The Holy Grail of Pope Francis: Our Lady of Lujan and Undoer of Knots

An Argentinian silversmith, Juan Carlos Pallarols, is handcrafting a simple silver chalice for Pope Francis, which will be embossed with two images of the Blessed Mother:  Our Lady of Lujan, an Argentinian image of the Immaculate Conception, associated with a 17th century miracle, and Our Lady Undoer of Knots, a German devotion which Cardinal Bergoglio brought to Argentina in the 1980’s and has since promoted there.  The same silversmith collaborated with Cardinal Bergoglio in designing another chalice, embossed with the image of Our Lady Undoer of Knots, which the Cardinal presented to Pope Benedict shortly after he ascended to the Chair of St. Peter.

It is quite interesting that that this Argentinian pope should have a personal attraction to the German devotion.  It provides a kind of link between the two successors of St. Peter, of which there are others. Continue reading

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The Holy Grail on Standing Fast

Templar Secrets, Part 3:  The Holy Grail

Posted on AirMaria and found on this blog in the sidebar.

For the introduction, in case you missed it, you will also find it in the side bar, or follow this link.

Next Episode of Standing Fast

Templar Secrets, Part 2:  The Two Swords

Posted on AirMaria and found on this blog in the sidebar.

For the introduction, in case you missed it, you will also find it in the side bar, or follow this link.

Second Templar Secrets Video: Standing Fast

Part 1:  The Temple of the Order

Posted on AirMaria and found on this blog in the sidebar.

For the introduction, in case you missed it, you will also find it in the side bar, or follow this link.

Templar Secrets Video Series on Standing Fast

My introductory video is up on AirMaria as promised.  It also appears here on MaryVictrix in the side bar.  Look for the next episodes over the next few weeks.

Mystagogia

In my last post I promised more on the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Grail and their relation to an Easter catechesis and the tradition of chivalry. There is much there to reflect on, much to be researched and assimilated, so it will take at bit more time.

Meanwhile, however, I thought I would point out that in the Office of Readings this week we have been reading from the the Jerusalem Catechesis, or otherwise known as the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (+386).  The Catechesis consists in twenty-three lectures, the first eighteen of which were delivered to the candidates for baptism during Lent and the last five to the newly baptized during Easter, and is an excellent example of the mystogogia. In fact, at the end of the prologue for Lectures St. Cyril makes sure his readers understand that his instructions are only for those whose Baptism is imminent, and is to be seen neither by the other catechumens nor heathens.

St. Cyril admonishes the candidates for Baptism to shun all “secret hypocrisy,” in order to be fit for the Lord’s true service.   He compares the penetration of our souls by the judgment of God to a military review of recruits by one who levies for war.  He bestows his seal only upon those in whom He discerns a good conscience, in view of which the devils tremble and the holy angels recognize.  St. Cyril says:  “You are receiving not a perishable but a spiritual shield. Henceforth you are planted in the invisible Paradise . . .  it is God’s to grant grace, but yours to receive and guard it. Despise not the grace because it is freely given, but receive and treasure it devoutly” (Lecture 1, 3-4).  This is even before Baptism, hence prior to the mystagogia, but the saint is already admonishing the new recruits to be prepared for war and especially to to protect the paradise of their own souls.

During the mystogogia proper, when St. Cyril discusses the doctrine of the Eucharist:

Consider therefore the Bread and the Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for even though sense suggests this to you, yet let faith establish you. Judge not the matter from the taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that the Body and Blood of Christ have been vouchsafed to you (Lecture 22, 6).

But he goes beyond the content of the doctrine and emphasizes to the newly baptized that the Eucharist has been prepared for those who have been anointed by the Lord, and thus they have been sealed against the afflictions of the evil spirits.  The Lord has set a “mystical and spiritual Table,” in opposition to table of corruption set against us by the enemy. Our hearts have been strengthened, he say,s and the “face of our souls” made to shine.

And your cup intoxicates me, as very strong. You see that cup here spoken of, which Jesus took in His hands, and gave thanks, and said, This is My blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Lecture 22, 6-7, 9).

