In the beginning of last November, the French government began the second lockdown, suspending all public Masses. So, this idea came to my mind: to ring the bells of the Saint Thérèse parish beside our house, every Friday at 3.00 pm and every Sunday at midday. It would have been a sign that said to everyone: even if the Masses have been taken away, God is still present; He does not abandon the world.
I talked about this idea with my sisters in the house, and I asked the pastor for permission. He told me that it was a good idea, but it needed to be discussed by other representatives of the parish. It was necessary to explain it to the parishioners so that the bells could become a true reminder that God is present, and not seen as a mere sign that the Masses are about to start. And this would have created more confusion. In the end, everything was ready after two weeks of preparation.
In the meantime, another incident took place. The parish to which we belong was created by merging seven different parishes, each one with its own history and sensibility. Even to the present day, these parishes have their own parish teams. At a meeting of one of these teams, a parishioner said, “Why are the sisters ringing the church bells? It was never an initiative agreed by everyone. Who gave them the permission? And even if we decide on the Sunday bells, what is this about ringing the bells on Fridays? Why? It is the day Jesus died. Is it really necessary to remind people of this moment of suffering?”
These words really struck me. I thought, “O Lord, everyone wants to keep You silent; everyone wants to keep You away and hide You from others. Because of this, O Lord, I will ring the bells in the hope that even an echo of the bells could reach someone.” And so, on Friday, I climbed the bell tower of the church, and I pulled the rope attached to the bell and I began to ring it!
When I made the proposal to ring the bells, I had in mind the words of Romano Guardini to which I am very attached. His words explain what I have always felt hearing the sound of the bells: “Space enclosed within the walls of a church reminds us of God. […] But what of space unenclosed? […] The steeple is an integral part of God’s house, and rises out of it up into the free air, and takes possession of all wide space in God’s name. And the heavy bronze bells in the belfry tower, so beautifully molded, swing about their shaft and send out peal on peal in waves of good loud sound. High and quick, or full-toned and measured, or roaring deep and slow, they pour out a flood of sound that fills the air with news of the Kingdom. News from afar, news of the infinitely limitless God, news of man’s bottomless desire, and of its inexhaustible fulfilment. The bells are a summons to those “men of desire” whose hearts are open to far-off things. […] The bells remind us of the world’s immensity and man’s still more immeasurable desires, and that only in the infinite God we can find our peace. O Lord, this my soul is wider than the world, its longing from depths deeper than any valley, the pain of desire is more troubling than the faint lost bell notes. Only thyself canst fill so vast an emptiness…” (Sacred Signs, trans. Grace Branham, Pio Decimo Press, 1956).
The bells, with their infinite sounds, remind us of God, and in some ways cause us to sigh as a sign of nostalgia for the infinite. I hope, during these weeks without Masses, this became true for someone hearing the bells.
(In the picture: Sister Mariagiulia Cremonesi with two altar servers of Sainte Thérèse Parish in Grenoble, France; February 2020).