The Sanctus Bells: History and Use in the Catholic Church

The tiny bells known as the “Sanctus Bell” is a very familiar bell sound heard during the conscretion process of the Holy Eucharist during mass. It is called Sanctus Bell because it is derived from the bells being rung first during the Sanctus [Holy, Holy, Holy Lord…] at the Eucharistic consecration. They have been rung as part of the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Church for more than 800 years. Some Parishes today don’t use the bells anymore, though majority does. The bell comprises mostly of three to five small bells wield together.
The ringing of the Sanctus bell is in accordance to the Chapter IV, paragraph 150 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM):
A little before the consecration, when appropriate, a server rings a bell as a signal to the faithful. According to local custom, the server also rings the bell as the priest shows the host and then the chalice.
The reasons for ringing the Sanctus bell are:

  1. To create a joyful noise to the Lord3; second,
  2. To signal those not able to attend Mass that something supernatural was taking place.

The bells are rung at three or four points during the celebration of the Mass:

  1. Sanctus bells are first rung prior to the consecration at the epiclesis when the priest prays to the Holy Spirit to change the gifts of bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.


  1. The bells are rung a second time as the priest elevates and presents the Body of Christ.


  1. The bells are rung a third time as the celebrant elevates and presents the chalice filled with the Precious Blood.


  1. The bells may be rung a fourth time as the priest-celebrant consumes the Precious Blood. This custom, which originated from the rubrics of the Tridentine Mass, may be continued since it is not forbidden nor suppressed in the latest version of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

Sanctus bells may also be rung at specified times outside of the Mass, such as during Holy Benediction and during adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Ringing techniques can vary as well. In some cases the bells are rung for three short bursts at both of the elevations/presentations as defined by the rubrics in the 1962 Missale Romanum. These three short bursts are said to represent the three persons of the Holy Trinity. If executed well this triple ringing can sound quite solemn, but a single ringing of the bells at each specified point in the Mass is adequate.
The majority of Sanctus bells being rung during Mass today are of the handheld variety. Bronze Sanctus bells, while quite expensive are sonically far superior to their brass or cast iron counterparts. Sanctus bells are traditionally kept on the epistle (left) side of the credence table during the Mass, and ringing them has long been the responsibility of the instituted acolyte or altar server.

Raphael Benedict

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    1. Before mass it is costum in the Latin mass to ring a single bell that is by the door on a rope that doesn’t have a peticular name as far as I know. It is not the santus bells that are rung at this time.

  1. I observed since a child that the elders would hold their right hand into a fist and pat over their heart with the ringing bells. I still do this. Does anyone know about this? This is in church during Mass.

    1. I was taught to strike my breast and say silently, “My Lord and my God” at the elevation of the host and the chalice.

  2. Most parishes no longer use Sanctus bells, but for me personally it aids me when praying along Mass. I truly feel my heart is ‘lifted up’ to the Lord . It is a joyful spiritual experience I encounter and I am able to enjoy the Mass more ‘fully’.

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