Active Participation in the Eucharist
The transformation of the liturgy was in full motion over fifty years ago but by no means over. In 1968 when I made my first Holy Communion at St. Patrick in Sedalia, the church had already been renovated to bring the altar toward the congregation. As I was learning how to participate in the Eucharist in school, my entire family was learning with me what full, active, and conscious partition in the liturgy meant. I remember when the sign of peace was introduced in our church. Sister Rose Angela, my second grade teacher, explained this addition to the rite and we all got to practice shaking hands. I remember so clearly the first time my father read at mass. I was so proud of him. I didn’t think anyone in the world was as good of a reader as he was!
So much of the liturgical catechesis at that time was to assist the people of God to take up their proper role in the offering of the sacrifice of the mass, especially in the responses and the singing of the ordinary parts of the mass. I was so blessed to be part of a parish that never had a mass without singing. I know my love for the psalms can be traced to hearing the cantors chant the psalm each weekend, inspiring me to learn how to sing the psalms. I became a cantor at Sunday Mass during my first year in high school. Mass wasn’t a spectator sport in my family. We all took turns in the various ministries, especially as altar servers and members of the choir. All my brothers and sisters to this day pick up a missal and sing whenever it is called for.
They didn’t always see the priest clearly at the altar or hear the priest before there were microphones, so the bell was a way to signal to the people to remind them to focus on this sacred time in the liturgy. Bishop McAuliffe agreed with making the ringing of the bells optional. He didn’t think it was necessary to have bells because people would have been participating by singing the preface dialog and the Sanctus, would clearly see the actions of the priest at the altar before them, and would be ready to respond to the words of institution by singing the memorial acclamation.
The English edition of the general instructions on how to say mass made the ringing of the bells optional: “A little before the consecration, a minister may ring the bell as a signal to the people. According to local custom, he also rings the bell at each elevation.” (GIRM, 109; 1974) After I was ordained, I celebrated mass in many churches throughout the Diocese of Jefferson City. In some churches the bells came and went with the changing of pastors. When I went to the Holy Handful in Maries County, my four churches had the custom of ringing the bells. When I arrived at Our Lady of the Lake, I took note that it hadn’t been customary for some time to ring the bells. And that’s the way it has stayed for the past five and half years.
Next week, I will write some more about this topic and share with you the discussion that our Worship Commission has had in the past year about the use of a bell during the Eucharistic prayer and indicate what our practice will be in the future.