The parishioners of the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica) in St. John’s were informed at the end of every Sunday mass in November of 1902 that:
“During the month of November the “De profundis bell” will be tolled at nine o’clock every evening for the Holy Souls. All people who at the sound of the bell shall recite, on their knees (if possible) the Psalm De profundis with the verses and responses.”
The De Profundis is found in scripture – Psalm 130.
Upon hearing the sound of the church bell wherever Catholics were at 9:00 p.m. they would fall to their knees and recite Psalm 130.
The Roman Catholics in the town of St. John’s were also informed that:
“Those who do not know the De profundis may say instead an Our Father and Hail Mary for the repose of the faithful departed.” (Source: Basilica Cathedral Publication Book, October 26, 1902.
And there was no escaping the toll of the Cathedral (now Basilica) bells. It is said that the bells could be heard as far away as Torbay.
The De profundis bell was not the only one that was sounded.
A beautiful and pious custom which prevailed in many countries was the “passing bell,” which was rung slowly when a death was imminent in the parish. When the sick person was near his end the solemn tones of the bell reminded the faithful of their Christian duty of praying for his happy death and for his eternal repose; and after his spirit had departed, the bell tolled out his age — one short stroke for each year.
A bell that continues to be sounded in St. John’s is the Angelus Bell. The Angelus, consists essentially in the reciting of certain prayers at the sound of a bell at fixed hours. At the Basilica Cathedral the angelus bell is struck at noon each day.
By tradition, the Catholic Church dedicates each month of the year to certain devotion. In November, it is the Holy Souls in Purgatory, described in Catholic theology as “those faithful Christians who have died and gone before us.” Praying for the dead, especially for those we have known, is a requirement of Christian charity.
New Word: De profundis (Latin) “out of the depths of misery or dejection” (from the first words of Psalm 130
Recommended Archival Collection: Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese of St. John’s, NL (ARCASJ).
Recommended Song: Psalm 130