Sunday, 13 May, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord–and Mother’s Day–Abbot Joseph blessed the bells that have been presiding over our front lawn. As any visitor to the Abbey realizes, they have been there for several months and in use, but we were waiting for suitable weather for an outdoor ceremony–remember how cruel the April weather has been. The blessing had already been postponed a week since the ground was still so wet and the skies, threatening, the Sunday before.
The weather smiled on us and the clouds actually parted for a while and we were able to celebrate the blessing without becoming soaked.
The two bells were cast in Cincinnati in 1900 and are a gift from Br. David Schlatter, O.F.M., currently assigned to Holy Name College, Silver Spring, Maryland. When I had tried my vocation as a Franciscan about forty-five years ago, David and I shared the novitiate year at St. Francis Friary, Brookline, Massachusetts. As Fr. Joseph recalled in his opening remarks at the blessing, these bells had been part of a larger collection that Br. David used in memorial services, starting with 9/11. They have travelled to many sites where local communities have suffered loss of life. They have also been borrowed by symphony orchestras when bells are needed for the score being performed.
When Br. David decided to conclude that ministry, he began to look for homes for the bells and contacted me to learn if the Abbey might have a use for them; they were welcomed with open arms!
Fr. Joseph recalled that for about six decades we’ve depended on one, somewhat smaller bell to call us to prayer. In religious communities, the bells symbolize the voice of God summoning us to prayer, the great priority of our life together. From this blessing, the two newly acquired bells are referred to as Michael and Gabriel, and our original bell, is now Raphael. The Abbot reminded us of the three angels in the stained glass window from over our church door, a window currently being restored but soon to be returned. He also reminded us to pray for all those people who died tragically and who have been celebrated by these bells. At the conclusion of the blessing, all three bells rang in a jubilant pealing as we processed back into church to celebrate Mass.