Saturday, August 14, 2010

Knox - The Sanctus-Bell

I COULD TALK TO YOU for hours and hours about Church bells. Why are they christened, for example, like human beings? I don't mean they get the grace of faith, but there is a kind of christening ceremony, and they are given names. That's surely odd; nothing else in church gets a name given to it. You would think it very unusual if I started calling the alms-dish Percy. I suppose bells are so much mixed up with the important events of our lives; the wedding peals and the funeral chimes and so on, that the medieval people used to have a kind of friendly feeling for them; they were the public pets of the village. They were also supposed to drive the devil away, and I must say I know a lot of Church bells that would drive me away if I were the devil. But we really haven't time to talk about all that ...

It seems to me a very queer notion that at High Mass anyhow, when the priest has been singing his way so vigorously through the Preface, and the choir with great chords on the organ to get through the Sanctus, a tiny little bell in the sanctuary should have the effect of waking the faithful up. I should have thought that kind of faithful would have needed a siren. No, honestly, I think it's all part of this business about the holy Angels, and the priest having the feeling that he's just arrived at the door of Heaven and can look through the key-hole. Having arrived at the door, we ring the bell. And we don't do it to amuse ourselves; we do it to show the holy Angels that we are there. "Please say that Mary Jane has come to call" -- that is the point of the Sanctus-bell.

- Ronald Knox, The Mass in Slow Motion

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