A Look into the Official World Meeting of Families Hymn, “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom”


People in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia have been  for the last several months singing “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom”.  The hymn was chosen as the official hymn for the 2015 World Meeting of Families.  Those watching the Papal Mass on Sunday afternoon will see the hymn sung during the Offertory.  The piece came together at the hand of two people: Normand Gouin, who composed the music, and Andrew Ciferni, O.Praem, who composed the lyrics.

The composition of the hymn started with an invitation-only opportunity for composers to submit a hymn to be the official hymn for the World Meeting of Families.  Just 20 composers received the invitation.  Gouin was a student of Ciferni’s as a freshman at Catholic University in 1988, and the two have worked together many times in the past on hymns.

The first part of the hymn to be written was the music.  Gouin at the time was music director at Old Saint Joseph’s Parish in Philadelphia.  Gouin has since moved on to be director of music at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

After the composition of the music, Gouin then approached Ciferni to see if he would pen the lyrics, and it came together rather fast, Ciferni said in a USA Today article in December.

“Hymns are like sonnets and haikus — they have a form. We call it a meter,” he added. “So, the meter was 8-7-8-7-8-7. Well, once you know that, you know it has to fit that rhythm. I had pretty clear ideas pretty quickly what I wanted to do.”

The imagery of the hymn includes words that might resonate with the City of Philadelphia: “bell” (think Liberty Bell) and “freedom” (the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia).  Gouin reflected on the composition on the publication’s page.

“For over a month we worked closely together, crafting words and melody. I decided to go with a fairly common meter (8 7 8 7 8 7) that would make the tune easily singable. Fr. Andrew wrote six stanzas, each expressing core characteristics and unique qualities of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, their relationship to one another, and more importantly their role as models of the Church. Words such as “bell,” “freedom,” and “nations” helped reflect the global nature of the event and the historic significance of the venue, and thus, the first line of the hymn emerged: “Sound the bell of holy freedom, call all nations of the earth.”

In the USA Today piece, Ciferni explained how the lyrics came together”:

“The first verse is a kind of call to worship,” he said. “The second verse begins with the family background of Jesus — David. Then, I go into his parents, Joseph and Mary. Then, in the fourth verse, his youth and the fact that he changes water into wine, so marriage. And, then finally, Mary at the cross identifying with grieving mothers throughout the world. And, then the close, it repeats the line, ‘Sound the bell of holy freedom …'”

The hope of the composers is that the hymn will have life beyond this weekend.

The Office for Divine Worship in Philadelphia recommends the hymn for many occasions:

“While it is a long hymn with six verses for this major event, it is also quite usable in our parishes by selecting verses for specific Sundays and Feasts.  Here are a few examples: Sundays of the Christmas Season: verses 1, 2, 3, 6, especially Holy Family Sunday The Baptism of the Lord and first few Sundays in Ordinary time 1, 4, 6 Feasts and Memorials of the Blessed Mother: verses 1, 2, 5, 6 The Feast of St. Joseph:  verses 1, 3, 6  (and other St. Joseph observances) General use:  verses 1, 6, It would also be appropriate for Civic Observances  (Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day)”.

Ciferni also composed additional lyrics to the hymn with the title, “Come to Us, O Holy Spirit”, that may make the hymn appropriate for a Pentecost or Confirmation celebration.

The piece is published through MorningStar Music.  Choral arrangements, congregational cards, instrumental parts, and a full score are available on the MorningStar website.  If you wish to follow along while watching the Mass on television Sunday, the full mass program book (including “Sound the Bell of Holy Freedom”) is posted on the World Meeting of Families website.


  1. I was struck that Gift of Finest Wheat was one of the communion hymns at the closing liturgy. Composed for the 1976 International Eucharistic Congress in Philly, this beautiful hymn has proved its staying power. Simple and elegant, it continues to move me in the same way as when I first heard forty years ago.

    I doubt that will be true of Sound the Bell, which I imagine will quickly be consigned to the dustheap of history

  2. A correction to the penultimate paragraph: The second text in the hymn concertato, “Come to Us, O Holy Spirit,” was written by Anthony Corvaia, who lives in the Philadelphia area. This second text was added to help make such a big setting useful for additional liturgical occasions.

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