Over the last many centuries, literary and historical figures have quested in search of the Holy Grail. They include in recent decades Indiana Jones. Created by George Lucas, the Indiana Jones series of movies has become one of the most popular and most financially lucrative film franchises in the history of cinema. It has spawned a highly popular stunt show at Disney Hollywood Studios and a short-lived early 1990s television series. Composer John Williams’ “Raider’s March” is one of the most widely recognized theme songs in movie history. But what has any of this to do with the Holy Eucharist?
The Indiana Jones movies center upon an archaeologist adventurer Indiana Jones (portrayed by Harrison Ford) who travels the world in search of archaeological treasures and confronting evil. Nazis feature prominently in three of the movies. There are five movies in the series: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The first three were produced in the 1980s. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was done in 2008 and just last year, the film franchise released a movie that was intended to be a climax of the series’ chief protagonist, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. The movies are hit and miss. Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Last Crusade are two of the greatest movies of all time. The Temple of Doom is tolerable but falls far short of Raiders and The Last Crusade. The other two should never had been made and I am not going to say anything further about them.
Raiders of the Lost Ark was about Indiana Jones racing against Nazis to find the Jewish Ark of the Covenant, which held the Ten Commandments and is described at various times in the Old Testament.
In The Last Crusade, Indiana Jones is again racing Nazis to find another sacred object – the Holy Grail. This movie is the best of the series. The plot is intricate and intriguing. The acting performances by Harrison Ford, Sean Connery (as Dr. Henry Jones Sr.), Denholm Elliott (as Marcus Brody), Alison Doody (as Elsa), Julian Glover (as Walter Donovan) and John Rhys-Davies (as Sallah) are superb. The settings for the movie are spectacular, ranging from the Utah deserts to Venice to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. There are so many memorable lines. One of my favorites is this exchange between Kazim of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword (the protectors of the Holy Grail) and Indiana Jones:
Kazim : Ask yourself, why do you seek the Cup of Christ? Is it for His glory, or for yours?
Indiana Jones : I didn't come for the Cup of Christ. I came to find my father.
Kazim : In that case, God be with you in your quest.
The Last Crusade joins a rich treasury of literature which involves the Holy Grail. This includes the Arthurian legends of old, Knights questing to search the cup of Christ. Thus Indiana Jones joins with King Arthur, Sir Gallahad, Sir Percival and even Monty Python in seeking the Holy Grail. Of the questers for the Holy Grail, Monty Python’s intrepid band are the most hilarious.
There are several versions as to what the Holy Grail was. The most popular description has the Holy Grail as the Cup that Christ used at the Last Supper when he instituted the Most Blessed Sacrament. This Holy Grail was then used to catch some of Christ’s Blood on Calvary after his Sacred Heart is pierced by the Roman soldier’s lance. Legend has it that whosever drinks from the Holy Grail will have eternal life.
The Arthurian legends and the search for the Holy Grail are great stories. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade puts a modern spin on the story and introduces its own unique plot elements which work well.
I myself have even gone on a quest of sorts for the Holy Grail. While visiting Venice in August 2000 as part of a World Youth Day 2000 pilgrimage, several friends and I went searching through the city looking for the church that served as the filming location of the Tomb of Sir Richard in the Last Crusade movie. The exterior shots of that scene were filmed at the Church of San Barnaba. We didn’t find the church but thanks to the help of a seminarian in our pilgrimage group, we did find the actual tombs of Saints Athanasius and Zechariah. More importantly, our pilgrimage group was able to experience Holy Mass and receive Communion in the Basilica of St. Mark, which also holds the tomb of St. Mark the Evangelist.
In The Last Crusade movie and in many of the Grail legends and stories, people are searching for the Holy Grail because they believe that by drinking from it they will attain eternal life. Again, these are entertaining stories but the reality of the Cup of Christ is far more intriguing.
St. Mark’s Gospel records how Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper:
"While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." (Mark 14:22-26).
Some time prior to the Last Supper, Jesus explained to his Apostles exactly what the Most Blessed Sacrament is before he instituted it at the Last Supper:
"Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats* my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me." (John 6:54-57)
It is not the cup itself which gives eternal life, but the contents of the cup and he who first offered the cup to humanity. It is the Blood of Christ in an unbloody sacramental form which gives eternal life. It is the most selfless sacrifice of Our Savior on the Cross which gives eternal life. You don’t need to go questing across the globe for the Holy Grail; you need to go to Mass and receive the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic back in 2020, Communion was not being offered in the Chalice for several years. Then in late 2022, U.S. dioceses began offering Communion in the Chalice again. The Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Diocese of Baton Rouge (LA) were among the first. Over the next several months, many archdioceses and dioceses followed suit, most notably, the Archdioceses of New York, Newark (NJ), Milwaukee, and Louisville.
When the Archdiocese of Newark announced its decision to resume offering the Chalice, Father Tom Dente, Director of the Archdiocese’s Office of Worship, explained the significance of doing so. “Although it is not required, taking from the cup is considered a fuller participation in the Eucharist and a direct response to Jesus’ command to take and drink,” he said.
The quests for the Holy Grail make for fine entertainment. If you are truly seeking eternal life, then the quest must be in search of Jesus Christ who is the way to eternal life. And you will find Jesus present in the Most Holy Sacrament - his Most Precious Body and Blood. Hopefully your local archdiocese/diocese has resumed offering the Eucharist in the Chalice and you may partake of this most special blessing from Heaven. While a quest for the Holy Sacrament may not be as adventurous as an Indiana Jones movie, its rewards are everlasting.