Today, as I settled down in our village chapel to pray a Holy Hour, the midday Angelus bell struck. It was hauntingly beautiful. As the bell rang out and I recited the Angelus, I felt transported.
The sound of the church bell has an eternal quality, as though it pulls us out of the ordinary, out of space and time. It guides us to the very world it calls us to remember – the eternal, the heavenly.
Just as the Angel Gabriel declared unto Mary, at the Annunciation, the Angelus bell announces the reality of the self-same mystery – that of the Lord’s Incarnation.
And so doing, it calls us to participate in that mystery, not only through the praying of the Angelus, but through faith in the words we recite.
When we pray with faith, we enter the mystery. For the mystery is a truth, a reality that is forever present. We can therefore bring ourselves more fully to it, through our faith in it.
Many years ago now, when I was still a New Ager, before I converted to the Catholic faith, I was taken on a holiday to France.
It was a wonderful time, with delicious food, beautiful architecture, gorgeous scenery and good company.
Yet, what made the deepest impression on me was the thrice daily ringing of the church bells, in the towns and villages. They rang from all directions across the towns and countryside, creating a timeless quality, an atmosphere beyond this world.
I experienced a special feeling in my heart. And when I recall that feeling now, I can only describe it as thus. A meeting is taking place between the ordinary and the extraordinary. It is as though the ordinary is embraced and lifted up, as the extraordinary streams down.
At the time, I had no idea as to the religious significance of these bells – that they are a call to prayer. And for centuries catholics have been called morning, noon and evening to pray the Angelus in honour of the Incarnation. But perhaps my soul was being prepared for my conversion, for they touched me deeply.
What I did see, was how the communities were held together by the ringing of the bells. As midday struck, there was a flurry of activity. People scurried about, from all directions, buying bread, shutting up shop, returning to their cars and home for the midday meal. The same also occurred at six o’clock in the evening, when the bell struck again.
Only years later did I understand their significance.
That was, shortly after I had been confirmed into the Catholic Church at Easter 2000.
Roger, my husband and I found ourselves staying for several months, care of a group of religious sisters, in a stunning lakeside village, near Luzern in Switzerland.
Our house overlooked the lake and stood adjacent to the village chapel. Being an early riser, the sisters asked me if I would open up the chapel each morning and ring the 6:30am Angelus bell.
As a mere Catholic fledgling with poor catechesis, I did not yet know the Angelus prayer. So I promptly searched out the prayer and learnt it.
It was a profound experience pulling the bell whilst reciting the Angelus each morning. The timeless quality of the sound of the ringing and the words of the Angelus prayer opened me up the eternal world, inviting me to enter.
Each time I hear the bell ring now I am transported in a similar way. I am transported into the mystery of the Incarnation that lies at the very foundation of our faith. And through which, the temporal is lifted up into the eternal realm, through our Lord’s descent into it.
It is to this eternal reality we are brought, through the ringing of the bells morning, noon and night, as they call us to pray the Angelus, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. They bring this eternal message to us mere creatures, opening the doors of heaven, as did the Angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin.