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.