by Joe Bollig
WESTWOOD — Sometimes going above and beyond really means just that.
On March 3, Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher went to considerable heights — in windy conditions, no less — to bless a bell at the former Lutheran church at 5035 Rainbow Blvd. in Westwood.
The building will be used as a chapel by members of the St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Latin Mass Community after renovations are finished by the end of August, said chaplain Father John Fongemie, FSSP.
Archbishop Keleher — accompanied by an acolyte, Msgr. Gary Applegate and assistant chaplain Father Justin Nolan, FSSP — were taken approximately 25 feet in the air by a lift normally used in construction.
Archbishop Keleher admitted he was a little nervous.
“[The lift] only could sustain 750 pounds safely and, for four rather large guys, it went up creaking all the way,” he said. “It was very shaky as it was windy that day. And the higher we got, the windier it got. We hung on to the rails until we got high enough to bless the beautiful bell.”
The community rang the bell for the Angelus. just as the archbishop and the others were lowered to the ground.
“I told the crowd that I trust that, when Jesus ascended, it was quicker and less dangerous than I did that day,” quipped the archbishop.
This was a new experience for the archbishop, and not just because he was up in the wind.
“This was the first bell I had the privilege to bless,” he said. “When I was a young priest, I ministered for seven years before the changes in the church’s liturgies. So in those days, either the pastor or the bishop would have [blessed the bell].”
New churches tend to be built without bells, and the bells in older churches are already blessed, he said. The opportunity did not present itself before now.
But the experience was well worth the wait. And this particular bell is of a very good quality, said Father Fongemie. It was cast in England and rings in the key of D.
When the community bought the building, they discovered that the bell was only attached to the yolk by one of its four bolts, and the yolk itself was deteriorating. Anyone who attempted to ring the bell would have taken their life in their hands. Now, having been repaired, it’s ready to be rung for Mass and the Angelus.
“Bells are usually consecrated with sacred chrism or blessed solemnly if the church is to be consecrated,” said Father Fongemie.
“In this case, the church and bell received a blessing, because there’s a chance we may move again and we don’t want to do a full church consecration if the building might be sold.”
There’s a lot more to a church bell than noise.
Church bells call worshippers to prayer, to service, and to give glory to God, said Father Fongemie.
A ringing church bell lets people know that, at that moment, God is being worshipped, he continued. A blessed church bell is a sacramental action, and its ring brings comfort to believers and rebuke to the enemies of Christ. Traditionally, bells are rung to warn of storms or peril to the community. Appropriately enough, these heralds are often dedicated to angels — this one, to the great defender, St. Michael the Archangel.
The St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Latin Mass Community currently worships at a 6:30 a.m. Low Mass and 11 a.m. High Mass on Sundays at Blessed Sacrament Parish, 2203 Parallel Pkwy., in Kansas City, Kan.