The St. Martha’s Guild is on a mission to resurrect a newly discovered, small, but beautiful, corner of Catholicism.
Please, please help us Restore the Sacred with the return of the finely crafted Pyx Burse.
The first pyx burse that we saw was in one of the fun mystery boxes that randomly show up on our sewing table.
It was a fancy little leather case, with embroidered pockets, and a cord to hang it around someone’s neck.
There was even a new-in-box version with crisp never-used, slightly yellowed, linens which, delightfully, were hemstitched.
Having never seen one of these, we had to ask one of the guys to explain to us what this case was for. Technically, it is a traveling tabernacle used to carry a pyx containing the Blessed Sacrament to those who cannot make it to Mass.
The pyx burses at St. John Cantius regularly carry the Blessed Sacrament to hospitals, shut-ins, and prisons. They become part of those sacramental encounters. In some cases the receivers of the Eucharist have just reconciled with the church. They are partaking of the Body of Christ at a spiritually intense moment. It would be good if the accoutrements of this event had at least a little dignity.
However, somewhere along the way things went off the rails, and suppliers downgraded this wonderful item to something that I would classify as truly embarrassing. That tasty number on the upper left is currently on sale for $1.95. For heaven's sake, our bottom-of-the-line rosary pouches are nicer than these. They look like cheap shaving kits; Velcro, plastic, and some elastic to strap Jesus in. How did we come to this? There is nothing tabernacle-y about them. On one level, these aren't terrible, unless you've seen what they used to be. Then they're terrible.
After we discovered the current “fashion trend”, we went rummaging for more examples of vintage/antique pyx burses, just to see what was out there.
Yes, those lovely stitching nuns, in typical fashion, had a go at the pyx burse corner of our faith. I do apologize for the low resolution of these images, but this is all that is available online. Even fuzzy and pixelated you can tell that these beauties were glorious.
The variety is pretty fun!
This is my favorite, and the inspiration for the design that we developed.
My first encounter with a pyx burse in action was during the early part of COVID. Our good Fathers decided that, since we weren’t allowed to come to Mass, they would bring the Eucharist to us at home. When I opened the door, Father was standing there in the pouring rain with the Eucharist inside his pyx burse which he had tucked inside his cassock so that it could be held out of the rain and reverently over his heart while in transit. It’s kind of difficult to explain exactly how this was so moving for me. It reminded me of the way a mother carefully cradles her sleeping newborn infant, so attentive and in love with such a precious cargo.
The old practice of sending a couple of servers along with torch and bell to light and sound the presence of the Almighty was such a perfect thing. Wouldn't it be cool to bring that back? I also love the description of the hospital hallway, where nurses stopped what they were doing and went down on their knees when the priest walked by on his way to take the Eucharist to a hospitalized parishioner; no doubt, in a really fancy pyx burse.
We liked the idea of a leather case. How about tooled leather? How hard can that be? YouTube made that look easy enough, We went to Tandy Leather to get some vegetable tanned leather, hammers, stamping tools, dye, snaps and the rest of a basic starter kit. We got the teenage boys from the parish to have a go at it. We made them move their hammering to the other end of the building. They hammered out beautiful work.
This is Fr. D's tooled leather Pyx Burse. His case is closed on the sides and lined with white deerskin with a small IHS embroidered in gold. It looks like it has seen some action.
We settled on this version, with an IHS on one side and a small cross on the snap side.
Then the inside had to be figured out. The lining of a pyx burse usually contains two pockets, one that has a gusset of some sort to hold the pyx, the other is flatter and holds the small corporal and finger towel.
A few examples had flaps that folded over the pyx pocket to act as a sort of veil over the Blessed Sacrament, and to protect against the pyx possibly slipping out. We really liked that feature.
We added Alpha Omega tooling to those. They could also be embroidered on the inside of the flaps.
Our favorite vintage version had a tassel on the cord. It reminded us of the tassels that hang down the back of our highest ranking altar servers who are outfitted with two red ones. We thought it would help denote the presence of Our Lord for someone approaching the priest from behind, and, well, it also looks really classy.
We may have gone just a little tassel crazy, but we happened to have a large spool of black silk thread, and it happened to have come from a tassel factory, no less. Tassel making just sort of happened naturally.
Ideally the pyx burse would be made as the good sisters made them, hand sewn and embroidered with many prayers offered up for the priest who would use it and for all of the people who would receive Our Lord from this burse.
And, that is where you all come in. Please help us make more of these. They preach about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
With that in mind we have written out instructions and made a pattern with the hopes that others will begin to make these. Please don't sell the pattern, it should be free, but we hope that you will make burses for the priests and deacons in your life. We also encourage you to make them and sell them. We just need to get them out there.
Pattern making is rather new to us, so, please send us a note if you find that the instructions are unclear or if more illustrations are needed to explain some part of the process. Ditto if you get stuck on part of it and have questions.
This is definitely the most fiddly item we’ve made, and it is not for the faint of heart, but, after looking through the samples on our Pinterest board, you will see that there are many adaptations that you can incorporate to make this less involved.