass is adequate.
Source – Adoremus http://www.adoremus.org/0305SantusBells.html
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