Shepherd's Notes

February 12, 2017


The Golden Anniversary Story

Part 7:  “No Quasimodo…no problem!”


            It will be 8 years this coming February 18 when I first arrived at Saint Francis de Sales parish.  Several times I’ve been asked why we don’t ring the church bells.  When I first got here the bell mechanism was jammed and did not work.  After it was repaired, ringing the bell was very inconvenient because you have to climb up to the tower to ring it.  To keep others from unauthorized use of the bells, someone rigged the rope so that it could only be rung after climbing up a ladder in the bell tower.  You pretty much needed a full-time ringer like Quasimodo from the Hunchback of Notre Dame to operate the bell.  Regardless, it would be nice if we could ring the church bell again especially during the 50th anniversary year of our parish.  Enter:  a new challenge for the Philothea Guild!

            One of the secret Guild members served several years in the U.S. military and is used to rappelling from cliffs and buildings.  This member was perfect for the task of making the church bell operational.  Taking the secret code name of “HOSANNA” (3rd secret code name revealed but the 1st for a Guild member), which comes from the Mass: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts (aka “heavenly army of angels”) Hosanna in the highest.”  This Guild member researched and found that the Verdin Company (4th code name revealed:  BELL) could accomplish our mission.  They are a 175 year-old family-owned American company from Cincinnati.  BELL climbed the tower with HOSANNA to do an analysis and reported back to the Guild with the results.  Various options were presented and with HOSANNA’S recommendation we decided to install…Secret Gift #7:  the affordable Sonata Digital Electronic Carillon System that delivers the closest sound to the real church bells.  Now you understand why I said that when this new change is implemented the “whole town will hear about it!”

Because this system can be programmed to play on its own and has a manual remote control, we have the ability to ring the church bells on demand for specific occasions.  E.g., we can do a 5-minute warning (or any minute) before Mass starts and also ring them simultaneously during the consecration when the altar server rings the bell.  And who gets the special duty of ringing the church bells for these special times of the Mass?  Secret Gift #8:  The Junior Altar Women Society (JAS)!  There’s no need to hire a “Quasimodo” because all 22 JAS members were present last month for their ranking ceremony and received their preliminary training on how to manually operate the church bells.  They were thrilled and honored of their brand-new duty!  They have been so good in keeping this secret and now they can freely talk about it.  Next week I will give more fun details, the many functions of the bells, and how the Guild took a leap of faith to fund the new bell system.  But for now, let me tell you about our great JAS!


Recognizing the JAS in a ranking ceremony


            The Junior Altar Women Society (JAS) is now on its 8th year with 22 members. 

You see them before and after Mass in their distinctive white scapular uniform with the parish logo and ranking badge as they work quietly in support of the most important prayer and worship service in the Catholic Church—the Mass.

            Here’s JAS history in a nutshell.  JAS was officially formed on September 26, 2010 to complement the service of the altar boys.  I originally coined the name “Junior Altar Women Society” (a younger version of the Altar Women Society found in many parishes) but gave the new girls-only ministry an opportunity to pick a different name.  They liked the name but disagreed on their acronym and asked for a vote.  Some remarked that JAWS sounded a bit too “ferocious” but the others liked it.  The tally came down to a 1-vote majority in favor of JAS.  [I would have been okay with JAWS because these dedicated young ladies are really sharp-minded.  They are fast learners and very good with details.]  JAS is open to practicing Catholic girls 5th grade and up.  Younger ones are considered admission if they can demonstrate readiness for the liturgical details of the Mass.  Mrs. Laura Burgess, head of the Mass coordinators, does most of the JAS training.

JAS works with the Mass coordinators making sure that the Roman Missal and the Lectionary are properly marked for the priest to celebrate the Liturgy.  They prepare the sacred vessels such as the chalice, ciboria, patens and the sacred linens.  You may see them scanning the congregation doing a head count just before Mass.  This gives them an idea how many communion hosts are needed for the priests to consecrate.  They check to make sure all the necessary personnel for the Mass are accounted for:  priest, altar servers, Eucharistic ministers, and lector.  They also prep the families that bring the gifts to the altar and when needed they work as backup ushers.  Now they will also ring the church bells.

