Q: When is the appropriate time to toll a bell for a funeral held at the church – just before the funeral starts or as the casket is removed from the church?
A: I can’t believe I left this out of my book Light in the Darkness, but it’s hard to think of everything.
You can make a case for it either way. I did remember in my book Let Us Pray that the Book of Blessings assumes that external bells are used to summon people to worship (1305, 1312, 1319). It would therefore be appropriate to let the tolling of a bell summon people gathering for the funeral.
Many bells are fashioned with two ropes: one that swings the bell, and another that swings the clapper. Usually the ringer swings the bell to create the joyful sound, but a more muted sound happens by pulling the clapper. Because this is a call to worship, the toll effected by pulling the clapper is appropriate for a funeral.
However, there’s nothing wrong with tolling at the end. It can act as a kind of instrumental postlude to prepare the mourners for the next station at the cemetery.