In addition to times when the Mass is publicly celebrated, our church bell is set to ring at 7 AM, Noon, and 6 PM every day of the year except Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Sabbath (when it might interrupt the Mass or conflict with a call to Mass). It also daily tolls at 9 p.m.
It hasn’t kept this regular pattern in recent years even though the control mechanism in the sacristy, essentially a clock, clearly marks out these tolls (including a 3 o’clock for the saying of afternoon prayers by the clergy and religious—see below for more on this). Mass times were added by means of inserting metal tabs in the timing wheel to trip the toll mechanism. It clearly hasn’t worked properly for years. However, it was designed to do so. When the Verdin company rep came to see about getting our bell working again, he didn’t need a second look at the timer to tell us that this was “an Angelus bell” and controller. Prior to its installation in the early 1960s, there was either another mechanism, or an officer of the parish would manually ring these times.
Why does it ring at these times?
In Catholic tradition, bells summon us to prayer. This is similar to the seven times a day ‘call to prayer’ of mosques. The bell of a Catholic church signals us to gather in the church, or to stop and offer our prayer wherever we may be.
Bells sound to call people to Mass, but they are also to toll “the Hours” which is the ancient cycle of daily prayer, offered five times through the day. This is called The Liturgy of the Hours; it is also known as the “Daily Office” or “Divine Office” and is sometimes referred to as “praying the breviary.”
For religious communities, this would require those of the community who were handy to their abbey church to gather and sing the prayers. For secular clergy (i.e. parish priests who are “in the world”), it is a reminder to pray the Divine Office (morning, noon, afternoon, evening and night). For the laity it is a call simply to pause and offer a brief prayer, traditionally a recitation of the Angelus; but one could also offer other prayer at this time, three ‘Hail Marys’ and the Our Father, perhaps. The timing of the tolls (traditionally 6, 12, 6 and 9) is also outside the normal working hours of most people, and that helps the laity work prayer into their day.
The Angelus is a short devotion proclaiming the Incarnation of Our Lord. It consists of three short verses or versicles, each followed by a ‘Hail Mary’, and concludes with another versicle and prayer. You may have noted that the bell tolls 3 times, pauses, tolls 3 more times, pauses, tolls 3 more times, pauses, and then afterwards offers a steady peal. The pattern coincides with the structure of the prayer itself.
The Angelus reminds us of the Angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, Mary’s Fiat, the Incarnation and Our Lord’s passion and resurrection. It is repeated as a holy invitation, calling us to prayer and meditation.
It encourages all to the practise of focussing our thoughts:
- in the morning, On the Resurrection
- at noon time, On the Passion
- at evening, On the Incarnation
The Three-times recitation of the Angelus calls Christians:
- to interrupt our daily, mundane activity
- to turn to God, and contemplate eternity
- to respond to the call of the Lord to “pray unceasingly and at all times” (Lk 18: 1, 1 Thess 5:17)
The Angelus is a meditation on the Bible – to recall Salvation History:
- We meditate on the words of Mary who called herself the “handmaid of the Lord”
- We tell God that we are willing to do His Will, just as Mary did
- We invite the Lord “to take flesh” in all our actions and thoughts
The De profundis is the 9 p.m. tolling; after nightfall, it is a memorial bell for the dead. It also coincides with the saying of the last “office” of the day (traditionally called, compline, and in modern breviaries, “night prayer”). De profundis refers to Psalm 130 (129 in the Vulgate) and its opening words in Latin that translate into English, “Out of the depths”. Catholics offer the De profundis in much the same way they pray the Angelus, but in this instance, it is a prayer for the souls of the dead, especially those in Purgatory.
The Angelus Prayers
V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with Thee;
Blessed art thou among women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to thy word.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. And the Word was made Flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.
Hail Mary, etc.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
LET US PRAY
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.
The De profundis Prayers
Out of the depths I have cried unto Thee, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.
Let Thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
If Thou, O Lord, shalt mark our iniquities: O Lord, who can abide it?
For with Thee there is mercy: and by reason of Thy law I have waited on Thee, O Lord.
My soul hath waited on His word: my soul hath hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch even unto night: let Israel hope in the Lord.
For with the Lord there is mercy: and with Him is plenteous redemption.
And He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
(Eternal rest or “Requiem aeternam”)
Eternal rest give to them, O Lord.
And let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.
V/. Lord, hear my prayer.
R/. And let my cry come unto Thee.
Let us pray.
O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful; grant to the souls of Thy servants departed the remission of all their sins, that by our devout supplications they may obtain that pardon which they have always desired. Who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.
V/. Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord.
R/. And let perpetual light shine upon them.
V/. May they rest in peace.