”So that you will know that, just like people, inanimate objects become suitable for use in divine worship by being blessed and consecrated‘.
At the time the use of bells became widespread, they became worthy for divine worship. But why consecrate bells? A liturgist interpreted it this way, “So that you will know that, just like people, inanimate objects become suitable for use in divine worship by being blessed and consecrated”.
Since they must be anointed with Holy Chrism, only a Bishop is suitable to bless the bells, nor can anyone else be delegated without a special indult. Pope John XIII (965-972) introduced the blessing of bells with a truly special ritual, when he blessed bells for the first time in 968, the bells of the St. John’s Basilica in Rome. That benediction rite was codified and, since, then, thousands of bells have been consecrated and blessed.
The birth of a rite
Like baptism, the rite provides for the use of Holy Water, the Holy Oil for Anointing the Sick, the Holy Chrism and the granting of a name. It was a true liturgical innovation, because it was prohibited during the time of Charlemagne.
A huge controversy arose but, in the end, the pro-baptism party won, achieving permission for the rite to include godfathers and godmothers and the use of water, salt, the aspergillum, towels, the vase of oil for anointing the sick, the Holy Chrism, incense, myrrh and a censer with fire. The Bishop, carrying his staff and dressed in amice, surplice, cincture, white pluvial and simple miter performs the rite for which the bell must be placed in a suitable position.
During the rite, the Bishop will recite the psalms, Miserere, Deus in Nomine Tuo Salvum Me Fac, Miserere Mei, Deus Misereatur Nostri, Deus in Adiutorum Meum Intende, Inclina Domine Auream Tuam and the De Profundis. In the central part of the rite, the Bishop will recite the psalms, Lauda Anima Mea Dominum, Laudate Doiminum Quoniam Bonus Est, Lauda Jerusalem Dominum, Laudate Dominum de Coelis and Laudate Dominum in Sanctis Eius. It is then washed to signify that anything used for worship must be clean.
After the hymn, Gloria Patri, the officiant makes the sign of the cross on the bell with his right thumb, after dipping it in the oil of anointing the sick; he then removes the miter and pronounces a prayer in which he beseeches the Holy Spirit to sanctify this bell that must provide joy and hope to the faithful. He will then read another prayer, wipe the sign of the cross that was made, and sing an antiphon and Psalm 28. Then, once again with the oil of anointing, the celebrant will make seven crosses on the outside of the bell and four on the inside; then finally, it’s time for the incense and myrrh, while after the antiphon, Deus in Sancto, Psalm 76 will be sung. The Bishop concludes by making the sign of the cross on the bell.
Why such an important ritual?
Because bells are love, celebration, call and joy,
and also grief and comfort for those who believe (…).