All Good Bells Go To Heaven.

1677. SACRAMENTALS are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life. - Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 2nd Edition, (c) 1994/1997 United States Catholic Conference, Inc., p. 418

A Catholic dictionary informs us:

The sacraments were instituted by Christ and effect grace by virtue of themselves; the sacramentals are instituted by the Church and impart grace according to the disposition of the recipients and the intercession of the Church. - Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ed., Catholic Dictionary, (c) 1993, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, Huntington, p. 435

Did you notice? Sacramentals are something the Roman Church came up with on its own and it claims to have the power to "impart grace" if the recipient is in a good disposition and the RCC intercedes. What kinds of things can become sacramentals? Well, there's holy water, candles, scapulars, Rosaries, bells, blessings, and just about any material thing, if the RCC wants it to become a sacramental.

Let's look at just one of these; bells. I am not talking about those itty-bitty bells the altar boy rings now and then during a Latin High Mass, in continuation of pagan practice in the ceremonies of Mithras worship, when bells or cymbals were rung three times to frighten off demons who sought to disrupt worship and defile the "holy places."

No, Sir. I am talking about those great big bongers that can rattle windows and scatter pigeons for blocks around. No sleeping in when those big babies start a-clanging. I am talking about those monstrous great bells the Catholic Church treats as though they were people or, can it be?, deities. In fact, at least one Roman "Father" has likened the sound one of those guys makes when it rings to the "voice of the Lord." Yikes!!

The thought is that everyone who listens to the Lord's voice is pleasing to the Lord. The church bell is in many ways the voice of the Lord. It calls us to rejoice and it calls us to mourn. It calls us to seek and find consolation in distress, and direction in danger. It calls us to adore and worship the Creator and Redeemer. - Arthur Tonne, Talks On The Sacramentals, (c) 1950, Didde Printing Co. has/ Nihil Obstat, Imprimi Potest

Folks have been using bells in their worship for a very long time. The Jews and the ancient Egyptians used little bells, but it was the RCC that introduced the idea of monster bells in churches. Romish tradition gives credit for that innovation to Paulinus, the Bishop of Nola.

Paulinus' idea really caught on and, before long, the organizational genius of the Roman Church began to generate laws for their use, choreograph ceremonies for blessing them, assign "Christian" meanings to them, erect magnificent temples and shrines (bell towers and cupolas) in which to house them. And the bells grew bigger and bigger.

On a Catholic forum, a priest justified the sacramental use of bells by pointing to Psalm 150, which he misidentified as Psalm 110 (it happens):

Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD. - Psalm 150:1-6

Bells have been a familiar part of religious practice for a long time. In ancient days, Egyptian, Babylonian, and Mithraic priests used bells in their religious practice. Jesus of Nazareth would have been accustomed to the use of bells and cymbals in Jewish worship.

I recognize the utilitarian value of bells. They were and continue to be useful for waking folks at the right hour, announcing danger, or dinner, etc. However, I do not believe they have a place in Christian worship. Certainly, they have no place of honor and, dare I say it?, veneration as in the Roman Catholic system of worship.

After Paulinus introduced bells and bell-ringing into the Catholic custom, additional superstitious uses soon were found for them. In medieval times, people would look to consecrated church bells as a means to baffle the powers of the air. The practice began as an outgrowth of the persecution of witches and other people by the Roman Church. One poor soul, under the agony of torture, declared that she had been returning from a witches' sabbath with a demon when, wonder of wonders, she was dropped to the earth in the confusion that resulted within the hellish legions when they heard church bells tolling the Ave Maria. Well, that did it. With that revelation, the belief that, no matter what was happening at the witches' sabbath, all that was necessary to paralyze the power of Satan was to ring those consecrated bells. The outpourings from various torture chambers over the next hundred years or so validated this new revelation.

People started hanging "magic" tags on bell clappers to protect themselves from hailstorms. During the reign of Charlemagne, people began BAPTIZING bells. The Holy Roman Emperor issued a proscription against such practices, but not even he was stronger than superstition, erh, the Catholic faith.

The Roman Church, never one to pass up an opportunity to use pagan concepts to serve her own purposes, soon jumped on the idea of holy bells. In 968 AD, "infallible" pope John XIII legitimized the superstitious practices Charlemagne had prohibited by not only personally BAPTIZING the great bell of his cathedral church, the Lateran, but by also CHRISTENING it with his own name. Yikes!

Well, now, if the grand high poo-bah of the Roman Catholic Church was going to be baptizing bells, then the whole church needed to get behind the program and start justifying the action. Soon, a veritable flood of scholarly opinions, sermons and inscriptions on the bells themselves appeared in support of bell baptizing. While the scholarly writings, and even many of the sermons, are to be found in libraries and religious institutions, one must climb the bell towers of European churches to read the literature cast into the bells. That this might be a hazardous form of scholarship cannot be denied.

The ancient pagan worshippers of Semiramis and Tammuz drove demons from their ceremonies by ringing bells. Catholic churches throughout Europe and, I suspect, the rest of the world, use bells to the same purpose.

In Basel, there is a bell that bears the inscription, "Ad fugandos demones" (To drive off demons?). Another baptized bell, in Lugano, declares "The sound of this bell vanquishes tempests, repels demons, and summons men." Folks in Erfurt are protected from danger by a bell in their cathedral that proclaims it can "ward off lightning and malignant demons." In the university town of Pont-a-Mousson a peal (dated to 1634) bore the words, "They praise God, put to flight the clouds, affright the demons, and call the people." In that same part of France is another bell that declares, "It is I who dissipate the thunders" (Ego sum qui dissipo tonitrua).--Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Chap. IX, D. Appleton and Company (1898)

In baptizing bells, the Roman Church had discovered a reason to develop yet another ritual. Bell baptisms came to be really big deals. Popes, kings, and prelates were proud to stand as sponsors. When four replacement bells at the Cathedral of Versailles were baptized, on the 6th of January, 1824, the Voltairean King, Louis XVIII, and the pious Duchess d'Angouleme stood as sponsors.

