Baptism of the Bells

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Ring out the Birthday song! One hundred years ago, on October 22, 1916, our brand-new church bells were blessed in a special ceremony before installation in our bell tower.

The Catholic Standard reported:

For the ceremony of the “baptism,” they were arranged along the left side of the church, where they rested on temporary trestles which were covered with Autumn leaves and chrysanthemums. The Services began at 3:30 o’clock with a procession from the sacristy to the main entrance of the church on Springfield Avenue and down the middle aisle to the altar. The Rev. William J. Casey, of the Church of the Ascension, was cross-bearer. He was followed by the acolytes, the sponsors of the bells, the clergy, prelates, the officers of the ceremonies, and the Right Reverend Bishop McCort.

Each bell had a parishioner acting as its “sponsor;” with church architect Henry D. Dagit  among the eleven. The bells were named after the following saints: Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmund, John, Thomas, Maurice, and Gervase. After each bell was blessed, it was rung by Reverend Maurice Cowl, Assistant to Pastor Monsignor Crane. The chime rang out from the tower for the first time a month later, at the Fifth Anniversary of the Dedication of the Church.

An article in the 1925 Parish Bulletin described a traditional bell blessing ritual, which, it reported, dates back to the tenth century:

The bell is washed with holy water (whence people speak of the baptism of a bell); it is signed with holy oils, and the thurible with fuming incense is held beneath it….The washing of the bell inside and out signifies the purity of life and the soundness of doctrine which should be found in both priest and people…The sign of the cross is made seven times, to represent the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost, and also the seven Sacraments of Christ; and again four times to signify the four quarters of the universe…the burning perfumes indicate the prayers of the faithful…

After Psalms, Sermon, and  Gospel, a closing prayer asks that

the ringing of the now consecrated bells may summon the faithful to prayer, may excite their devotion, may disperse the storm clouds and drive away the dangers of the air, may terrify evil spirits, and may assure us health and happiness and peace.

Those sound like good prayer requests. Let’s hope that blessing still works!

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