Our Own Grail Quest

Few of the great relics in the history of Christianity have inspired the awe, reverence and sheer fascination of the Holy Grail. From the Upper Room of Jerusalem, the Holy Grail has been hunted, revered and desired by kings and emperors, treasure hunters and evil dictators. The Nazis sent SS agents across Europe to search for it, including funding a dig for it in Montségur, in southern France, in 1943. The evil quest was one of the inspirations for Steven Spielberg’s 1989 film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

And for anyone of a certain comedic bent, the Grail even figured in the title of the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” with its images of vorpal bunnies, the Knights of Ni and coconuts.

While deservedly lambasted in the 1970s for its typically irreverent and even blasphemous treatment of Christianity, the Python film was still a rather notable embodiment of the way that the Holy Grail has entered into the great lore of the West.

Variously described as a dish, a cup, a plate or even a stone, the Grail has truly been one of the grand motifs of pious legend and the romances of the Middle Ages and beyond.

But what is the deeper meaning of the Grail?

In this issue, Stephanie Mann examines the history and the true significance of the Grail in “The Sacred Golden Cup: What is the Holy Grail?” (see Pages 16-21). She looks at the history of the Grail in legend and literature, but then she answers the questions of what the Grail should mean for us today.

As we progress through Lent, reflecting on the Eucharistic significance of the Grail points us toward our own earthly quest. As Mann writes, “Like knights of old we seek the Holy Grail, finding it at Mass each Sunday or weekday, praying to be prepared to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood worthily and devoutly.”

And pondering life eternal brings us to our cover story in this issue, D.D. Emmons’ detailed discussion of Ash Wednesday (Pages 6-8). As Emmons notes, quoting Dom Gueranger: “We are entering, today, upon a long campaign of the warfare spoke of by the apostles: forty days of battle, forty days of penance. We shall not turn cowards, if our souls can but be impressed with the conviction that the battle and the penance must be gone through.”

In the journey of Lent, we are on a pilgrim journey toward renewal of our hearts and souls through struggle. Ashes show us the way, and the Grail reminds us that we long for life eternal. May you have a blessed Lent.

Matthew Bunson, D.Min., M.Div., is editor of The Catholic Answer and The Catholic Almanac and author of more than 40 books. He is a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and a professor at the Catholic Distance University. You may e-mail him at mbunson@osv.com.