The Spirituality of Worship

In this next installment of the vicar’s spirituality blog, Jim McKinney looks at the use of bells during our worship.

Why the ringing of the bells?

In the communion service, after the Peace, the minister leads in the great Thanksgiving or “Eucharistic” prayer which starts with a retelling of the story of the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples and the special things that he said on that all-important night. Thus, we hear …

“On the night before he died he had supper with his friends and, taking bread, he praised you. He broke it and he gave it to his disciples, saying, Take eat, this is my body which is given to for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

At this point, the priest lifts up the bread and a small set of hand-bells is rung next to the altar, and another single bell, hung in the tower or near the entrance, is rung so as to be heard outside the church building.

Next, the priest takes hold of the chalice full of wine and says

“When supper was ended he took the cup of wine.  Again he praised you, gave it to them, and said, drink this all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me”.

As before, at exactly this point, the bells ring out again. So what is happening here? First of all, the bells indicate that these are the two most solemn acts of the service. This is really important, they are saying. Secondly, they are referring to the presence of Jesus in the service. The church as a community is invoking Jesus’ presence, using the same words he told us to use. At that last supper, Jesus was promising us that he would be present in a very special way whenever we came together and remembered his Passion.

I think Jesus knew he was going to die soon after the supper had finished. He wanted to press home to his disciples that something very special was going to happen. He broke the bread to refer to the breaking of his body, and the sharing of the cup of wine referred to the spilling of his blood. What he was doing at the Last Supper was a ‘pre-enactment’ of what was going to happen to him the next day: the crucifixion. The consecration of the bread and the wine is inextricably linked to Jesus’ crucifixion.

By sharing in the bread and the wine, signifying his body and blood, we share together in our readiness to follow Jesus, wherever he leads us. This is poignant and demanding. We are seeking to be faithful Christians, putting ourselves on the line, as Jesus did.

But this does not answer all the questions that are raised in this great mystery of the Eucharist, of Jesus’ Last Supper. In the next blog, I will try to look at further questions and some of the answers Christians have given to them.

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