This is the Holy Grail that we seek.  At the beginning of the mystogogia proper, St. Cyril speaks of the relation between the catechesis prior to baptism and that that is about to take place:

And these things were done in the outer chamber. But if God will, when in the succeeding lectures on the Mysteries we have entered into the Holy of Holies , we shall there know the symbolic meaning of the things which are there performed. Now to God the Father, with the Son and the Holy Ghost, be glory, and power, and majesty, forever and ever. Amen (Lecture 19, 11).

We are not only searching, but we have already arrived.  We are in an in-between time, indeed.

The Easter octave is about to come to a close with the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday.  At that Mass we will pray:

O Lord our God, may we be healed now and forever by these sacred rites which You instituted to protect us in our new life of grace.

We have entered into the Holy of Holies, and that sanctuary is the Heart of Christ, whose mercy and grace is poured out as blood and water from His side.  We are healed and protected in Him, and in the Heart of His Holy Mother.  The true knighthood of Christ is the protection of these mysteries, first of all within our own Hearts.  That ultimately is the meaning of the crusade for the Holy Sepulcher and the Quest for the Holy Grail.  More on this next time.

The Discipline of the Secret

In my post for Holy Thursday, I mentioned the mystogia, the Easter catechesis in the early Church that was given to the newly baptized in order to deepen their understanding of the faith, especially regarding those central mysteries celebrated in the liturgical events of the Paschal Triduum.  In this post, I am offering my own little Easter mystogia in relation to the values of Marian Chivalry.  At the center of this paschal enlightenment are the two principle Christian relics that became the focus of chivalrous ideals, the Holy Grail and the Holy Sepulcher.

The mystogia was particularly necessary because of a custom practiced from the earliest times of the Church called the disciplina arcani, “the discipline of the secret,” whereby the most profound mysteries of the faith were kept hidden from heathens and from even the catechumens preparing for baptism.  The special—but not only—object of this discipline was the Eucharistic Sacrifice and Sacrament.

Gatekeepers

Hence, one of the minor orders of the Church—in fact, the lowest—in preparation for diaconate and the priesthood was Ostiarius or “Porter.”  In the Roman rite, the Porter was the gatekeeper who locked and unlocked the church, and who made sure that no unbaptized person was present for the “Mass for the Faithful,” or what is referred to in the Novus Ordo as the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Catechumens were permitted to be present for the “Mass of the Catechumens” (Liturgy of the Word), but then were escorted out of the Church by the Porter at the beginning of the offertory.  The catechumens’ first experience of “The Mystery of Faith,” celebrated at the altar, was immediately after their baptism, when they were escorted into the Church in their white garments.  The first time the newly baptized received the Eucharist, they had just moments before become aware of the full truth of the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.

Reverence Inside and Out

St. Basil compared the discipline of the secret to the way in which Moses, by God’s command, reserved certain parts of the tabernacle by putting in place “sacred barriers.”  He wrote that “the awful dignity of the mysteries is best preserved by silence.”  And “Moses was wise enough to know that contempt stretches to the trite and to the obvious, while a keen interest is naturally associated with the unusual and the unfamiliar” (On the Holy Spirit, 27).

Imagine the joy of the newly baptized who were privileged to know the sacred mysteries and their exultation at being able to participate in so awesome a mystery while being introduced more fully by the post-baptismal catechesis into the truths of our faith.  Think also of how fearful the mysterious must have seemed, in terms of inspiring awe, reverence and gratitude.  What a tremendous grace was contained in the revelation of the mysteries and how beautifully was both the superabundance of God’s grace communicated while the dignity of the mysteries preserved and augmented.

As more and more it became necessary to defend the faith against heretics, apologetical tracts of the Fathers protected less and less of the secret, until the discipline was entirely abandoned.  One might also understand that in the face of Gnosticism and many other Christian heresies that secret keeping could lend itself to the privileging of a few to the detriment of the universality of the Church.   After all, the lure of secret keeping has been to form exclusive societies in which the initiated can pride themselves on being enlightened and being in control of the unenlightened.

