Saturday, November 06, 2021

A Baptism of a Bell in Rome

Last week, His Eminence Franc Card. Rodé, former archbishop of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for Religious, blessed a bell for Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, the FSSP church in Rome. This ceremony has some features which are broadly analogous to some of the ceremonies of baptism, including the naming of the bell (this is one is named in honor of the Holy Trinity, the titular dedication of the church, and of St Lucy), and has therefore been long been referred to popularly as “the baptism of the bells.” Further explanation is given in a post which I wrote as part of my series on the reform of the Roman Pontifical in 2013. A description of the ceremony is given in this post of the same series; the text can be read in Latin here, and in English in this book on

The bell is washed and anointed on the inside and outside, and later on, has a brazier full of burning incense put under it, as will be seen further down. For this reason, it is set up suspended in this fashion, so that the inside can be reached.

The various accoutrements needed for the ceremony, clockwise from the lower left: a salver with a towel for wiping oil; a bunch of hyssop for sprinkling the outside of the bell with holy water; more towels, and a hammer for ringing the bell after the blessing (not a formal part of the ceremony); the oils for anointing the bell (in the silver box); cotton for wiping the oil off the bell; a card with the formula which is said at the anointings; the incense which is burned in the brazier; lemons for washing oil off the finger; the ewer and basin; the bugia and the book.
Pontifical vestments set up on the altar of the right transept, since the celebrant vests at a faldstool set up in front of the bell. A lectionary is also on the altar, since the ceremony concludes with the singing of a Gospel.
The ceremony begins with a recitation of seven Psalms, which as a group are unique to this blessing (50, 53, 56, 66, 69, 85 and 129), ...
after which the bishop blesses holy water in the normal fashion, but with the addition of a special prayer. “Bless, O Lord, this water with a heavenly benediction, and may the power of the Holy Ghost come upon it, so that when this vessel, prepared to call together the children of the Holy Church, has been washed with it, there may be kept far away from wheresoever this bell may sound, the power of those lying in wait, the shadow of spectres, the ravages of whirlwinds, the stroke of lightning, the damage of thunder, the disaster of tempests, and every breath of storm; and when the sons of Christians shall hear its ringing, may their devotion increase, so that hastening to the bosom of their loving mother the Church, they may sing to Thee, in the Church of the Saints, a new canticle, bringing therein to play the proud sounding of the trumpet, the melody of the harp, the sweetness of the organ, the joyous exultation of the drum, and the rejoicing of the cymbal; and so, in the holy temple of Thy glory by their service and their prayers, may they bid come the multitude of the angelic hosts. Through our Lord...”
Members of the church’s confraternity attend the service in their habits, among them, our dear friend Agnese, the Roman Pilgrim.
The bishop then begins the washing of the bell with the holy water, taking an aspergil and sprinkling it along the edge both inside and out. The washing is completed by the sacred ministers with sponges; the bell is washed inside and out, from top to bottom, and then dried. While this is done, the bishop sits at the faldstool, and with the other clergy present recites the final six psalms of the Psalter, without an antiphon; the last three, psalms 148, 149 and 150, are recited as a single psalm with a single doxology, as they are at Lauds.
With a piece of chalk, the master of ceremonies marks seven crosses on the outside, and four on the inside, on which the bishop will make later make crosses with oil.   
First, however, he makes one large cross on the front of the bell, saying this prayer. “O God, who through the blessed Moses, the law giver, Thy servant, didst command that silver trumpets should be made, through which when sounded by the priests at the time of sacrifice, the people, reminded by their sweet strains, would make ready to worship Thee, and assemble to offer sacrifices, and encouraged to battle by their sounding, would overcome the onslaughts of their enemies; grant, we beseech Thee, that this vessel, prepared for Thy Holy Church, may be sanctified by the Holy Spirit, so that, through its touch, the faithful may be invited to their reward. And when its melody shall sound in the ears of the peoples, may the devotion of their faith increase; may all the snares of the enemy, the crash of hail-storms and hurricanes, the violence of tempests be driven far away; may the deadly thunder be weakened, may the winds become salubrious, and be kept in check; may the right hand of Thy strength lay low the powers of the air, so that hearing this bell they may tremble and flee before the standard of the holy cross of Thy Son depicted upon it, to Whom every knee bows of those that are in Heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confesses that the same our Lord Jesus Christ, swallowing up death upon the gibbet of the cross, reigneth in the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2, 10), with the same Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. R. Amen.”
After wiping the cross off with a towel, he intones the following antiphon, which is completed by the choir, and sung with Psalm 28 Afferte Domino, from which it is taken. Aña The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of majesty hath thundered, the Lord is upon many waters.

