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A communion pyx is a little sacred box used to carry the consecrated communion host away from a church to someone sick or bedridden, unable to go to church to attend communion. This is a highly specialized object with exact specifications. The pyx is carried inside a burse or bag especially for that purpose. This burse has drawstrings and hangs around the neck of the priest so it doesn’t get lots. Pyxes are beautifully crafted little round metal boxes with different Catholic symbols on the top including Celtic crosses, Jerusalem crosses, chalice with cross, Chi-ro symbol, INRI cross, wheat and grapes, doves and many more.
The word pyx comes from the Greek word pyxis which mean box-wood receptacle made from the box-wood tree. It is usually small and flat like a pocket watch and made of brass, pewter, silver or other metals and should be gold plated inside. A communion pyx was traditionally two glass discs held together with gold bands to make a small, flat box for the Eucharistic Host. In the middle ages pyxes were made of ivory. When pyxes were not available to take the Viaticum to the infirm, it was wrapped in the priest’s personal cloth and put in a sack and hung around his neck or even placed in the pages of a breviary. Even though this was practiced, it was not condoned by the Church.
Today a communion pyx is still a small round case but it is made from several metals usually gold plated inside and can hold several communion hosts, sometimes 12 to 15. This is for the priest who needs to go to a hospital or retirement home and give communion to many people. If a pyx has not been used to take communion to people outside the church, it can be used as a rosary box. It is much smaller than the usual rosary case but is also much more beautiful.
Some ancient pyxes are for sale online in auctions and from estate sales. Some are made form sterling silver and marked with the year and manufacturer.There is one French made silver communion pyx. It is heavier than American or English pyx because of much heavier grade silver. It is a Roman Catholic pyx not made for export because it does not have an export stamp. There are 100 year old pyxes given by wealthy families to the priest because they could afford a private ceremony at home. They are rare now because most of them were melted down long ago.
The communion pyx is a very specialized article and yet it comes is a huge variety of styles. They are all thin, round boxes with spring clasps and string bags for carrying, but with that as the basic design, there are many different varieties. The designs on the lid are infinite even if they are all Catholic symbols. The treatment of the different crosses; Latin, Celtic, trefoil, chalice and cross, chi-ro, Jerusalem, as well as crucifixes and tiny enamel paintings, make these some of the most exquisite objects.
This article was published on Saturday 09 January, 2010.