Sir Bors and the Host: The Orthopraxy of Transubstantiation

Campin-mass-of-saint-gregory-1440
Robert Campin, ‘The Mass of St Gregory’, 1515
When I came across the following passage in P M Matarasso’s translation of The Quest of the Holy Grail (my review here), all I really thought at first was, ‘Look! Sir Bors believes in transubstantiation!’ The book being from 1225ish, that’s no big surprise — this is a decade after its official promulgation as dogma at Lateran IV. It’s what follows that interests me, though.

First, the text. Bors is spending some time with a hermit, as Knights of the Round Table do:

So the good man began mattins; and having sung that office he robed and commenced the mass. After the blessing he took the Lord’s Body and beckoned to Bors to come forward. He obeyed, and knelt before the priest, who said to him:

‘Bors, do you see what I am holding?’

‘Yes indeed, Sir. I see that you are holding my Saviour and Redeemer under the guise of bread. I should not be looking on Him in this wise were it not that my eyes, being mortal clay, and thus unapt to discern the things of the spirit, do not permit my seeing Him any other way, but rather cloak His true appearance. For I have no doubt that what I look on now is truly flesh and truly man and wholly god.’

At these words he was overmastered by weeping, and the good man said to him:

‘You would surely be insensate if you received so holy a thing as you describe, without manifesting your love and loyalty all the rest of your living days.’

‘Sir,’ affirmed Bors, ‘while I live He shall have my whole allegiance, and I will ever do as He commands.’ (The Quest of the Holy Grail 9, trans. P. M. Matarasso, p. 180)

Sir Bors demonstrates here his great faith — the faith that will sustain him to the very end of his journey to and then with the Holy Grail. He believes the faith handed on to him from Mother Church. What he sees is not what the truth. Transubstantiation is an almost Platonic thing, isn’t it? This is not the reality, the reality is something other.

‘Do not mistake what something is made of with what it is,’ as famously stated by a character in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

But whether we believe in transubstantiation or not, it is Bors’ chivalrous response to the Eucharist that should humble us all:

while I live He shall have my whole allegiance, and I will ever do as He commands

We should, ourselves, give our whole allegiance to Christ the King, should we not? But do we? Where do our real allegiances lie? With our family? With our nation? With a political party? With a social movement? With a business organisation? With a cause? With our job? Any of these may be worth supporting, but always second to the Kingdom of God:

Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Mt 6:33)

Bors beheld a miracle at the Mass. Bread and wine become Body and Blood. Who would not pledge allegiance to a God who worked such wonders?

Shouldn’t we?

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