            The Junior Altar Women Society are unique volunteers.  They love what they do and take great pride in their work.  Through their ministry they learn the intricate details of the Mass more than most Catholics will ever know.  The priests appreciate what they do and give us the confidence that all we need to do is put on our vestments and we’re ready to start.  It is also our hope that these girls and the altar boys in their special sanctuary ministry will be inspired to be open to the priesthood or religious life and, at the very least, be always active in the parish.

            The 1st annual JAS Ranking Ceremony was held on January 8, 2017 to recognize their years of service by receiving their badge and merit pins.  The number of years in service determines their rank and identifies their high/low ranking for the Mass.  The rank determines who gets to be “First or Second Belle” to sound the bells for the Mass (did you catch the play on words?).  More pictures and explanation of the JAS rankings plus fun info that will “stun” you regarding the church bells in next week’s bulletin.


                                    Your shepherd in Christ,

                                    Father Escalante



February 19, 2017


The Golden Anniversary Story

Part 8:  “More than just a bell…ding-dong!”


            Are you aware of the immense value of hearing the sound of church bells?  In the midst of worldly preoccupation, the bells instill in our souls the presence of God and that his heavenly house on earth is only within an earshot.  For Catholics, the Eucharist is the real presence of Jesus and the ringing of the bells reminds us of our proximity to both the spiritual and physical presence of God.  It is an invitation to pray and even visit Him.  The pleasant sound of striking metals make even non-believers ponder about God and Catholics who planned skipping Mass that Sunday reexamine their plans for the day.  Those who are going through difficulties in life, the sacred sound of the bells gives them hope that God has not forgotten them and their petitions.

            Church bells have played an important role even in the secular society for centuries.  In the U.S. alone, the bells were used during the Colonial era to summon the militia to warn and defend against an advancing army.  They have also been used as the town’s clock and as an alarm to warn the people against fire, storms, intruders, robbers, etc.  The church bells have been an important part of history and has helped save countless of lives.  Because the use of bells is an exercise of religious freedom and have played an iconic role in our nation, church bells in America (and many other nations) are exempt from cities and towns’ noise ordinance laws.

            Acquiring newly cast bronze bells that can play different tunes like the carillon style are very expensive.  However, due to digital electronics, low-budget churches (like ours) now have the ability to replicate the sound of medieval cathedral bells at a fraction of the cost.  That’s what our new Sonata Digital Electronic Carillon System can do.  We will have the harmonious classic sound of multiple church bells that can play hundreds of hymns from the Catholic inventory and even time them seasonally (e.g., Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, etc.).  Included are bells for funeral tolls, Taps (for military), wedding peals, and other occasions.  Still, the least expensive price tag for this system (installed) was a shade under $10k.  For a parish still $3M in debt doing renovation, this is no loose change.

The Guild and I were aware we didn’t have the money originally budgeted for this.  But we knew the parishioners have been clamoring for the sound of bells so we took the leap of faith and ordered the system on the final week of 2016 to avoid the new year price hike.  Our parish was barely able to afford the $4k+ down payment coming from our operating account and just hoped God would provide for the rest.  Dear people of God, get ready for what I’m about to share with you.  It is so amazing it could make your eardrums ring with vertigo.

One of the families last Sunday loved hearing of the newly revealed secret church bells and that the Junior Altar Women Society (JAS) will have a major role operating it.  They decided to give us…Secret Gift #9$10,000 to pay for the entire system!  This happened on the day I was leaving for a 6-day silent priests’ retreat in WV.  My soul was silenced by this great act of generosity from these God-sent benefactors for whom we are most grateful.  The Guild’s leap of faith really paid off big time!  Praise the Lord…Amen.  Alleluia!!!  [Next Sunday you’ll read in the next Secret Gift how the Guild acted on another big leap of faith.]



                                    Your shepherd in Christ,

                                    Father Escalante


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37730 St. Francis Court

Purcellville, VA  20132


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