Fr. Barry’s Blog


Christmas Bells and other bells ringing and tolling.

There are some traditions with bells that are being lost to modern times. It was once that any church at Christmas would ring out the bells to the village and local folk to come to Mass on the Lord’s Nativity (Christ’ Mass). They would be rung out long and joyfully, by usually a bellringer of the church/chapel bell tower.

We at Resurrection at least have a bell tower on an electric system, and it rings on a schedule, calling you into Mass—but we did not do anything special at Christmas, and we couldn’t figure how to ring electronically for our extra vigil Masses of 7 pm or 9 pm. Yet at least we have bells.

At the first Gloria of Christmas, there also can be church bells or chimes rung out at the start of the Gloria—but we have not done it here.  Still, the Gloria by the choir or cantor is jubilant.

We had a funeral in Christmas octave on Wednesday and on the ninth day of Christmas, too.  The Christmas decorations were up for it. But the tolling of bells at a funeral Mass has not been a part of our liturgical practice here—I think that no one has investigated our automatic system and seen if we can work it live for such purposes. I thought of that recently, for the death of a pope also calls for bells to toll out—but you didn’t hear it from us here. (Instead, I made a display for the entranceway of church, near the baptismal font—honoring Pope Benedict XVI.)

Getting back to Christmas bells… I recall a poem on it by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He lived about a couple of centuries ago, and in New England—where the most church bells are in America. He lived his latter stage of life in the post-Civil War, and it influenced him to write this poem below, done on Christmas Day of 1864. Longfellow’s son Charles was wounded while fighting in the Civil War, and the poet expressed his hope that peace would return to the country and that Christmas Days ahead in the future would be war-less. Longfellow’s poem was put to music for a Christmas carol, but the stanzas directly related to the Civil War were omitted from the carol.

Christmas Bells

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Those are thoughts as we are in Christmas of 2022 here, in these present times. 

Fr. Barry

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