Monday, January 16, 2017

For Whom The Bell Tolls

I know... cheesy to steal the title from the ever more famous and great writer, Ernest Hemingway, but I like it.  And it works for this post about church bells.

There is a pretty little Catholic church, St. Patrick's, on the next block.  Jason's Mom said it used to have a contingent of Nuns and even, at one point, served as a Monastery but now was vacated for lack of a large enough congregation to warrant the expense of keeping clergy there.  Someone still rings the bells, though.  And the parish website lists a full schedule of meetings and masses. So who knows?

Photo from the website of
Our Lady of the Mountains
Roman Catholic Parish of Cumberland, MD
I've noticed the bells several times at 6:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm.  At first I thought they were marking time.  And then I became vaguely aware that there were significantly more than 6 (or 12) peals... This morning I counted 22.

And so I went to Google for some answers.

I learned that the history of ringing church bells dates back to 400 AD. Paulinas of Nola was the first to introduce them to the Christian church and Pope Sabinianus sanctioned them in 604 perhaps as part of the meshing of Pagan practices into the early church as more people became members by force if not by choice.  Pagan winter celebrations have long included ringing bells to drive out evil spirits perpetuating the idea that bells have great spiritual significance though nothing in the Bible distinctly calls for the ringing of bells as part of worship.

Today's Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican churches ring bells at 6:00 a.m., noon, and 6:00 p.m. as a summons for members to pause and recite The Lord's Prayer or Angelus.  This schedule is also steeped in ancient tradition. Christianity draws from Bible verses speaking of thrice daily prayer:

Psalms 55:17 says "Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice."

And Daniel 6:10, "Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime."

Praying 3 times a day is consistent with the Jewish practice of visiting the Wailing Wall.  And sounding a call to prayer is analogous to the Islamic tradition of the adhan from a minaret.  I think it's very interesting that we draw from so many diverse cultures and traditions for something so pleasant as bells on neighborhood churches.

About St. Patricks, their website gives this history "The rich history of Mt. Savage includes one of the first masses celebrated in the area in 1793 by Fr. Stephen Badin (the first priest ordained in America). As the Catholic population grew, St. Ignatius Church was built between 1829 and 1835. When a larger church was needed, construction began on what is now St. Patrick’s Church, named for the predominance of Irish immigrants. The new church was formally dedicated in October of 1873. Mt. Savage is also the birthplace of Edward Cardinal Mooney (1882-1958) who was elevated to Cardinal in 1946 by Pope Pius XII."

Pretty cool... While I still have no idea if 22 bell peals at 6:00 a.m. has meaning, or is just the result of an especially enthusiastic bell ringer, I can say I've walked in the footsteps of America's first priest now!

1 comment:

Melonie K. said...

I love local history like this! During some genealogy work a while back, I found some ancestors on my mom's side in church records - when I did a search on that particular church, I learned so much! It had a rich history going back to the colonial era in the US. As someone who has moved quite far from that area, I would never have known otherwise, and am so grateful to the records archived online for it (their application for historic registries, all kinds of neat things). Thanks for sharing this!