Good Words Sanctus Bells

Sanctus Bells

Bells during the Eucharist

You may notice a slight change in our use of bells during the Eucharist. With origins in the 11th century, altar bells have been present in the Western church liturgy at numerous points including during the singing of the Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”), at the words of institution (“this is my body”), and at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer. In the medieval church the bells told the people: “Pay attention! Something important is happening here.” In the Roman tradition using bells during the consecration (and where we have been using them) signifies the moment that Christ inhabits and transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood (and soul and divinity) of Christ (commonly known as transubstantiation). As Episcopalians we embrace the ancient and undivided church’s concept of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist, but do not hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation which we see as a later over-definition. In order to adhere to our both our Anglican roots and the belief of the early and undivided church, our staff liturgical committee has decided to move the ringing of the altar bell to the anamnesis – the part of the prayer that acknowledges Christ’s work on our behalf. That way when we symbolically say: “Pay attention, something important is happening here” we say it, not about what the priest is doing or about what the people are doing when they participate, but about what God has done for us in Christ through his death and resurrection on our behalf.