Deacon's Corner: The Smells and Bells at Mass
May 15, 2022, 12:00 PM
When burned, incense creates a sweet-smelling smoke. This use of incense in the Liturgy goes back thousands of years. It is described throughout the Old Testament and was one of the gifts the Magi brought to Jesus. Incense represents the prayers of the Church. It is a sign of reverence. Psalm 141:2 says, “Let my prayer be incense before you.” And in Revelation 5:8 we see the elders in heaven “holding gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.” In Mass, the vessel with the burning incense is called the censer or thurible. The person carrying it is called the thurifer. The container with the unburned incense is called the boat. At St. Ann we normally use incense at special Masses, funerals, and as part of Benediction in conjunction with Evening Prayer (Vespers) in Advent and Lent.

The bells are normally rung at three times during Mass. The first time, a single ring, is at the Epiclesis (Greek, to call upon), the time when the Priest lowers his hands over the gifts on the altar and prays the words to call down the Holy Spirit so the bread and wine may become the Body and Blood of Jesus. The bells are rung, in sets of three rings, immediately after the Priest says the words of Consecration and elevates the large host and then the Chalice. In ancient times the server rang the bells for two main reasons. First, the Mass was prayed in Latin and most people did not understand Latin. Second, the priest was facing away from the people and the people were unable to see the priest’s elevations of the host and Chalice. The bells serve as a “wake-up call” reminding us of what is happening right before our eyes. Jesus is here! Now you know!