... in the senses

Published on 19 Oct 2020
A view of York Minster

It took me several months of going to Mass in church again to realise why the priest on the altar seemed so alone. There are no altar servers any more. I've been to a few churches in the past where there seemed to be at least half a dozen servers at every Mass, so it is perhaps strange that I didn't notice this until recently, but it has been a strange year and the experience of returning to Mass was marked by all sorts of small changes. 

What I actually noticed first was that the sanctuary bell didn't ring at the consecration. An absent sound which hardly constitutes the most important part of the Mass, but does of course help to mark a very important moment in the Mass. 

However, at our church, the return to being able to attend services has come with some serendipity. My church is directly behind the [Anglican] Cathedral, and, at roughly the same point in the morning Mass when the sanctuary bell would ring, they start to ring the great cathedral bells. The peals continue until 10 am when the service starts there. The beautiful thing about the bells is that they have been chiming in churches across the land for generations, through wars and plague, so they put us in touch with the truth, that this, too, shall pass. 

Why does it matter? The Mass used to appeal to all our senses: smell, sounds, sights, taste and touch. These senses bring home to us these moments in time and space when heaven meets earth. When livestreaming at home, there was little for the senses to perceive - some words and a visual, if one is lucky enough to have both these faculties.  Now there is little of it in the new service, no incense, no sign of peace, a lack of music (in many churches at least). We are left with taste - the taste of the Eucharist - which seems more precious now. So perhaps these chiming bells remind me of God's presence here among us.