Even so, we may regret, at least theoretically, the complete loss of the discipline of the secret, especially today when the introduction of the mundane and even the profane into the precincts of our sanctuaries have stripped the faithful of a sense of the sacred and mysterious.  The tragic consequence of this has been the systematic cultivation of irreverence.

Revealing What Is Hidden

But the discipline of the secret is built into the sacred mysteries we celebrate during Easter.  Our Lord celebrated the first Mass in the upper room into which he ensconced the apostles for the preservation of the mysteries of Holy Thursday.  Into that enclosed space they would return, as a huddled and fearful band, after the events of Good Friday, and into that enclosed and locked space Our Lord would reenter in order to reveal to them that which he did not reveal to all.  As St. Peter said of himself and his companions, the Lord manifested Himself not to all the people, but to witnesses preordained by God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him, after he arose again from the dead (Acts 10:41).

Our Lord also initially hid Himself from His inner circle, as He did to St. Mary Magdalen at the Holy Sepulcher, to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and to Peter and his companions at the Lake of Galilee.  Certainly this deprivation of their ability to recognize Him was symbolic of their own lack of faith and of the power of the Resurrection to break down that barrier against faith. They knew him in the breaking of bread (Lk 24:35).  But may we not also reflect that the revelation of what was hidden underscores the mysterious content of the faith and the mystical or dark way in which the activity of God touches our soul?

St. Bonaventure says that we must enter the tomb with Jesus—into another enclosed space—and there we must die and experience the suspension of our senses.  He is not necessarily referring to ecstasy, but what belongs more fundamentally to the mystical life, namely, a new way of thinking that is not dependent on what we see, but on what the Lord tells us.  Of course, first of all that means what the Church teaches, but it also must mean the manner in which we assimilate it through our own efforts to surrender in faith in the silence of prayer.

Making the Hidden Grow

The Easter proclamation is the so-called kerygma, that kernal of truth at the heart of evangelization, and it must be broadcast to the four corners of the globe.  That which I tell you in the dark, speak ye in the light: and that which you hear in the ear, preach ye upon the housetops (Mt 10:27).  That proclamation is this: “The night will be as clear as day:
 it will become my light, my joy” (Easter Praeconium).  But each person it touches by way of the hidden workings of God:  So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the earth, and should sleep, and rise, night and day, and the seed should spring, and grow up whilst he knoweth not (MK 4:26-27).

In inner revelation of the Holy Sepulcher and the Holy Grail, has nothing to do with esoteric knowledge entrusted to a secret society or any other species of Gnostic, though these heretics have gotten lost along the way of a real quest for a real treasure.  Indeed, all along, it was quite literally under their noses: For lo, the kingdom of God is within (Lk 17:21).

Today we sell our secrets for a bowl of porridge and repackage old and used rags and peddle them as lost and hidden treasures.  Just call the most meager and pathetic truism a secret, such as the power of positive thinking, and then absolutize it with false promises and you can make millions of dollars on the same old stale snake oil.  Or take a real secret, such as the secret of our personhood, that leads us to veil our sexual values, and call it prudery and the snake oil business is booming once again.

Modesty, reverence and the guarding of the heart, are perhaps the most precious jewels to be cultivated by the truly honorable and courteous heart.  It is for these values that true prowess is willing to suffer and die.  The enclosed spaces of the Tomb and Chalice, like the Womb and Heart of Our Lady, are the places where Thy Mystery of Faith is celebrated and where the revelation takes place.

I will have more to say about the Holy Sepulcher and Holy Grail in my next Easter post.

The Mystery of Faith

The following reflection was written on Holy Thursday, but concerns the whole Easter Triduum and Easter Itself.

This evening we have begun the Sacred Paschal Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which commemorates the institution of the Sacraments of Holy Orders and of the Eucharist.  From here we will pass to the historical enactment of Our Lord’s great sacrfice and then on to His glorious victory over death.  This will be my one Easter reflection for this blog and I will not return here until after the Easter Peace has concluded.

