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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

THE use of bells in divine service is very ancient. We find mention made of them in the books of Exodus and Ecclesiasticus, where they are enumerated among the ornaments of the high-priest’s ephod, in order that “their sound might be heard whenever he goeth in and cometh out of the sanctuary.” (We have stated in another place that this ancient custom of attaching little bells to the fringes of the priestly garments is yet very common in the Eastern Church.) Besides these little bells the ancient Hebrews employed others of a larger kind, called Megeruphita, which used to be sounded by the Levites on certain occasions. Of these the Mishna says that when they were struck their noise was so deafening that you could not hear a person speak in all Jerusalem. They were sounded principally for three purposes: First, to summon the priests to service; secondly, to summon the choir of Levites to sing; thirdly, to invite the stationary-men to bring the unclean to the gate called Nicanor (Bannister, Temples of the Hebrews, p. 101). The Mishna further states that when these megeruphita were sounded to their full capacity they could be heard at Jericho, eighteen miles from Jerusalem.

For the first three or four centuries of the Christian Church’s existence the faithful were compelled to assemble at divine service with as little noise as possible, for fear of attracting the attention of their pagan enemies, and then bringing about fresh persecution; hence we must not expect to find bells in use during those days.

According to Polydore Virgil it was Pope Sabinian (seventh century), the immediate successor of Pope Gregory the Great, who first introduced the practice of ringing bells at Mass (Bona, Rer. Liturg., 259). The same thing is corroborated by Onuphrius Panvinius, who, when writing of this pontiff, says: “Hic Papa campanarum usum invenit, jussitque ut ad horas canonicas, et Missarum sacrificia pulsarentur in ecclesia”—that is, “This pontiff introduced the use of bells, and ordained that they be rung in the church at the canonical hours and during the Sacrifice of the Mass.” The usual ascription of the introduction of bells to St. Paulinus of Nola stands upon little or no foundation.

The name campanæ, sometimes given to bells, from Campana, in Italy, where large quantities of them were made, generally denotes the larger kind, and nolæ (also from an Italian town) the smaller kind. Small bells went generally by the name of tintinnabula, from their peculiar tinkling sound.








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