THE VIEW FROM RIZAL
By DR. JUN YNARES
Bells are a powerful device. It is one device devised by man whose power has not diminished since its invention. It is interesting that in the country today, bells are a center of attention and attraction. These are the century-old bells that have been returned to Filipinos by Americans after more keeping them as part of “war booty,” as some have described it.
Since time immemorial, bells have controlled human movement and human lives.
Our elders in Rizal recall that townsfolk woke up every day to the sound of church bells calling the faithful to morning mass. The same bells would stop everyone and make people pause and pray every day at 6 o’clock in the evening for the “oracion.”
In the olden days, they add, the same church bells would signal bedtime as they rang at 8 o’clock in the evening to announce the passing away of a community member or to commemorate those who have gone ahead to the Great Beyond. That sad chiming of the bells was called “agonyas”, a rough translation of the word “agony”, we supposed.
The celebratory ringing of church bells also signaled that the faithful inside are singing of praying the “Gloria in Excelsis.” The solemn bang indicated that the priest was raising the unleavened host or the chalice at Consecration.
It was bells which ordered schoolchildren to form their lines and march to the classroom for the start of a subject. Bells also told them a class period has ended or that it was time to go home.
Giant church bells were also used to warn people of a coming storm or of an impending natural calamity. The incessant clanging of bells from a fire-truck told everyone that someone’s home was on fire.
The gleeful ringing of bells accompanied the end of a wedding ceremony. When people said, “I hear wedding bells,” that was an indication that someone they knew was about to tie the knot.
The slow, soft, and sad chiming of the same bells announced the arrival of a funeral procession.
Smaller versions of bells also played major roles in the daily life then. A robust version of the ting-a-ling was used by “senyoras” to summon the household help. It was the gentler version of the ting-a-ling of little bells which warned pedestrians that a horse-drawn calesa or caretela was coming and that it was the cucheros, wish that everyone would step aside and let the iconic means of transportation pass by.
The most famous bells, of course, are those that “jingle all the way” during the Christmas season.
Next to “Silent Night,” Jingle Bells” is perhaps the most-sung song of the season. One, course, wonders how a song that merely talks about bells on a one-horse open sleigh would have anything to do with the birth of the Savior. Maybe, the fact that bells were the centerpiece of the song made it right for a time when people feel like “dashing through the snow” and to just keep “laughing all the way”.
There is a runner-up to “Jingle Bells” and which haS a better claim to being a Christmas song: Silver Bells. According to that song, when these silver bells ring, it is definitely “Christmas time in the city.” This must be in reference to the Santa Claus-clad guys ringing silver bells at American city sidewalks to ask for alms during this season.
Bells are also symbolic. Bells have stood for freedom. Americans refer to their Liberty Bell which is on display at a Center in Philadelphia. It contains the famous inscription “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land and to all inhabitants thereof,” said to be a reference to a passage from the Old Testament. It also had practical value – it was used to call state lawmakers to attend legislative sessions.
The once-famous folk-singing trio of Peter, Paul and Mary referred to the “bell of freedom” in their popular song “If I Had a Hammer.”
Bells are also used as musical instruments. My “other” alma mater, the University of the Philippines, has a small tower called the “Carillon.” The Carillon houses many bells of various sizes which can be chimed in harmony to create music.
For the people of Balangiga, their beloved bells were used in 1901 to signal their shared aspiration for liberty and their collective anger against oppression. Historians say that the America forces stationed at that town were there to implement a food blockade. It seems the people of Balangiga refused to be subjugated. They were a free people with a free spirit. When the bells of Balangiga rang on that fateful day in 1901, they hacked the subjugating forces with their bolos.
The Americans called it a “massacre.” The people of Balangiga called it an uprising.
Whatever that historic event is supposed to be called, the fact remains that bells played a crucial role. It was the ringing of the bells of Balangiga which made it happen.
In many churches, the bells will ring tonight for the start of Simbang Gabi. For most other churches, the ringing of the bells for this tradition will start tomorrow morning.
When the bells of the Antipolo Cathedral ring tonight and tomorrow at dawn, the invitation is for everyone to come and celebrate with us.
The bells have a simple message: Tayo na at magsimba sa Antipolo.
A simple but powerful message. Thousands will come and heed the chiming of these bells.
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