In actuality, the different moments of the Easter Triduum are most properly conflated under the title of Easter, since each of them is rightly qualified by the word paschal. Easter is our pasch, our passover, by which we pass from death to life in the crucified and victorious Savior.  For Christ our pasch is sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7).  In fact, it is almost a truism to say that the death of the Lord makes no sense without the resurrection and vice-versa.  But it is also true to say that from the Lord’s own institution, we were never called to consider either His death or resurrection apart from the Eucharist.

The Hour of Christ

It was for these moments, or for this hour that He came (Jn 12:27).  Everything, aside from the sin of his betrayers and murderers (among whom we are included), was executed according to his will and predetermined plan.  His saving deeds have become the culminating moments of salvation history, but we do not merely remember them as belonging to the past, nor do we simply comprehend them in view of the transformation we all anticipate.  As Cardinal Ratzinger has written, our liturgical participation belongs to a kind of middle moment, a “between-time” in which the institutional past is brought into the liturgical present and beyond by our carrying out the command he gave to His apostles at the last supper: This do for the commemoration of me (1 Cor. 11:24).  The middle moment consists in the fact that our commemoration (a remembrance that is more than a memory) of the Lord’s saving mysteries looks forward to and effects our own transformation in grace, which is to be perfected in our own resurrection for which we are being prepared now by His Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist.

The three moments of the Triduum then—Eucharist, Passion and Death, Resurrection—are ordered to one another in such a way, that it is only in this liturgical life that Christ’s design for our salvation is fully realized.  That the Paschal Triduum is the zenith of liturgical life only serves to underscore this truth.

A True Sacrifice

The Council of Trent taught that the Mass is “a true sacrifice and proper sacrifice,” and not a “bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross,” but rather “a propitiatory sacrifice” (Session 22, cc. 1, 3).  The difference between the sacrifice as it is offered on Holy Thursday and on Good Friday is the mode.  On Holy Thursday at the Last Supper, Christ is immolated mystically in an “unbloody” manner, and on Good Friday, he is immolated historically and physically in a “bloody” manner upon the Cross.  Our Lord institutes the Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as well as the Sacrament of Holy Orders the night before He died, because His explicit intention was to make all of us real and immediate participants in this One Sacrifice.  Cardinal Ratzinger writes that in this way Our Lord made the semel (once for all) of His sacrifice semper (always) of liturgical life.

The difference between the first Mass celebrated by Our Lord Himself on the night before He died and those that take place after His resurrection through the ministry of His priests is the state of His humanity in respect to its glorification.  On the night before He died, Our Lord’s Body in the consecrated host was not yet crucified and glorified, whereas after, and until the end of time, our Victim on the altar is not only the Savior on the Cross, but also the Victor who has come forth from the tomb and sits at the right hand of His Father, glorified in heaven.

The Mystery of Faith

The Church teaches that the Eucharist is The Mystery of Faith.  This notion comes from the institutional narrative itself into which these words are inserted, specifically from the consecration of the chalice:

HIC EST ENIM CALIX SANGUINIS MEI, NOVI ET AETERNI TESTAMENTI:

MYSTERIUM FIDEI:

QUI PRO VOBIS ET PRO MULTIS EFFUNDETUR IN REMISSIONEM PECCATORUM.

THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL COVENANT:

THE MYSTERY OF FAITH:

WHICH IS BEING SHED FOR YOU AND FOR MANY FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.

This is the text as it is taken from the ancient liturgical usage.  I will refrain from comment on the change introduced into the new liturgy, especially in the English translation, as it does not pertain to my purpose here.

The words The Mystery of Faith have been introduced by the liturgical tradition into the scriptural texts as an appositive attached to the reference concerning chalice of the blood of the new and eternal covenant.  There are a number of theories as to why the words were inserted without strict adherence to the biblical text and without explantion, and as to what exactly they were intended to mean.  One of the great liturgists of the modern age, Joseph A. Jungmann, S.J., has written that no certain answer can be ascertained on either score.  However, the magisterium has commented on the text, and has told us that it refers to the ineffable mystery of the Eucharist itself.  Thus the narrative might be punctuated as follows:  This is the chalice of My Blood of the new and eternal covenant—The Mystery of Faith—which is being shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

All this being said, for the sake of my little Easter reflection, and without intending to do anything more than to offer a meditation, I would like to explore more deeply the meaning of this unexplained insertion of mysterium fidei into the biblical narrative.

