The View from the Sacristy: Making a Joyful Noise – Sanctus Bells at St. Luke in the Fields

April 2, 2014 Comments Off on The View from the Sacristy: Making a Joyful Noise – Sanctus Bells at St. Luke in the Fields

sanctus bellsEven if you’ve never seen them, you certainly have heard them if you attend services at St. Luke in the Fields.  They are the Sanctus Bells. Although Sanctus Bells were traditionally rung during the Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy Lord…”, they are rung at St. Luke’s at the invitation to communion.

Sanctus bells have been used as part of the celebration of the Eucharist for over 800 years.  The practice of ringing bells during the Mass is based to some degree on the use of tintinnabula (or tiny bells) or crotal bells that were a part of ancient Judaic worship. Historians have proffered two reasons for the historical use of the Sanctus Bells.  First, ringing the bells created “a joyful noise unto the Lord.”  Second, it historically indicated, in times when many did not understand the Latin used by priests and thus could not be counted upon to be paying close attention to the progress of the Mass, that something gloriously supernatural was taking place. Medieval churchgoers rather thought that they could say private prayers, like the rosary, at their own pace and time during Mass or otherwise chat with their neighbors, so bells were rung to alert them to the upcoming consecration of the bread and wine.

The Sanctus Bells at St. Luke’s are 4 small, handheld bells that sit behind the deacon at the 9:15am service and next to the credence table during the 11:15am service.  At both services, the bells are rung in three short bursts as the celebrant raises the host and wine.  These days, we do not contend with the medieval problem of not being able to follow the service, but the “joyful noise” of the Sanctus Bells continues to remind us of our standing invitation to deeper corporate worship as we gather around the Lord’s table each Sunday.

– Michael Horvath

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