I have already today brought the subject of the hanging pyx as a method for reserving the Blessed Sacrament. A kind correspondent has given me these photos of the suspended dove above the High Altar in the Cathedral of St Bertrand de Comminges. St Bertrand de Comminges was a diocese before the 1801 Pius VII-Napoleon Concordat, located in the Pyrenees, near Lourdes. This Cathedral contains Renaissance furnishings (choir stalls and organ case) and a 17th high altar and reredos. There is another hanging dove pyx in Amiens Cathedral.
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We see a tabernacle on the altar, probably installed when it was decided to stop using the hanging pyx.
We thus see that this was not a peculiarly English way of reserving the Blessed Sacrament, and that it has been in use since the Council of Trent, as before that Council, in many European countries. It is still used at the Cistercian Abbey of Hauterive, near Fribourg in Switzerland. The Germans tend to use a Sakramentshaus, an ornate free-standing structure on the Gospel side of the sanctuary. When the hanging pyx is used in a public church and there is a concern for the safety of the Blessed Sacrament, it suffices to lock the winch used to raise and lower the pyx on a chain or cord.
The tabernacle as used in most churches is practical and easily accessible, but frequently of questionable aestheticism. It came mainly from the practice of Communion outside Mass and communicating the people at Mass with hosts consecrated at another Mass. Communicating the people with hosts consecrated at the Mass during which they are to communicate is better in symbolic terms, and alleviates the need for a large tabernacle. A hanging pyx can contain the host for Benediction and a small ciborium with just enough hosts for anticipated sick visits. The Holy Reserve remains visibly associated with the altar as with the use of a central tabernacle.
Here is the hanging pyx in my own chapel. The pyx on a short length of chain is tied using a bowline to a length of cord acting like the halyard of a sailing boat. The cord passes through two pulleys and is secured on a cleat attached to the wall above the credence table – very naval!
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