The Secret Orders illustrate the realised life of sanctity on the plane of symbolism, but if it were tolerable to suppose that the literature of alchemy was put forward by an instituted confraternity, then that would be the one association which per doctrinam sanctam had gone apparently beyond symbolism and reached the catholic heart of all experience. On the question of fact, I believe that the Hermetic adepts had a via secretissima which was communicated from one to another under self-enforcing covenants--because it was Sacramentum Regis--and that at least the best among them were not incorporated formally. The adepts of the physical work had successive fellowships--and so also had the seekers thereafter--which we can trace at different periods; but these do not concern us. The others exchanged the watchwords of the Night and the vision of Aurora breaking in the soul; they left their memorials in books as guides one to another, saying what they best could about that which was never expressed openly and caring little, except under God's will, whether there were any listeners, since it could not fail that the light should remain somehow in the world. Outside the wisdom of the very Church itself, they are the greatest witnesses in the age of Christ to the truth of its greatest experiment.
[paragraph continues] The literature of the Holy Graal--in some of its aspects--is also a witness, and chiefly to the depth and wonders of the Catholic Mass. After all the worlds of language have been exhausted, I conceive that we have approximated only to those wonders and have sounded, here and there, only with short lines and unadapted plummets those immeasurable deeps. The keyword of the whole Mystery is sacramentum mirabile. O mirabile indeed and sacramentum in all truth, but because of the words that fail us, we must perforce fill the great intervening breaks even with the little books of popular devotion; and when the dark sayings of Paracelsus in De Cœna Domini have failed to satisfy us, we must even see whether the learned Dr. Ralph Cudworth on The Lord's Supper--demonstrating many follies--may not have a chance word there or here in his pages which will open, outside all knowledge of his own, some gate that we had passed without thinking! Here therefore are a few gleanings from the Catholic Sacramentary as further sidelights on the most catholic of all experiments--the Quest of the Graal.
If ever there was a verbal formula of Eucharistic consecration concealed by some school in the Church--if ever a time came when there was something missing from any Mass, Celtic or another--I believe that God has filled the vacant space with channels of sufficing grace, and that grace efficacious is not so very far away from any illuminated heart. The fact however remains that it is not ready to our hands, and that though we say Introibo we do not enter and go in, except into the outer sanctuary. For this reason we feel a divine and loving envy when we hear what Galahad and Perceval saw after the material visions had passed away, when there was no longer any doctrine of transubstantiation made sensible, but only les esperitueus choses. So also the gracious and piteous legend haunts us for ever, and we are aware that we have dwelt overlong in Logres and know the loss thereof.
It has been said, I believe, by a certain school of interpretation, which has not so far satisfied the other schools in respect of its titles, that the Graal vessel is that which contains the universe. There is unfortunately some disposition to put forward suppositions on the basis of research in other fields, and without specific acquaintance with the field covered by the speculation taken thus lightly in hand. The statement in question is not true in the sense that is intended, though it is exhaustive in its accuracy from another standpoint, and this in a dual manner: (a) because those who receive that Eucharist of which it is the symbol, in the highest grade and manner of reception, do behold the beginning and the end; and (b) because man in this manner enters into the consciousness of himself as being actually the vessel of reflection which testifies of everything without to the centrum concentratum within. In such sense we may all pray that the time shall come when man will reflect in his universal glass of vision that truth which is within the universe and not only its external impressions. When this comes to pass it can be said of him, as it was said once of Perceval: Et li seintimes Gréax ne s’aperra plus çà dedanz; mès vos sauroiz bien trusqu’à brief là où il ièra--And the most Holy Graal shall appear herein no more, but in a brief space shall you know well the place where it shall be.
The age which saw the production of the Graal literature was, in all the public places, far from this goal like ourselves; the communication of Him who is Alpha and Omega, who brings with Him the knowledge of the beginning and the end, took place in the symbol, not in the life essential, and the first-hand revelation of Mysteries was therefore wanting. That which doctrine and ordinary devotional practice contrived to impress upon men's memories and to impose on their faith offered an exercise to their intelligence, but in the activity intelligence was baffled. The sword of the spirit broke upon the ineffable mystery of the Kingdom
of Heaven, as the symbolic sword of Perceval broke upon the gate of entrance to the Earthly Paradise. The hermit-priest who tells his wonderful story at the inception of the Book of the Holy Graal is in labour with the problem of the Trinity, and when his praying and longing have carried him to the Third Heaven, it is this secret of the Eternal Sanctity which is unveiled before the eyes of his soul. Many noble and learned clerks, hermits and anchoresses innumerable, did not toil less hard, but without reaping so high a reward. They also who wrote of these wonders in the best sense thereof had their limitations, and keenly defined enough. It is so that we must account for certain grave confusions in respect of the Divine Personality of Christ, and perhaps not differently for those vague traces of doctrine belonging to a very early period and abandoned as the mind of the Church grew clearer in the comprehension of her own dogmas.
It is so also that I account personally for the material side of the Graal wonders; to say that they have come over from folk-lore is a statement of fact simply, and does not explain their toleration not only by side and by side therewith but as a part of the Mystery of Faith. Yet there was also a superincession of the gross old pagan myth and the recognised implicit of Eucharistic doctrine that the nourishment of the soul has a reflex action by which it contributes to physical welfare. The man who attends Mass, prepared suitably thereto, profits in all degrees, and for him who communicates in the higher state of grace it must be remembered that the consecrated symbols of Bread and Wine, through which the Divine is conveyed to the man within, pass through the mouth and the reins and may, as tradition and experience have testified, convey to the natural humanity some part and reflection of that grace which is declared abundantly in the other side of his being. It is in this sense that the body as well as the soul can testify at the altar rails that it is good to be here. A very subtle
point is developed in this connection by the mystic and theologian Görres, who affirms that in ordinary nourishment he who eats being superior to that which is eaten assimilates the elements which he receives, but in the Eucharist the transmuted nourishment is more potent than is he who partakes, and instead of being assimilated by him, it is the nutriment which assimilates the man and raises him to a superior sphere. Because of the solidarity between body, soul and spirit, I say therefore that the salus, honor, virtus quoque which descend upon our higher part have also their operation below. The food-giving powers of the Graal are not therefore a reflection of the epulum ex oblatis but a reductio ad fabulam of the spiritual truth that Grace sustains Nature, and a guarantee in perpetuity that the Quest of the Kingdom of God will never fail for the want of external taverns carrying a full licence at all points of the way. The Dish of Plenty is therefore the simulacrum of Manna abscondita, and the priest who says Mass in his chapel carefully and recollectedly, and with illumination, by word and by word, turning at the due time to utter his sursum corda in the right sense, is doing more in the fellowship of humanity than all the corporal works of mercy pressed down and overflowing. He will be assuredly inspired in his reason to organise charity, so that his people shall be fitly prepared to receive the Eucharist worthily, that he may give it freely with open and venerable hands. As regards the lesser and material side of charity, the broken meats and the garlic, with the tokens of Cæsar, he will probably adopt some rule of relaxed observance, as it is good enough in these minima for God to find out His own, and He will give anywhere.
In respect further of the Manna itself, the Longer Prose Perceval gets, sacramentally speaking, nearest of all to the Mystery when it indicates the exaltation of the recipient by five in the five manifested changes. The text indeed is like a prolonged Hosannah or a Gloria in excelsis chanted
from scene to scene in a great cycle of questing. The same note runs through all the legends, and its last echo is heard faintly in the late Lohengrin romance. In this Swan story, the chain of one of the Swans was made into two chalices, and, Mass being said therein, the bird was restored to his proper and human form. This is an Eucharistic allegory concerning the deligation of the body by Divine Substance communicated to the soul, putting a period to the enchantments and sorceries of the five senses.
I conclude therefore with St. Dionysius that the Eucharist is the first of the Divine Mysteries which now are; with the Paraphrase of St. Maximus, that it is the consummation of all other sacraments; and with official doctrine in the Latin Church, that it operates by intrinsic efficacity, ex opere operato, in virtue of its institution by Christ.