Ineffable Mystery

We know that the one sacrifice of Christ is made present in the Mass, that Jesus suffering and victorious is both the Priest and Victim.  We know that we are present at Calvary and that the heavens have opened so that not only is the past made present, but that we are entering into the hour of Christ’s glorification, so that we are also present at the heavenly liturgy, singing with the Seraphim: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth.  We know that the double consecration during the canon of the Mass symbolizes the separation of Christ’s Blood from His Body in such a way that the one Sacrifice is made present once again:

For by the “transubstantiation” of bread into the body of Christ and of wine into His blood, His body and blood are both really present: now the eucharistic species under which He is present symbolize the actual separation of His body and blood. Thus the commemorative representation of His death, which actually took place on Calvary, is repeated in every sacrifice of the altar, seeing that Jesus Christ is symbolically shown by separate symbols to be in a state of victimhood (Mediator Dei, 70).

But it is only at the moment at the consecration of the chalice that the liturgical tradition has left us with this deliberate insertion of the words, The Mystery of Faith, and without explanation either in the liturgical texts themselves nor any of the written and oral tradition of the Church from the early times in which this liturgical formulary came to be.  Our Lord has already been made present on the altar by means of the consecration of the Host, but in the consecration of the Chalice the symbolism of the separation of His Blood from His Body has been made perfect.  Perhaps the inexplicable insertion of these words can be construed as providentially indicating the mysticism of the Sacrifice and the Sacrament, the fact that past, present and future have, in a sense, coalesced and we are somehow participants in each moment, facing the East from whence the Orient on High has come and toward which we are processing, led by our High Priest and King, Jesus Christ.

The priest, in a sense, pauses or interrupts the institutional narrative, in a rubrical sense of awe, and comments on the stupendous reality before us.  We have achieved the Holy Grail.  We have arrived at the throne of God. How terrible is this place? this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:17).  Mysterium fidei!

The Eternal Word has undergone a transformation much like the one by which He became Incarnate.  Every Mass is a little Christmas.  But also the Lamb has been sacrificed and we are once again at the foot of the Cross.  The bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ, and we, by some awesome privilege, are now called to enter the mystery and consume the sacrifice so that we might also be transformed into that which we consume.  We are no longer fixed in our place in history but are incorporated into the hour of Christ, and thus all time has a different significance and a greater power.

The Holy Grail

No wonder the Chalice of the Last Supper has become both the object of veneration and the inspiration for myths.  It is a mystical object because it contains a secret—not the gnosis of the heretics or the ancient, arcane and occult mysteries of the Freemasons, but the secret of our own transformation in grace.

In the most Christian version of the Arthurian legend of the Holy Grail, Quest del Saint Graal, probably written by a Cistercian monk at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Holy Chalice is symbol of grace, or such at least is the interpretation of Etienne Gilson.  Medievalist Pauline Matarasso, on the other hand, asserts that the Grail of the Quest doubly manifests the mystery of the Eucharist in the Last Supper and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

However the myth is to be interpreted, the historical Grail is a vessel in which a mystery is contained, a secret, and in the first case that mystery is the Blood of Christ that has been shed for us.  But it is also our participation in the mystery as well.  The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? (1 Cor 10:16).  The period immediately after the Easter Triduum in which the newly baptized are still reeling from their full initiation into the Sacred Mysteries is called the mystagogia, in which they are called to more deeply penetrate and assimilate the mysteries they have newly experienced.  There is a need for this precisely because the Eucharist and our participation in it is the fundamental and universal mysticism of the Church.  Only those who can learn silence, adoration and most of all, who can enter in to the gift of salvific suffering are able to enter into the mystery of the Holy Grail.

