The Grail in Summer

Memorial Day begins the American civil Summer; the Fourth of July marks its apex, and it ends on Labour Day (of course, the first Halloween decorations shall have started to appear in the stores the last week in July). Enjoyable as each of these are in their way, the Church Year illuminates the heat of Summer even more. Leaving aside the Feast of St. John with its bonfire-lit Eve and the blessings of fruits on the day of Our Lady’s Assumption, there are four feasts dedicated to God Himself in one or another aspect that make the Summer far brighter. Although we rightly associate the Holy Grail with the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, as we shall see the miraculous vessel also finds a home in each of the four Summer feasts I would like to consider.

First, in late May or early June comes the feast of Pentecost, commemorating the descent of the Holy Ghost. Although ranking almost as great a feast as Christmas and Easter, it lacks the same kind of secular trappings that have wrapped around the two senior festivals. This was not the case in Catholic Europe, and of course in the old tales King Arthur is constantly keeping Pentecost at Camelot or Caerleon or wherever; the Holy Grail appeared on the feast to the Monarch and his astonished knights. Nevertheless, in the pre-1955 dispensation, it has a vigil which closely resembles that of Easter. Whitmonday and Whit Tuesday are liturgically as solemn as the two days following both Christmas and Easter — the former day is still a civil holiday in many countries, including Austria, where I am writing these words.

In most civilised countries — although alas, not in our own United States, God bless them — the Thursday following Trinity Sunday (the first Sunday after Pentecost) is the feast of Corpus Christi. Created in response to the visions of St. Juliana of Cornillon, a 13th century mystic, it commemorates the Blessed Sacrament Himself. Apart from the pre-1955 Masses in front of the Exposed Sacred Host, it has been most renowned for its Processions. Even to-day in Catholic places, these can be quite grand affairs, with blessings at stationary altars set up at intervals along the route, flower petals strewn by children, and the civil order reflected by the presence in the procession of local officials, organisations of various kinds, and even soldiers and civil office holders. In days gone by, Emperors and Kings were proud to march in honour of their Eucharistic Sovereign, and floats carried Mystery Plays performed by various guilds illustrating the different doctrines of our Faith and events in Salvation History. These began at about the same time as the Grail stories entered the Arthurian canon, and they much resemble the Grail processions in those same sources.

Corpus Christi itself has an Octave, and the Friday after its last day is the feast of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. The revelations given to St. Margaret Mary Alaocoque asking (among other things) for Louis XIV to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart and place it on his flags; the Monarchs who encouraged devotion to it, such as Louis XVI, Queen Maria of Portugal, King John of Saxony, and Bl. Emperor Karl; the Catholic warriors who made it their badge — as with the opponents of the Revolution in the Vendee and Tyrol, the Papal Zouaves, the Spanish Carlists, and the Mexican Cristeros; all of these combine to show the Royal, Sacrificial, and Knightly nature of the observance. Shrines have been built to it as places like Paray-le-Monial, Paris, Brussels, and so on. As an image of Christ’s love for us to the point of death, it too is suggestive of the Holy Grail. It automatically suggests the need for reparation in return — such as with the Honour Guard of the Sacred Heart.

At last, comes July 1, traditionally the feast of the Precious Blood — in a sense, the feast of the Grail’s contents. On the one hand, it reminds us of such relics of Christ’s Blood as are found at Bruges, Weingarten, Fecamp, Mantua, and elsewhere; on the other, of such Eucharistic miracles as Lanciano and the six approved by the Church which have occurred in the past thirty years. Although the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood founded by the renowned thaumaturgess Ven. Catherine-Aurelie Caouette, have lost their splendid Mother House in Quebec, their Brooklyn Convent survives; therein is headquartered the Confraternity of the Precious Blood.

Summer is certainly the season for travelling, so you might well be inspired by these feasts of the Holy Grail to go off in search of the sacred vessel yourself. You’ll certainly find candidates or at least related places in Valencia (which I think the likeliest), Genoa, Vienna, Aberystwyth, Trehontereuc, or (for the more countercultural) Glastonbury — and all are delightful to visit, as are the other locales we have mentioned. But if you cannot afford to, remember that every Perpetual Adoration Chapel is in reality a Chapel of the Grail; for that matter, when the priest elevates the Chalice at the Mass, the Holy Grail is once again in our midst — as much as ever it was when it appeared at Camelot. Let us pursue this quest to the end of our lives.

Chapel of the Holy Chalice at Valencia Cathedral in Valencia, Spain. Photo by Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link. For closer images of the Grail itself, go here.