Good Friday and the Holy Grail: Thirsty Reflections from a Good Friday Service

David Russell Mosley

Sir Edward Burne-Jones, overall design and figures; William Morris, overall design and execution; John Henry Dearle, flowers and decorative details, The Attainment: The Vision of the Holy Grail to Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Perceval (also known as The Achievement of the Grail or The Achievement of Sir Galahad, accompanied by Sir Bors, and Sir Perceval), 1895-96, PD-1923
Sir Edward Burne-Jones, overall design and figures; William Morris, overall design and execution; John Henry Dearle, flowers and decorative details, The Attainment: The Vision of the Holy Grail to Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Perceval (also known as The Achievement of the Grail or The Achievement of Sir Galahad, accompanied by Sir Bors, and Sir Perceval), 1895-96, PD-1923

Holy Week
Holy Saturday 2017
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Readers,

As most of you know, tonight I will be received into the Catholic Church. So, last night I headed off to my parish’s Good Friday service. I’ve just begun a new job at a Catholic High School (hence the lack of letters from me), but I had yesterday off, so when the evening came around I decided that I really ought to go the Good Friday service to help me prepare for my reception at the Vigil tonight. I went without having had enough water to drink and found myself distractingly thirsty throughout the service. This meant that my mind often turned to the parched nature of my mouth and from there to other places. Still, I did what I could to pay attention, especially during the reading of the crucifixion as depicted in John’s Gospel.

When we arrived the scene where Jesus’ side was pierced and blood and water flowed, I realized something: this is the origin of the Holy Grail. The Grail has been on my mind lately. I’ve been meaning to read Bulgakov’s Holy Grail and the Eucharist, and so that’s put it on my mind. But what’s more, the school at which I now teach calls its student government the Round Table. I’ve been joking since I started on Monday that they should have a Siege Perilous, a seat for the one who would accomplish the quest of the Holy Grail. So it really should have come as no surprise to me, that I would be led to thinking about the cup of Christ on Good Friday, and yet I’ve never put the two together. Of course, I’ve always known that the origin of the grail (as connected to Christ anyway) was at Christ’s crucifixion, but somehow I never connected that with the liturgical event of Good Friday. Now, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop.

Tolkien, if I read him rightly, was not much of a fan of the Grail quest in Arthurian legend. He seemed to think it too overt (and therefore fatal) a Christianization of the Arthurian story. On this the good professor and I must disagree (though what he thinks now might be quite different). To me it is the thing that brings a kind of cohesion or centrality to all the disparate stories. It gives a lens not only for how to see Logres, but all of reality. For whether or not Christ’s blood flowed into a cup held by Joseph of Arimethea (or the Blessed Virgin) which was then transported to Britain is, ultimately, inconsequential. It is that it did flow, that it has seeded the ground with the transfiguring reality of Christ as both God and man. The earth at least has become the chalice that holds Christ’s blood, and is itself round and solid like the wafer’s we eat (or will eat as is my case) which are Christ’s body at Holy Communion.

And so, in a sense, we are all Grail knights, searching the earth for signs of the Grail’s presence which is the Presence of Christ. Yet we might all be Percivals and Galahads. We might all achieve the quest, for Christ is now present in every rock, every tree, every flower, every ant that walks the earth, every bird of the sky, and every monster of the deep. He is so now for three reasons: First, because all the logoi have their source in the Logos, all things were made by him and so participate in him. Second, because he has united all of the cosmic realities into himself when he took on human nature in the Incarnation. And third, because he poured out his blood on the earth, baptizing it, transfiguring it, for those with eyes to see. This is why that Friday is Good.

Of course, until the vigil tonight, we are still left in darkness. We should not as some have said, rush to quickly to the resurrection. And yet, I cannot help but see this in light of the resurrection. We know how the story ends on Easter Sunday and that has changed how we experience both Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

So, go forth, knights errant, seek the Grail, and on your way right wrongs, free the unjustly bound, deliver the oppressed for the monsters and giants and tyrants that hold them captive, protect the land (for the whole world is Logres), remember that what you seek you bring with you on the journey.

Sincerely,
David

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