If it is true then, in some sense that The Mystery of Faith is the Eucharist and our participation in the Sacred Mysteries, and if it is also true that the Chalice of Benediction, the Holy Grail, over which myserium fidei is spoken, is the mystery of grace and redemption, then might we not look to the most sublime vessel of grace in order to penetrate the mystery and enter into the secret?  Indeed, the mystics who have experienced the events of the Triduum in an extraordinary way, albeit in a way that in no sense constitutes part of the deposit of faith, place a special emphasis on the Eucharistic communion of Our Lady at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday.  She is often said to have been communicated by angels, as for example, Ven. Mother Maria of Agreda writes that St. Gabriel was sent to Her from the cenacle to give Her Holy Communion immediately after Our Lord Himself had consumed the sacred species.  In fact, the venerable mother says that the Sacred Host remained unconsumed in the body of the Blessed Virgin until the first Mass of St. Peter after the Resurrection.

Womb and Tomb

There is a remarkable passage of the great English Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins from his retreat notes apropos of this extraordinary grace of the Blessed Virgin.  In his notes he comments on the passage of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius concerning the apparition of Our Lord to His Blessed Mother at the resurrection.  There we read the following:

‘In corpore et anima’—On the pregnant principle expressed in the Mysteries and in this very one we cannot doubt at the Last Supper Christ invisibly but sacramentally communicated the Blessed Mother (as many estatics and others have been communicated) by the hands of angels or otherwise.  After this she would have fasted till the Resurrection and the Sacred Host have lain in her breast unconsumed.  In her then as well as on the cross Christ died and was at once buried, her body his temple becoming his sepulcher.  At his rising the soul entered the body in her as in the sepulcher and, issuing from her breast, the two presences passed into one.  And at the same time the windingsheet left empty fell upon itself in the sepulcher and the empty accidents were consumed in the Blessed Virgin.

“Warm laid grave of a womb life grey;/ Manger, maiden’s knee” is how Hopkins refers to the trajectory of Christ’s Body and Blood existence from birth to death (“The Wreck of the Deutchland,” st. 7, ll. 3, 4).  And in the context of his contention concerning Mary’s Holy Thursday communion, we should more clearly see the enclosed space of Our Lady’s Virginal womb, where the Eternal Word is enfleshed, as the foreshadowing of the sealed tomb and another manifestation of that inviolate Garden of Paradise which is Her Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart.

Elsewhere in his retreat notes, Hopkins suggests that the defense of this mystery or secret is, in fact, the great cosmic battle in which all souls are perpetually engaged.  As he reflects on chapter 12 of the Apocalypse where St. Michael attacks the fallen angels he writes:  “. . . It was a sort of crusade undertaken in defense of the woman in whom the sacrificial victim had lain and from whom he had risen, a sort of Holy Sepulchre and a heavenly Jerusalem. . .”

I certainly would not blame anyone who says that all this is just pious poetry from a Marian enthusiast.  Yet poetry says something true, even if not literally or historically, though many aspects of sacred history are also poetic.  St. Anthony Mary Claret was well known to carry the Blessed Sacrament continually in his body as in a tabernacle.  And it is a patristic teaching that the miracle of the Virgin Birth (“womb life grey”) is exactly parallel to the escape of Our Lord from the sealed tomb (“warm laid grave”).

The Secret of Mary

Indeed, the New Garden of Paradise is the Heart of Mary and it is like the enclosed space of the Cenacle where the first Mass was celebrated.  It is like Garden of the Agony of Jesus where He resigned Himself to the Chalice of Suffering.  And it is like the Garden of the Passion and Resurrection, where the New Tree of Life grows and bears fruit.  Her virginal womb is truly the Virgin Earth from which grows forth the Tree of Life, and, one way or another, it is the exemplar for the enclosed space in which the Victim and Victor is laid and from which He rises.  It is the true Grail of the Blood of Christ where we enter into The Mystery of Faith.  St. Louis de Montfort writes that devotion to Mary is the secret that the Holy Spirit unseals for us (The Secret of Mary, 20).  We are invited to enter this Enclosed Garden and Fountain Sealed, if we are willing to be humble in the face of the mysterium fidei.