While this is sung, he makes with the Oil of the Sick seven crosses on the outside of the bell, and with Chrism four on the inside. As he makes each cross, he says, “May this bell be sanctified and consecrated, o Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the  Son, and of the Holy  Spirit. Unto the honor of Saint N. Peace to thee.” At each place, he anoints the bell twice, at the words “sanctified” and “consecrated”, and then makes the sign of the cross with his right hand over the same place three times at the words “In the name of the Father etc.”
The anointings being done, the bishop says the following prayer. “Almighty, Eternal God, Who, by the sounding of trumpets before the Ark of the Covenant, didst cause to tumble down the stone walls within which the army of the enemy was entrenched, do Thou pour out upon this bell a heavenly benediction, so that at its sound, the fiery darts of the enemy, the stroke of lightning, the hail-storm and the damage of tempests may be driven far away; and to the prophet’s question, ‘What ailed thee, O sea, that thou didst flee?’ (Psalm 113, 5) being driven back in their movements as was the river Jordan, they may give answer, ‘At the presence of the Lord, the earth was moved, at the presence of the God of Jacob, Who turned the rock into pools of water, and the stony hill into fountains of waters. Wherefore, not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy’s sake.’ (Ps. 113, 7-10) And thus when this vessel here present, like the other vessels of the altar, is touched with Holy Chrism, anointed with Holy Oil, may all those who assemble at its call be free from all the temptations of the enemy, and always follow the teachings of Catholic faith.

The bishop washes his hands, and then imposes in a thurible or brazier a mixture of different kinds of incense and myrrh, called thymiama in the rubrics. This is then placed under the bell, in such a way that all of the smoke rises into it. Meanwhile, the choir sings the following antiphon, and the last five verses of Psalm 76, from which it is taken, with the doxology and the repetition of the antiphon. Aña Thy way, O God, is in the holy place: who is the great God like our God?
The bishop then says the following prayer, “Almighty Ruler, Christ, Who in the flesh, which Thou didst assume, were asleep in the boat, when the rising tempest disturbed the sea, which directly at Thy awakening and command did fall silent, come kindly to aid Thy people in their needs; pour out upon this bell the dew of Thy Holy Spirit, so that at its sound the enemy of the good may always flee, the Christian people may be invited to faith, the hostile army may be struck with terror; Thy people summoned together be comforted by it in the Lord, and, as if delighted with David’s harp, may the Holy Spirit come down from above. And even while Samuel was sacrificing the suckling lamb as a holocaust to the King of the Eternal Empire, the noise of the rushing winds drove away the multitude of his adversaries: so in like manner, when the sound of this vessel pierces the clouds, may angelic hands preserve the assembly of Thy Church; may everlasting protection save the fruits of those who believe, their souls and their bodies. Through Thee, O Christ Jesus, Who with God the Father livest and reignest in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God, world without end. R. Amen.”

The deacon then sings the Gospel of the Assumption, St Luke 10, 38-42, accompanied by the subdeacon and other ministers, with all of the usual ceremonies of a solemn Pontifical Mass. Since St Mary Magdalene is traditionally understood to represent the contemplative life in religion, and St Martha the active life, this Gospel is sung here to signify that the church bell rings to call the faithful to all the different activities that take place within the church.
After the Gospel, the ceremony has officially ended. Most such rituals are attended by other customs of an informal and popular nature, so here, we see the celebrant ringing the bell with a hammer, after which, the benefactors who offered it to the church do the same.
The parish priest covers the bell with a covering that looks much a baptismal gown, which is left on until such time as it can be hung in the bell-tower... 
et omnes discedunt in pace.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: