From The Quest of the Holy Grail, a hermit speaking with Sir Lancelot:
Then looking about him, the good man saw a cross on which Our Lord was painted in effigy, and pointed it out to Lancelot, saying:
‘Sir, do you see that cross?’
‘Yes,’ he answered.
‘Then be assured,’ said the other, ‘that the arms of that figure are thus stretched wide to welcome all who come. In just the same way has Our Lord extended His arms to embrace every sinner that turns to him, both you and others, calling evermore: “Come unto Me!” And since in His loving kindness He is always ready to receive each man and woman trust comes back to Him, never doubt He will admit you if you offer yourself to Him in the manner I have described, which is that of oral confession, of true repentance and amendment. So bare your soul to Him now while I listen, and I will help and succour you to the utmost of my power, and will counsel you as best I can.”
Enjoy my latest offering on YouTube wherein I talk about the allegorical meaning of the Quest for the Holy Grail, referencing Malcolm Guite, Pauline Matarasso’s translation of The Quest for the Holy Grail and its introduction (and thereby Etienne Gilson and Myrrha Lot-Boroodine), St Bernard, and William of St-Thierry. And the Canon of the Mass in the Use According to Sarum. It’s a good time, I promise!
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?