The Easter mystery is all about sacrificial love, Christ’s, first of all, then ours in the Heart of the Immaculate Coredemptrix, the one in whom the mysteries we celebrate are fully realized.  The Great Sacrifice makes Jesus present as our food, and in Him, in our participation in that Sacrifice through Holy Communion, we are incorporated into the mystery, mysticism and transformation in preparation for our own resurrection.  This is what we celebrate as we witness the Bride of Christ decked out in all Her liturgical glory.  This is the real secret of liturgical reform and its only real object.

May the Peace of Easter be yours.

The Holy Grail of True Knighthood

True knighthood is the Holy Grail of manhood, a revelation attainable only by the pure.  The proud are ever barred from taking a draught from it.

Our very captivation with the Holy Grail consists in the fact that it has not been found and only few have even seen it.  And, of course, the reason that the mysterious cup remains ever out of reach for the ordinary man and is because its quest is fraught with danger:  fearful obstacles, inscrutable riddles, and deadly foes.

To those who possess true manliness, such obstacles are the reason why The Quest is so appealing.  By definition manliness is the penchant to overcome obstacles. The more hopeless the attainment, the bigger and better is the man who laughs in the face perils to be found there.  Those who are lesser men still aspire to the Grail, but fear leads them to experience the danger only vicariously by following along at a safe distance, through spectator sports, litrerature and movies.

And yet there is a temptation in that boldness to which those gallant men of the Round Table too easily succumb.  The bigger and better that a man thinks he is, the more likely he is to fail utterly in attaining the goal.  Gawain, for example, showed himself the fool for this very reason.  And Lancelot had to be taken down a few notches (many actually) before he was even granted a partial fulfillment of his desire.  Galahad attained the grail, not so much by his prowess, but more so, by his humility and purity.

There is a strange and wonderful coincidence of opposites in the embodiment of true chivalry:  courage, strength, boldness and skill, on the one hand; reverence, humility, meekness, and deference on the other.

In a sermon written during his Anglican Period, entitled, “The Weapons of the Saints,” Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman couched the spiritual life in terms of a war in which the stratagem for victory demands an inversion of worldly values:

But in that kingdom which Christ has set up, all is contrariwise. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.” What was before in honour, has been dishonoured; what before was in dishonour, has come to honour; what before was successful, fails; what before failed, succeeds.

It is this inversion that constitutes the real difficulty to the attainment of the Holy Grail of true knighthood.  It is the riddle of riddles.  The Black Knight, enemy of our souls, guards the bridge that leads to the hermit who is ensconced away from the manners of worldly men.  It is from him that we are to unlearn our pride and find the real weapons by which we are to succeed in our quest.

Cardinal Newman’s sermon is a commentary on Our Lord’s words: Many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first (Mt 19:30).  And he supports his thesis from many other passages of the New Testament concerning, for example, strength made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9), the of putting down the proud and the exalting of the humble (Lk 1:52), the blessedness of those who suffer and the woes of those who are satisfied (Mt 5:2-10; Lk 6:24-26), and God’s choice of the weak and despised to do his work (1 Cor 1:27).  It should be abundantly clear to anyone with a modicum of familiarity with scripture that God triumphs in and through those who have rejected worldly ambition and self-assuredness.

The invisible powers of the heavens, truth, meekness, and righteousness, are ever coming in upon the earth, ever pouring in, gathering, thronging, warring, triumphing, under the guidance of Him who “is alive and was dead, and is alive for evermore.”

Truth, meekness and righteousness, according to Venerable Newman, are the real weapons of the saints, the means by which they are victorious over Satan, sin and death.  The Holy Grail of Christian Knighthood is so hidden that in order to find it the knight must lose himself in the process.

This is that intangible, greater thing, after which young men aspire.  It is the stuff of true nobility.  It is strength without arrogance, command without self-interest.

Venerable Newman notes that “we like to hear marvellous tales, which throw us out of things as they are, and introduce us to things that are not.”  The paradox of the cross and of the victorious King who triumphs through His own death is the cosmic myth, the retelling of which is the incantation that opens the sealed doors of our hearts. He that openeth and no man shutteth, shutteth and no man openeth, is the only one with the key (Ap 3:7).

