A Little Bit on Eucharistic Reservation

The reservation of the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist stems from the need to make the sacred species available to those who (due to illness, imprisonment or other just cause) cannot be present at the Sunday liturgy. Documentary evidence for extending communion to the sick and imprisoned, and the related development of reserving the sacrament, can be found in bits and pieces in the First Apology of Justin Martyr, the document sometimes attributed to Hippolytus of Rome and known as the Apostolic Tradition, and the letter of Innocent I to Decentius of Gubbio.

In the aftermath of the Reformation, the practice nearly disappeared among the Christians collectively termed “Protestant.” Generally speaking, the Reformers favored the weekly celebration of Holy Communion, but only if there were communicants to receive the sacrament. But where (lay) communicants were unwilling to let go of the medieval custom of annual confession and communion, such regular celebration of the Eucharist fell by the wayside — and with it, reservation of the Blessed Sacrament. When communion was to be extended to the sick or imprisoned, then, either it would be taken directly from the (often quarterly or monthly) Eucharistic liturgy or (more frequently) simply celebrated with the sick or imprisoned person or persons at the time of the ordained minister’s pastoral visitation.

In some places, a similar arrangement continues to this day. But among many (though not all) Anglicans and a growing number of Lutherans, Eucharistic reservation for the sick and others who are absent from the liturgy is coming back into favor.

This all-too-brief historical survey is meant to call our readers’ attention to a post on Daniel Mitsui’s blog The Lion and the Cardinal with some fascinating images of Eucharistic Doves — hanging dove-shaped pyxes for reserving the Sacrament.

I am personally taken with the hanging pyx, in part because it was seen by some Anglo-Catholics in the late 19th/early 20th centuries as a viable pre-Reformation “English” alternative to the Baroque tabernacles that were springing up in Anglican Churches that had gone off the Anglo-Roman deep-end (though there was nothing particularly “English” about the hanging pyx, it seems to have been the practice in the Sarum Use right up to the beginning of the English Reform). I also think it might be a viable and appropriate means of resolving some of the issues that crop up whenever the question of where and how to reserve the Sacrament is raised today.

If nothing else, enjoy the pyx… er, uh, uhm… I mean, pics.

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3 comments

  1. I’ve been wondering why there are no comments yet and really was wondering just where do you put in or retrieve the Consecrated Host from one of these doves. I was pleasantly pleased that it is from the dove’s back, although the one with the “ahead of its time” nose ring, (beak ring) I’m not sure where the opening is on that one. It might appear to the laity to be like a “piggy bank” or should I say, a “pigeon bank?” I think I’ll stick with our Baroque tabernacle, because it isn’t broke. And of course you know what they say, if it is Baroque, why fix it? 🙂

  2. Yes I think for some churches which have a tabernacle behind the main altar, and therefore to the back of the priest during Mass, it could be helpful.

    In one local church with such an arrangement, there is an area behind the tabernacle that originally was designed for a choir but now is used for votive lights.

    A hanging pyx could be raised in such a way that it would not be visible to the priest or congregation during Mass but would still be visible to anyone in the votive lights area.

    In general most of the solutions to Eucharistic reservation, whether in the main church or a side chapel are often inadequate and in some cases really weird..

    In regard to the design of the pyx I would suggest a bowl design somewhat like a ciborium suggestive of a dove. The base could have engraved or foot like designs. It could have two handles suggestive of a beak and tail feathers. The top could have either engraved or raised wing designs. The dove ciborium might help people more easily identify the purpose of the pyx.

    My willingness to consider this possibility is probably influenced by the large ornate votive lamp that hung from the ceiling of the sanctuary of the church of my youth. It was very, very impressive. So I can image a similarly impressive hanging pyx.

  3. There is something charmingly whimsical about having a bird-shaped container for the reserved sacrament, yet these pyxes are extremely dignified and beautiful—much as the mosaic sheep in Ravenna are (which is high praise in my book). I know they are meant to suggest the Holy Spirit, but they are also way-cool birds. A side-effect of incarnational imagery, I suppose. It says something splendid about the created world. You can’t possibly see these birds and doubt that such creatures praise God by their very being! Thank you for the pictures, Cody.

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