To add to the efficacy of such baptisms, water was sometimes brought from the river Jordan. Talk about mysticism and spell-making -- how can you make a relic out of the water of a flowing river?

Now this is interesting to me. The RCC teaches that the sacrament of baptism washes the sinner clean of the stain of sin and imparts God's saving grace to him.

Can. 849 Baptism, the gateway to the sacraments, is necessary for salvation, either by actual reception or at least by desire. By it people are freed from sins, are born again as children of God and, made like to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated into the Church. It is validly conferred only by a washing in real water with the proper form of words." --Code of Canon Law, English translation copyright 1983 The Canon Law Society Trust

When I read this, several questions come to mind, such as:

1) How do bells come to be afflicted with the consequences of original sin?

2) When a bell sins, what provisions are made for auricular confession and absolution?

3) Do bells go to Purgatory?

You get the idea.

Of course the foregoing are foolish questions, but no more foolish than the idea of baptizing a bell. When I was young and Catholic, I was not aware of many of the things I address in this forum. How about some of you out there? What do you think about blessing lard? Or dissecting human bodies to use the parts for assisting one's prayer life? Or baptizing bells? Please ask yourselves if these seem to be the rational and appropriate acts for a religious body that claims to be Christian.

Don't believe the RCC baptizes bells? Let's look at the ceremony itself and some of the words used. The Paris ritual for baptizing bells includes the petition that,

"whensoever this bell shall sound, it shall drive away the malign influences of the assailing spirits, the horror of their apparitions, the rush of whirlwinds, the stroke of lightning, the harm of thunder, the disasters of storms, and all the spirits of the tempest."--Andrew Dickson White, Op. cit., Chap. XI

The Reformers generally did not agree with Catholic wisdom

Forms of baptism were laid down in various manuals sanctioned directly by papal authority, and sacramental efficacy was everywhere taken for granted. The development of this idea in the older Church was too strong to be resisted; but, as a rule, the Protestant theologians of the Reformation, while admitting that storms were caused by Satan and his legions, opposed the baptism of bells, and denied the theory of their influence in dispersing storms. Luther, while never doubting that troublesome meteorological phenomena were caused by devils, regarded with contempt the idea that the demons were so childish as to be scared by the clang of bells; his theory made them altogether too powerful to be affected by means so trivial. The great English Reformers, while also accepting very generally the theory of diabolic interference in storms, reproved strongly the baptizing of bells, as the perversion of a sacrament and involving blasphemy. Bishop Hooper declared reliance upon bells to drive away tempests, futile. Bishop Pilkington, while arguing that tempests are direct instruments of God's wrath, is very severe against using ``unlawful means,'' and among these he names ``the hallowed bell''; and these opinions were very generally shared by the leading English clergy.--Ibid.

The ceremonies involved in blessing and christening a bell are solemn and rather impressive. The bell to be baptized is placed in the middle of the church, and the bishop and other clergy gather around it. A common run-of-the-mill priest is ok to baptize human babies, but for a bell one drags the bishop out of his chancery. Interesting commentary on Catholic social values, would you not agree?

The bishop and other members of the clergy begin by reciting psalms asking God's mercy and assistance and promising to adore and serve Him faithfully. Then, someone brings a container of holy water, blessed in the usual way, but with a special added prayer for the occasion. Using this holy water, the bishop and priests wash the bell, inside and out, as others recite psalms of praise and thanksgiving:

Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle: let His praise be in the church of His saints. Let Israel rejoice in Him that made him: and the children of Sion be joyful in their king.--Psalm 149

At this point, the bishop petitions the Lord that, when the bell sounds, it may generate within the hearts of the faithful true love and devotion for His blessed service. Then, in faithful remembrance of the medieval superstitions that led to bell worship (dulia), he asks that weather disturbances might be calmed and that the air be free of all diseases and evil spirits. This is followed by a reading of Psalm 28, which invites all people to praise and glorify Almighty God and to remember His works.

Then, the bishop anoints the bell with oil of the sick, making the sign of the cross with it seven times on the exterior and four times on the interior praying that God may consecrate and sanctify it, inside and out, and make the sound of it fruitful in grace, blessing and protection for all the faithful.

After this, the Gospel account of Christ's visit with Martha and Mary is read, bringing to remembrance Martha's complaint that Mary was not helping her with the serving, and how our Lord exclaimed:

Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things; and yet only one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the best part, and it will not be taken away from her. - Luke, 10:41, 42

And so the bell is baptized, consecrated and washed clean of sin. Now, it is ready for service. Doesn't all this seem just a bit strange? To me, it calls to mind those pagan religions that worship spirits and fear demons of the air, using both natural and made things and familiar objects to cast protective spells.

The child of God has all the protection and help he needs, without recourse to the sounding of baptized bells or incantations. As it was for David, so is it for us:

The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies. - Psalms 18:2-3

NOTE: For those who would like a more detailed look at the Catholic ceremony for baptizing bells as it was done in the 19th century, you can read all about it in these historical documents:

John Dowling's 19th Century book, History of Romanism, p. 207, Published by Edward Walker (1845).

Earlier in the 19th Century, Robert Robinson wrote: History of Baptism, page 359 (The digitizer omitted a little bit of the left edge of page 359, but it is readable. The other pages are okay.)

Another early 19th century publication detailed the consecration of bells in August of 1825: The Catholic Spectator, page

Should you be interesting in looking back even farther, check out the January 1780 issue of The London Journal. page 29

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