The beloved disciple saw Him mounted on a white horse, and going forth “conquering and to conquer.” “And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations, and He shall rule them with a rod of iron.” [Rev. xix. 14, 15.]

The Quest of the Holy Grail is a lesser myth, as are all other stories when compared to the gospel myth in which the most fantastic tale is merged with history, and where what Tolkien called eucatastrophe, a literary climax beyond our wildest hopes, is made the substance of all our hopes and the ground upon which we walk in the daylight of this world.

Indeed, the return of the king in Tolkien’s mythology is an ascendency by way of descent.  Aragorn and the Dúnedain are content to be despised if that will better equip them to protect and defend the peoples of Middle Earth.  Aragorn himself must choose the path leading downward, literally underground, through the Paths of the Dead under the White Mountains, like Christ in His harrowing of hell, if he is to triumph on behalf of those entrusted to his care.

After Gandalf  had “passed through fire and deep water,” and had completed his own christic transformation, he delivered a message to Aragorn from the Lady of Light, Galadriel:

Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?
Why do thy kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed for thee:
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea (Book III, Chapter V).

Aragorn chose the path of truth, meekness and righteousness.  He was prepared to face his fear, and he was not afraid to confront his own ego with the double-edged sword of God’s truth.  He chose to go down in order to go up, to be last in order to be first.  Yet the myth of Aragorn cannot be a vicarious substitute for our own humiliation.  We must really experience it.  Newman has it right:

We so love the idea of the invisible, that we even build fabrics in the air for ourselves, if heavenly truth be not vouchsafed us. We love to fancy ourselves involved in circumstances of danger or trial, and acquitting ourselves well under them. Or we imagine some perfection, such as earth has not, which we follow, and render it our homage and our heart. Such is the state more or less of young persons before the world alters them, before the world comes upon them, as it often does very soon, with its polluting, withering, debasing, deadening influence, before it breathes on them, and blights and parches, and strips off their green foliage, and leaves them, as dry and wintry trees without sap or sweetness.

We must not loose our idealism as we grow older, but “heavenly truth” should purify our tendency to experience knighthood vicariously through its trappings and shards.  Ours is to be the knighthood of the real Dúnedain, a hidden knighthood in search of the hidden, but very real Holy Grail.

As a Franciscan, I have had many opportunities to reflect upon the militant example of Saints Francis and Maximilian, and of the great tertiary St. Louis of France.  The Holy Patriarch of the Seraphic Order, Our Holy Father St. Francis, was well aware of the Arthurian legends and aspired to knighthood and the Holy Grail himself.  Later, after he too had chosen the path downward, he called the simple brothers who lived in seclusion and despised status and pomp, his “Knights of the Round Table.”

In this last week of ordinary time, during the “octave” of the Feast of Christ the King, we look for His return at the end of the world, when he will preside over the cosmic resolution to the perennial struggle of St. Michael and the dragon.  Then He will raise his wounded hands over the universe and all of us will be witnesses of the full revelation of His truth, a more powerful illumination than possession of the Grail itself.  Then we will all know what true chivalry is and whether we are worthy to drink from the cup filled by the hands of Him who carried the sword of truth and slayed the dragon by His humble acceptance of our condition and by His willing suffering and death.

The weapons of the true knight are those of the saints: truth, meekness and righteousness.  They are best fitted to help us along the way of our Quest, a path that leads up a narrow crag in a mountain.  But this path to the heights strangely leads us downward by many uneven steps, until we arrive in the sanctuary of the Holy Grail and find rest in the yoke of Christ on the Holy Mountain of His Passion, Death and Resurrection.

St. Joseph, Knight of Our Lady

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The Solemnity of St. Joseph is transfered to March 15, because the 19th is within Holy Week. This is the perfect ocassion to read this great article by Stratford Caldecott called “The Chivalry of St. Joseph.”

It’s all here: the Marian basis for chivalry; St. Joseph as the Knight of Our Lady (of Lepanto); the connection between chivalry, the Holy Grail and Mary.  Just what what MaryVictrix ordered for the Solemnity of St. Joseph.

Let me know what you think.