In this post, we wish briefly to trace the manner of reserving the Blessed Sacrament in the Western Church.
|A Eucharistic pyx made in Limoges France|
first half of the 13th century.
This pyx was designed to be suspended above an altar.
In the Collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
As to the manner and place of Reservation during the early centuries there was no great uniformity of practice.
In the early mediaeval period, caskets in the form of a dove or of a small tower made for the most part of one of the precious metals, were commonly used for the purpose, but whether in this period these Eucharistic vessels were kept over the altar, or elsewhere in the church or in the sacristy is not clear. But after the tenth century the most common usage in England and France seems to have been to suspend the Blessed Sacrament in a pyx or dove-shaped vessel over the High Altar. Nevertheless, fixed and locked aumbries were also found.
Germany and the Low Countries developed the Sacrament House, an elaborate structure of stone and metalwork, usually standing a short distance away from the altar on the northern or Gospel side of the sanctuary.
A cupboard or Aumbry in the wall of the sanctuary was customary in parts of Italy, Portugal, Sweden, Scotland and elsewhere. They were most frequently enriched with stonework and polychrome work.
The reforms following the Council of Trent (1545 - 1563) prescribed a Tabernacle fixed to the centre of the altar. But earlier usages were not formally forbidden. Furthermore, specific Chapels for the reservation of the Blessed Eucharist were arranged in Cathedrals and Greater Churches, separate from the Sanctuary. After Trent, the tabernacle became the usual mode of reservation in all Catholic churches, although there were exceptions in Germany and Belgium, where the old sacrament houses were permitted to be used.
Further posts in this series will discuss each of these methods of Eucharistic Reservation. For this post, we have adapted essays in the Catholic Encyclopaedia (1911) by Father Herbert Thurston and in the Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (1972) by Archdale A King.