One small change many people have commented on since my arrival at Notre Dame has been the reintroduction of the bells. During the consecration, it is a longstanding tradition that the altar server rings the bells to draw attention to this important moment. I remember my first time ever altar serving, the older server allowed me the great honor of ringing the bells. With all my concentration I managed to ring them correctly the first time, but during the words over the chalice, my nerves kicked in and I cut the priest off, ringing them midsentence. Needless to say, I almost quit altar serving.
The older server though, after mercifully downplaying my error, said to me “Those are the most important words of the Mass. We have to be very attentive when we ring the bells.” And from that moment on I developed a new appreciation for that small sign. Because we believe that when the priest speaks the words of consecration over the bread and wine, a miracle happens. God Himself, the Almighty and Eternal, the Creator of the sun and stars, humbles Himself and takes on the appearance of simple food and drink. We become present at the death of Christ on Calvary, as he hands over his Body and Blood for us to eat and drink so that we may live eternally.
Many would say the tradition was started because the Mass was in Latin and people needed to know when the consecration was happening. Others might add that as churches got larger, people were further removed from that altar and it was harder to follow. But while all of this is true, and the bells are by no means mandatory, in the times we live I can think of no more important goal than reminding people of the importance of the Eucharist. With so many failing to come to Church, so many leaving the Church altogether, the greatest means we have of drawing them back is the Eucharist. We have something, or I should say someone, no other faith has – God Himself, present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. In a world that is joyless and dark, the Eucharist brings light and hope. God breaks into our world through the Eucharist, just as the bells break into the silence of that moment at Mass.
Hopefully in these coming months then, as we grow accustomed again to the sound of the bells, we remember the singular power of the moment of consecration. As many of us were taught growing up, as we see the host and the chalice lifted up, let’s say in our hearts “My Lord and my God.” Let’s reaffirm our faith in the Eucharist, in the Real Presence, because if we truly believe in that miracle, it will transform our lives.