A pyx is the sacred vessel that is used for transporting the Most Blessed Sacrament – usually to bring Holy Communion to someone who is sick. The purpose of this post is not to write about Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion or about the specifics of how to bring Holy Communion to the sick. Rather, I would like to talk about some specific problems I have noticed with the pyxes that are commonly available nowadays. The fact is, there are some rather serious problems with most of the pyxes that are available for purchase from most suppliers.
Let’s first consider the purpose of a pyx and draw some logical conclusions from that.
The pyx, as I said, is made to transport the Most Blessed Sacrament. Therefore, it should be made of a dignified material that is befitting of so great a Sacrament. Moreover, since we believe in the Real Presence, the pyx should be made in such a way that it protects the Most Blessed Sacrament to the greatest extent possible from any risk of profanation (loss of particles or other damage). Finally, a good pyx should fulfill its purpose and function in a practical and convenient way.
Now let’s look at some of the most common styles of pyxes available on the market today, in light of the above criteria.
Dignity of Materials
The market is flooded today with cheap pyxes (in price) made of cheap materials (in value and quality). Here is a photo of such a “cheap” pyx:
Here we see a pyx with a strange textured surface (no-slip grip?) that reminds more of an industrial surface than a sacred vessel. The tiny grooves on it will cause oils from the fingers to collect and remain on the surface, eroding the infinitesimally thin gold plating even faster than might normally happen. The low price of such pyxes betrays a cheap base metal and also an extremely thin gold plating that will not hold up very long.
On to exhibit B:
This oddly-shaped vessel may have been originally intended as a pill box. In any case, it was once used as a pyx. And I provide a photo of it here, because it shows another common feature of modern pyxes that one finds in the catalogs: it has a plastic lining. But not only is plastic not a fitting material in which to transport Our Lord, there is also the issue of inability to see any loose particles of the Host against a white background.
Ability to Protect the Sacred Host
Let’s now consider whether these modern, widely-available pyxes are well-suited for transporting the Most Blessed Sacrament in an integral way.
The above photo shows several issues.
The first is the diameter of the pyx. It is just a small amount larger than the diameter of a standard host. The result is: you can’t get your finger in beside it to lift it out. The only way to get the host out, in most cases, is by “dumping” it into one’s hand. The risk here is obvious: loss of particles.
Speaking of particles, you see that there is an odd reinforcing rim on the inside of the cover. It has two small holes, one on each side. Particles could get lodged in there. Then there is the spring assembly (with a push button) to open it. Particles of the host can be lodged in there as well. Along these lines, let’s consider another photo:
Here you see the push button that protrudes through the side of the pyx. There is a sizable gap around it — a gap through which particles could be lost. In other words, even when it’s closed, it’s not fully sealed. Finally, in this regard, I’ve seen some where the lid does not fit very tightly either.
Practical and Convenient Fulfillment of Function
Let’s look at a few final issues. I mentioned above the issue of having to “dump” the host out of some pyxes that are only slightly wider in diameter than the host itself. That’s not a problem with every pyx. Some are wider. But even those sometimes are not ideal:
The above pyx has some of the usual issues: protruding push button (with gap around it allowing “leakage” of particles), internal spring assembly in which particles can get trapped also. That said, it does not have the weird rim around the inside of the cover, and the cover has a pretty decent fitted rim on it that will close fairly tightly. The pyx is also of a wider diameter.
But even here there is a practical issue: the flat bottom. When a flat host is on a flat surface it’s hard to remove it. A traditional pyx, ideally designed, has a convex bottom — a sort of “bump” in the center of the bottom — so that the host can easily be tipped and then grasped with the fingers, without having to tip or “dump” the pyx itself.
Here is an example of a better design in this regard:
The contours of the bottom part make it easier to tip a host and grasp it without possibility of losing particles in one’s hand or even, God forbid, on the floor.
You see that the above pyx also does not have any sort of spring operated button thing to open it: there is just two little knobs or tabs on the outside, one on the top and one on the bottom. The cover fits very tightly over the lower portion, and it is opened by gently pulling the knobs or tabs apart from each other. No openings through which particles could be lost, no springs for them to get caught in, no weird interior rims with holes in them either.
Finally, the above pyx, even though it is a more inexpensive model and is made of brass (instead of, say, sterling silver), yet has a heavy amount of gold plating on it that will stand up to repeated use. It also has a dignified and traditional design stamped in the cover, not some sort of mass-produced appliqué that is attached via rivets (as in the first one above). No cheap plastic linings either. It’s functional, well-designed, easy to purify, and well-suited for transporting the Blessed Sacrament without worry.
Since the pyx is a sacred vessel that comes in contact with the Most Blessed Sacrament, it is always ideal if it is made of even nobler materials. Traditionally, this means sterling silver which is gold plated. Here is an example of a sterling silver pyx:
It’s hard to see the silver hallmark in this photo, but it’s there just under the rim to the right of the little loop that can be used to open it on the bottom half. You see that this pyx has a “bump” in the bottom that makes it easier to remove the host. No weird lining. No springs or holes. Easy to purify. Easy to use.
Sterling silver pyxes are unfortunately difficult to get nowadays. Few companies make them, and those that do charge a hefty price. However, considering the pyx’s purpose, paying such a price may well be worth it.
Even some of the more expensive pyxes in catalogs nowadays include some of the defects and design flaws that I have identified above. In the United States, it can be very difficult to find an appropriate pyx among the options that are widely available. If any priest or seminarian would like to know where a proper pyx can be bought, I’d be happy to help (use contact page). A pyx is a sacred vessel which should be properly blessed, properly used, and properly purified. Priests (and bishops) have a responsibility to ensure that those who might be entrusted with a pyx know how to use it and are properly deputed to do so.
I’m not sure how to get the attention of manufacturers and encourage them to produce dignified and properly-designed pyxes. But hopefully this post, in some small way, will help at least in increasing respect for the Most Blessed Sacrament.
O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!