If you have ever been to Mt. Angel or another monastery for a retreat or a visit you have probably heard “the bells” ring at certain hours of the day. The seminarians in upper theology at Mt. Angel used to live in Aquinas Hall which was right next to a small iron bell tower at the side of the building.
If anyone gets the award for the Idaho seminarian who lived closest to the bells, it is Fr. John Worster, who is now pastor of St. Mary’s in Boise. They were directly outside his window. How he ever survived was a miracle, because the bells at Mt. Angel are LOUD!
Since then, the Monks at Mt. Angel have built a 110’ tall bell tower called the “Tower of the Visitation.” The Bell Tower houses eight cast-bronze bells that “call” the monks to prayer. Each bell is named after a saint, and the largest weighs more than four tons. They are the largest free-swinging bells on the West Coast.
The Bells are named: The Most Holy Trinity, 8,030 lbs, the Musical note of “A”
Our Lady of the Angels, 4,730 lbs, Musical note of “C”
Saints Michael, Gabriel, Raphael & all Holy Angels, 3,300 lbs, Musical note of “D”
Saint Joseph, Foster-Father of the Son of God, 1,900 lbs, Musical note of “F”
Our Holy Father Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, 1,408 lbs, Musical note of “G”
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, 1,000 lbs, Musical note of “A”
Saint Gertrude the Great, 583 lbs, Musical note of “C”
Saint Gregory the Great, 407 lbs, Musical note of “D”
The bells call the Monks and others all over the world to pray at all times of the day and night. Praying from midnight to midnight so that someone, somewhere in the world is praying all the time. This call to prayer has been happening for thousands of years throughout many cultures. All priests, deacons, and men and women in vows used to pray seven times a day. We were told in the seminary many times about old “Father So-and –so” who had to stop by the side of the road, just before midnight, to stand in front of the of the car headlights, and say the final prayers of the day for fear of mortal sin.
In the 1970’s the hours were reduced so that they would become more of a prayer and not an obligation that had to be finished by car headlights before midnight!
Praying what is called the Liturgy of the Hours isn’t an entirely new concept that the Church made up. Romans, used to have a bell in the forum that rang at the beginning of the business day at about six o’clock in the morning, it then noted the day’s progress by striking again until it rang at the close of the business day.
Devout Jews prayed three times a day – and still do. The prayers were taught from parent to child. And so the story of Moses holding up the Staff in Egypt, to call the plagues down upon the Egyptian people and pharaoh must’ve been a favorite! They knew the story of Moses and Aaron and Hur in today’s reading
from Exodus. As long as Moses held the Staff up high, the battle went well. When they could not see the Staff, the enemy would advance. Moses’ prayer was so strong! Except he got tired and needed to ask for help to keep his arms raised in prayer.
As Christianity became more and more accepted, and various cultural habits were adopted the people joined the monks in prayer. Recall in our scriptures that there are 150 psalms. St. Benedict said his monks should not be lazy, but pray all 150 psalms in one week. The monks and nuns began to ask or require this of the people under their care. The bells would ring, the people stopped working and prayed. We have a reminder of this custom in our own Angelus that plays at noon and 6:00 in the evening at St. Mary’s. The Methodist Church in Moscow strikes every hour and every half hour. These are moments we should stop and say a little prayer. In this day and age, there are even apps for your phone that ring out reminders to pray.
The farmers and workers on monastic lands couldn’t memorize all 150 psalms so they started to say the prayers they did know: The Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. Using notches on wood or stones or stringing 150 beads together, one for each psalm, they could keep count. Very similar to our Rosary.
By the end of the day they would have said 15 sets of prayers, a full Rosary, which equals 150 prayers per day. Being persistent in prayer is the lesson of the first reading with Moses; and in the Gospel with the Widow and the Judge. Most importantly, someone, somewhere , in the world is praying for us when we
cannot. By praying the 150 psalms over a period of a week, people will be saying the very same psalms that Christ learnt as a boy and prayed throughout his life. If we follow the story and history of prayer in our faith life and in the Church we can see why it is important to “Pray without ceasing” as St. Paul says. It is okay to ask for help. It is okay to ask for prayers: “Please say an extra prayer for me, I have an important test coming up… or please say a prayer for a relative who had to go to the hospital … Let’s say a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude for all God has done for us today… Praise God!”
St. Paul tells Timothy, remain faithful and be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage all through patience and teaching.
And don’t forget to be persistent in your prayer like the widow in our Gospel today. The judge says “I shall deliver a just decision for her.” But only after she won’t leave him alone. Which to me sounds like all the permission we need, to pray to God, always… even to the point of pestering God until our prayers are answered.