Hanging Pyx Revisited

Until now, I was unaware of an article on the subject of the hanging pyx, nearly two years old, but which very kindly mentions my humble chapel in France – The Hanging Pyx – a part of the Anglican patrimony. There are a few of them outside England, but I don’t know of any of them being used. After all, opening and locking a tabernacle door is easier than hauling a pyx up and down like rigging on a boat!

I wrote an article about my own hanging pyx and how I made it. They are not found in shops, so you have to adapt something that exists (perhaps a lantern) or make it yourself.

Certainly, it is not very practical if you give Communion to the faithful from the tabernacle. I prefer to give people Communion with hosts consecrated at the Mass. I never have many faithful, so that is very easy for me. The hanging pyx is more of a way of honouring the Blessed Sacrament by “heaving it high”and it being the centre of attention above the altar. It also clears precious space on the altar.

It also represents something of the “northern” tradition as found in England and many other places in Europe until the eve of the Council of Trent.

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8 Responses to Hanging Pyx Revisited

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    In the December 1939 issue of Theology, Charles Williams’s poem, ‘Divites Dimisit’, was published, in fact a part of his retelling on the Arthurian story with the Grail Quest central. It was written by 17 October, and bore a dedication to his wife: “For Michal, in memory of the darkness, 1914-17” – among other things, in the early days of the Second World War, recalling the First, by way of references to “the grand tribes” crossing Rhine, Vistula, and Danube, invadiing the Empire. In it, “Early on a feast of Christmas the young Pope / Deodatus knelt in Lateran […]. / Before and above him a glass reliquary held / the Holy Blood, crimson […].” When this was revised and expanded into ‘The Prayers of the Pope’, in the last Arthurian volume he lived to publish, The Region of the Summer Stars (1944), these lines became: “Early on the feast of Christmas the young Pope / knelt in Lateran – Deodatus […]. / Over the altar a reliquary of glass held / an intinctured Body […].”

    In June 1939, Williams, considering plans for future poems in a letter had included one about “The Pope and Arthur. […] In Vatican and a reliquary beyond, hung in an open oratory, + containing the Sacramental Blood. (Did they ever reserve the Blood?)” There is a lively discussion as to the contours of Williams’s uses of anachronism in this retelling (which includes the Moslem conquest of Spain, raising the question whether this is meant to be Pope Deodatus II, placed a bit later than his actual pontificate).

    Could you, by any chance, shed light on how anachronistic this poem might be with respect to the “reliquary”, which he first decided indeed to have containing reserved “Blood”, and then, “an intinctured Body”, and which would seem to be made of a glass allowing its contents to be seen, and which also seems to resemble a hanging pyx?

  2. ed pacht says:

    Anachronism is surely not out of place in the Arthurian corpus. The legends as developed seem to contain nothing else but.

    I can’t put my finger on sources, but I have a hazy memory of early church references to home reception of the Body and Blood, and to the bearing of both species by the deacons to the sick. I wish I could pinpoint those. One thing is clear, though: to this day the Eastern churches do reserve both kinds (in intincted form), something I can’t but expect Williams to have known well. Does his revision mentioning an ‘intincted Body’ perhaps reflect a refreshed awareness of that fact? Might this have been a factor in the Western Church also, in earlier periods prior to the withholding of the Cup from the laity?

  3. Jacob Flournoy says:

    Here is a link to an interesting article and video on the preparation of the Eucharist for reservation in the Byzantine Rite.

  4. William Tighe says:

    Gregory Dix’s A Detection of Aumbries (1942), although ignored by many because of its central mistake concerning the respective origins of the aumbry and the tabernacle, has lots of useful and good information about the history of eucharistic reservation (as well as on the hanging pyx), all presented in Dix’s characteristic arch and witty way. IIRC, two of its striking “findings” are (1) the constant and perduring opposition of the Latin West (and the papacy), at least until the 20th Century, to reception of communion by intinction (insisting that the two species must be rec’d separately), and (2) the rarity of the practice, in the West, of reserving the Precious Blood (either separately in a container, or a a small droplet on reserved hosts), and the constant discouragement of the practice by the ecclesiastical authorities (including the papacy). Cf.:



  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Many thanks to each and all!

    It is too long since I read A Detection of Aumbries: none of these details had remained in my memory (however much I still have a sense of having enjoyed reading it)!

    Williams imagines his Pope Deodatus (whether intended to be Deodatus II or not) as “Egyptian-born” – whether this in turn is meant to have any liturgical overtones, I do not know. (In the last poem of the preceding volume, ‘Taliessin at Lancelot’s Mass’, there is specific reference to “the Byzantine ritual, the Epiclesis”: “the glorious Epiclesis” is also a feature of the earlier poem, ‘Taliessin’s Song of Lancelot’s Mass’, which it replaces.)

    • William Tighe says:

      “It is too long since I read *A Detection of Aumbries*: none of these details had remained in my memory (however much I still have a sense of having enjoyed reading it)!”

      It is probably Dix’s wittiest book – although some four or five of the many articles which he published in *Laudate* (the quarterly publication of the Benedictines of Nashdom Abbey) in the 1930s are more sharply “witty” still. Eric Mascall once wrote (IIRC in his memoirs, *Saraband*) that Dix’s two-part demolition in Laudate of *Northern Catholicism: Studies in the Oxford Centenary and Parallel Movements* ed. N. P. Williams (1933) was the most satirical and effective thing he had ever read (“Nordic Spirituality,” September 1933, and “Northern Catholicism,” December 1933).

      I keep photocopies of these articles in my “archive;” and I may, some years ago, have sent copies to Fr. Chadwick.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        If the opportunity arose, I’d happily try any and everything of Dix’s available: maybe when he comes out of copyright in eight years lots well be scanned and available at Internet Archive or elsewhere (dum spiro, spero). There does not seem to be much of Noman Powell Williams online (yet?) since he entered the public domain last year – and I suppose Northern Catholicism may include contributions by some who lived long after 1933… Would Dix’s review make sufficient sense without knowing the work reviewed?

        Perhaps someone, somewhere could usefully post a list of which works, say, Stephen Neill includes in the Bibliography and footnotes of Anglicanism are now available online.

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