Friday, 30 December 2011

Please may we have our bell back?

There was a time when the procedure for receiving Holy Communion was a well ordered affair, quite unlike the hesitant EF or the chaotic OF procedures today.

But, for this post I shall focus on the EF Mass just to show what a blooming good and even handed fellow I am..... aherm.

The Domine non sum Dignus takes place, the altar servers receive the Host and then.....erm, then a bit of a pause and one or two  souls timidly commence the process of leaving the pew while the Priest (and Our Lord) wait patiently by.

You might think that they were being invited to commit an act of self disembowelment with a rusty saw blade, such is their lack of enthusiasm to be there ready and waiting to receive their God.

The Priest (and Our Lord) are left waiting, not for long admittedly, but you just don't keep the Almighty hanging around while you wait to see if Mrs Hecklethwaite will make the first move.

In times gone by (yawn) we did not have this problem.
People would rise from their pews at the appropriate time and kneel in readiness for the most terrifying moment of our lives; that instant when we receive the Body and Blood of  Our Lord and Maker.

Why and how you ask?

Ivan Pavlov, famous Russian
scientist who liked bells
(and meringue desserts)
Well, you only have to look at the Russian behaviourist, Ivan Pavlov, for the answer. He it was who fed dogs on an experimental basis using bells as the signal that food was ready.

In time, he only had to ring the bell and the dogs would start salivating in anticipation.

They were ready for the meal. Ever since, this experiment has been known as 'Pavlov's dogs' but it is a mystery to me why a meringue pudding should have been named after him, perhaps it was the salivation bit (no puns here, please).

Now, back to the Dark Ages of ignorance and superstition (pre Vatican II).
In those days the altar server rang a bell prior to Holy Communion and this was the call to the feast.
Immediately, (we were all sheep then) the faithful would leave their benches and process to the communion rails (also covered with a communion cloth, rarely seen today).

Summoned by bells, just like
Pavlov's dogs

And when in the Mass was this bell rung?

The moment the priest commenced to consume the Precious Blood; it also acted as a signal for the servers to commence the second Confiteor.

You know what? It was all so much simpler then!

Of course, some would be left queuing but that really is no different to the present day. The more devout and  supple limbed would go down on one knee at the final "Domine non sum Dignus" and all was very satisfactory.

 The Lord would not be kept waiting.

Photo: Lex Orandi

* Perfectionists and liturgists may wish to point out that the Sanctus bell was also rung three times at the final "Domine non sum dignus" (pre 1960) but this is a part that was omitted reasonably, or so I believe.


  1. Why are they so hesitant? Is it because they are unfamiliar with the TLM? We don't seem to have that problem in our parish; the communicants are ready and kneeling at the altar rail well before the priest gets there...

  2. Hi Christine - no, even those familiar with the TLM hold back, very odd.

    I think it's part of the Brit thing of not wishing to appear pushy (?)

  3. It's the same reason Catholics always sit at the back of church - the first will be last, and also pick the worst seat, never the highest.

  4. The "meringue pudding" that you refer to is a pavlova, not a Pavlov. It was named after Anna Pavlova, the famous ballerina. A pavlova is a meringue pie shell, filled with thick whipped cream, and topped with fresh fruit.

  5. HV Observer, many thanks. Sorry to say that this reference was a poor attempt at humour by me.
    Next you will be telling me that Toast Melba was named after an opera singer :)

  6. RE: Toast Melba- No, but Peach Melba was. Do they not offer TV shows that relate this information such as "Good Eats" across the pond?

  7. DR Grandma - Both Peach and Toast Melba were named after Dame Nelly Melba, the renowned opera singer.
    And....dare I say it..this side of the pond, some of us still get our knowledge from the written word, not television :)
    Pax and a Happy New Year to you.

  8. Is timidity that wrong? Should we be so bold about approaching our Lord? And if He can wait us out our entire lives for us stubborn and stupid, but beloved, humans to admit Him, what's a few seconds? Just wondering.

  9. enness - timidity is wrong, boldness is wrong, being on time and, therefore,being courteous, is right.

  10. Dear Richard

    I have been to Mass at the London Oratory and I have found that people who go whizzing by at a great pace to be both discourteous and profoundly irritating. It seems that they have some kind of fear that Fr Harrison just may run out of Holy Communion before they get there. However, I do think the behaviour of communicants vary from parish to parish. I remember chatting to an elderly Irish priest friend who recalled how his father would only receive Holy Communion once every so often when the Men's Guild (or some such society) were due to receive. Each Sunday a particular guild could receive Holy Communion. That anecdote certainly opened my eyes to how varied the Church is from country to country and from one era to the next.

    Best regards,
    David Morton

  11. David- yes there is tremendous variance. We seem to have forgotten how to do things properly.
    God bless.