A few weeks ago I was involved in a pleasant transaction involving the bringing of the school bell from the primary school at Killegney in Co Wexford, which closed some years ago, to Kilkenny College for use in the recently completed new chapel there.
Now a bell which for generations punctuated the lives of children in the Clonroche area will be a reminder to secondary school students that moments of prayer can shape and texture the day.
Even if individuals do not on the face of it heed the call of the bell, its very sound is a reminder that prayer is being offered for them and on their behalf.
Bells are part of life in a very remarkable way
Bells are part of the life of the church in a very remarkable way. In days before people had their own watches, the sound of a bell, usually rung from an elevated position, made it clear to the community surrounding the church that worship was about to begin.
The great Irish round towers may in their origin have been places where great bells could be hoisted into an honoured position. Some of those bells were associated with particular saints who had according to tradition been the founders of monasteries and dioceses.
The solemn tolling of a bell marked the death of a member of the parish.
The peals of bells of great cathedrals were themselves acts of both beauty and of worship, methods of public witness to the celebration of faith.
Bells at the conclusion of a wedding marked the joyful exodus of a loving couple from the church building into the wider world where they would make their home. In some universities, the ringing of great bells called students to their examinations and graduations.
In many churches, including Anglican ones of the more high church variety, the ringing of the bell during the most solemn moments of the Eucharistic celebration reminded the world that the Risen Lord was being known anew amongst his people in the breaking of the bread.
Most basically, the bells of church clocks striking the quarters were a reminder that all time is a gift from God which deserves to be hallowed, and its use should be the subject of good and responsible stewardship.
Bells have greatest power at Christmas
It is of course at Christmas that bells seem to have their greatest power. Much Christmas music tries to imitate the sound of their peal, many carols sing of them as part of the prevailing mood of joy and celebration, carol singers ring hand bells to draw attention to their presence and to create atmosphere.
It is impossible to evoke the traditional spirit of Christmas without reference to the jingling and the ringing and the pealing of bells.
And of course the Christmas season includes that most poignant of bell ringing moments, the ringing out of the old year and the ringing in of the new.
Something timeless about the ministry of bells
So, as technology and architecture and music evolve, there is sometime timeless and powerful about the ministry of bells..
No wonder they feature often in the thoughts of poets and novelists. The ringing of bells is no empty tradition in our common life, it is an action which to this day assists the church in its tasks of proclamation and witness, the pursuit of beauty and the glorification of God.
Give thanks for the bellringers
We should give thanks for the ministry of all those associated with bells … Those who faithfully ring them in small churches, those who maintain towers and belfries so that they may be rung safely, those who in our cathedrals ring the changes with great skill and pass on that ancient art to a new generation.
Bells were made to make joy
The outside world does not always attend the service, hear the music or listen to the sermon; but the bells come to the ears of all across the frosty air. At this time of the year they sing their joyful song of how earth and heaven have come together in mysterious exchange in the birth of God Incarnate. Wherever you are in the diocese or beyond, whatever bell you hear this Christmas Day, I wish you every joy and blessing this holy season. And may the inscription I once read on a cathedral bell be written on our very hearts … I was made to make joy.
New Diocesan Readers commissioned and Certificates awarded
At the time of writing I look forward to the commissioning of new Diocesan Readers on Advent Sunday in Leighlin Cathedral … We are grateful for the freshness and zeal of their ministry and no doubt this occasion, accompanied by the awarding of Certificates to those who have successfully competed our accredited course in Christian studies, will be fully described in the January magazine.
Visiting all 28 primary schools
I have also once again embarked on a programme of visitation of all twenty eight primary schools of which I am patron … Always a joyful task as one joins in the life, the enthusiasm and the questions of the young. Which brings me back to where I started, among school pupils and attuned to the sounds of their bells.
Again, a blessed Christmas to you all.
Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory