YOUR QUESTIONS

Sr. Louise Zdunich

Month Date, 2010

Question

Recently, I read a news brief that a cave in southwest France may house the Holy Grail.

What is the Holy Grail and why do people search for it?

 


Answer

The Holy Grail generally refers to the cup which contained the wine that Christ changed at the Last Supper. There were many cups that claimed this honour but today none are considered authentic. The basis for the existence of this cup is legendary as there is no real evidence of it.

Various legends came into being especially during the Middle Ages when Europe looked to legends and miracles for hope.

The legend of the Holy Grail was one of them. It seems to have some connection to the Celtic Church's claim to apostolic succession and priestly authority through the Apostle John.

The beginnings of this legend seem to be the Celtic horn of plenty, a symbol we see today associated with harvest time. It was supposed to be the source of all good things and of divine favour because it was believed to be the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper.

Another legend added to this was that Joseph of Arimathea collected drops of Jesus' blood in the Last Supper cup which was then brought to Britain. There, it became connected with the legendary noble King Arthur and his knights who wanted to use its power for good.

Another source of information comes from St. Jerome who translated the Old and New Testaments from their original Hebrew and Greek with the help of St. Paula. He said there were two cups at the Last Supper, one that held the wine for the meal and the other of stone which was used for the Eucharist.

The latter seems to fit the description of the Chalice of Valencia, Spain. Its story began with Peter bringing the Last Supper cup to Rome to be used at Mass.

The third century Pope Sixtus, knowing he would be martyred by the Romans, entrusted the cup to his deacon, St. Lawrence who was martyred for refusing to surrender the Church's treasures. Lawrence sent the cup to Spain where it would be looked after by a noble family and so be safe from the Romans.

POPE JOHN PAUL II

The Church in Spain continued to safeguard the cup during the Muslim invasions in the eighth century and again during the 20th century Spanish Civil War. In 1982, it seems that Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass with this cup, the first pope to do so since Pope Sixtus in the third century.

Does this or any other legend prove that this is really the cup of the Last Supper? Not really. There is no way one can be certain that the Valencia Cup is the same one as the cup sent to Spain by St. Lawrence.

It seems, at least, that a legend so connected with the Church's emphasis on the Eucharist would be supported by the Church. That is not the case. The Church does not usually promote dubious claims.

Besides, the origins of the legend relating to Joseph of Arimathea comes from apocryphal writings, not canonical Scripture. The Celtic origins would tend to make the Church in Britain an independent Church as important as that of Rome.

The stimulus for the interest in the Holy Grail today comes from modern films and books such as the Da Vinci Code.

Let us never forget that the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian belief and worship. That is where our faith lies, not in any legend. Historical evidence can serve to nourish our faith.

However, whether there is any authentic evidence or not of the cup Christ used at the Last Supper, it is better to focus with gratitude on what we know to be true: the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist we have received from Christ.

(Other questions? Email: zdunich@telus.net)