by Faithful Friar
Did you ever learn the translation to the childhood song “Frère Jacques?” It hit me as we were ringing bells in our tower one night to mark the end of Vespers. The literal translation goes something like this: Brother John, are you sleeping? Sound the bell for Matins! Ding, Dang, Dong! This dates back to the duty of the monks to ring the “pre-service” bell to alert their communities to the service that will begin shortly. Poor Brother John must have been very tired because he slept heavily and ignored his sonorous duty to his Brothers! We have our own Brother John in our Community, and he is often responsible for ringing the pre-service bell! (So far he hasn’t slept through his commitment.) We ring the bell prior to our Midday Office and Vespers services.
The tune for Frère Jacques was first published around 1780 in France, and the words were first seen in 1825. The tune is so familiar as to be claimed as a national folk song in many countries around the world, with Frère Jacques’ name changed to fit the country….Bruder Jakob, Fra’Martino, Panie Janie, and Mester Jakob to name a few.
So, whenever Br. John rings our pre-service bell, we are fitting right in with years of “Frère Jacques” tradition!