Signs, Symbols, and Reality

"…The recently published General Instruction of the Roman Missal makes only one reference to bells, #150 states, "A little before the consecration, when appropriate, a server rings a bell as a signal to the faithful. According to local custom, the server also rings the bell as the priest shows the host and then the chalice." The important words are "When appropriate." I wonder if it is ever appropriate in the restored liturgy. Bell ringing during Mass is an appendix, a leftover that no longer has a purpose."

"…Parishes that still ring bells must do so because they have always rung bells. Bell ringing is a habitual behavior that is easier to continue than to break. Over time the ringing of bells during Mass will disappear. I just hope that we do not wait for a letter from Rome telling us to stop doing something that no longer makes any sense.

"…Another issue that needs a second look is why the celebrant still washes his hands during the offertory. This behavior used to make sense when people brought up produce and animals during the offertory. Now we have nice, clean, antiseptic budget envelopes carried up in a basket. Still the priest is supposed to wash his hands. Why?

I think this priests attitude is indicative of a sad mentality in the Church today. There is a loss of respect and appreciation for symbolism. We are sensate creatures and as such learn through our sense. The mass and the various specific rites are not only times of worship but also catechesis. By not seeing people "buried" in the waters of baptism, many Catholics will not know the full meaning of baptism. By not ringing bells, using incense, kneeling, washing hands, or performing other similar acts, people stop treating the Eucharist with the respect it deserves. In a recent survey of Catholics, more than half did not believe in the True Presence. That's the result of poor catechesis and unwillingness to confront heresy. We can help to resolve both by restoring the mass to its former grandeur.

I whole-heartedly recommend Teaching Truths by Signs and Ceremonies or The Church, Its Rites and Services Explained for the People by Rev. Jas. L. Meagher (1882, New York: Russel Brothers). I'll be posting some more from it someday soon. Read my previous posts about it here:

Signs and Ceremonies
The Real Presence
The Incarnation
The Virgin Mary
The Redemption

Comments 6

  1. Fred K wrote:

    I don’t know anyone who was baptised by sprinkling. Every baptism I’ve ever been to has involved infusion, aka pouring.

    Sprinkling is mainly used as a reminder of the covenant of baptism. See Exodus 24: “Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.'”

    Unlike some groups that make the form of baptism a fundamental tenent of faith, the Catholic Church recognizes any well-intentioned baptism with water in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    Immersion involves certain dangers (and immersion in living water more so): drowning and freezing to death. Also, one needs to take into account the “wet t-shirt factor”, one reason that the early Church designated Deaconesses specifically to baptise women.

    Posted 11 Nov 2004 at 5:10 pm
  2. Jerry Nora wrote:

    Immersion is verboten in the Roman Church? I could have sworn that some people were even returning to that practice within the Latin Rite…

    Posted 11 Nov 2004 at 7:14 pm
  3. Funky Dung wrote:

    Immersion may not be forbidden (I’ll have to check), but it’s certainly discouraged.

    Posted 11 Nov 2004 at 7:28 pm
  4. Funky Dung wrote:

    My choice of words was poor. I’ll edit the post later to reflect your correction. By sprinkling, I meant pouring water over the head, as opposed to immersion, full or otherwise.

    I understand the difficulties associated with immersion, but the Eastern churches still do it, so why can’t we? I’m not saying it should be universal, but at least the norm, with pouring used for reasonable exceptions (i.e. pastoral reasons).

    Posted 11 Nov 2004 at 5:41 pm
  5. EmilyE wrote:

    My priest came up with an interesting symbolic solution. When the adults are baptized at the Easter Vigil, they are actually baptized in a little pool that is somehow hooked up to the baptismal font (with some sort of mechanism to cycle the water).

    The catechumens kneel in the water. Then Fr. Fete takes two pitchers full of water and pours it over their heads (three times, of course, one for each person of the Trinity). The net result is that they are completely soaked — you certainly get the symbolism of washing — but they were not immersed, since the Western Church doesn’t do baptisms by immersion.

    I thought it was an interesting compromise.

    Posted 11 Nov 2004 at 7:30 am
  6. Fred K wrote:

    The Neocatechumenate movement practises baptism by immersion as the normal way of baptism. From what I’ve heard, they are very big on symbolism (restoring midnight Mass on Easter, building beautiful pools for baptism, etc).

    Here’s an interesting interview with the founder:
    http://www.christusrex.org/www2/ncw/english/30dias.htm

    Posted 11 Nov 2004 at 7:35 pm

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