Liturgical References in Helinandus Gradale Text

My Translation of Helinandus’ “Gradale” Text:
gradualDuring this time (117 – 719)[1] a hermit in Britain was shown a miraculous vision by an angel, a vision of the noble [Saint[2]] Joseph (of Arimathea) member of the Sanhedrin[3], who took down the body of the Lord from the Cross[4] and of that bowl/plate in which the Lord had dinner with the disciples his friends, after this occurrence (the vision) the hermit described an existing[5] account by the name of “gradale.” “Gradalis” also indeed “gradale” in French[6] means wide and somewhat deep dish in which precious sacrificial feasts (or banquets) the wealthy are accustom to serve step-by-step, one set of morsels after another in diverse succession (or arranged in rows). It is said (used) also among the common people who call it “greal” because those who consume it are thankful[7] and welcome it, and (rightly) so on account of its content, that same (vessel) perhaps is ornamented with silver or even another precious material, and so on account of its contents the very same class use it on many occasions of sacrificial feasts (banquets) of great value. So far I have not been able to find this account in Latin however only a certain few of nobility have it in French[8] writing, and neither was it entirely easy to find.

Liturgical meaning is explicit:
First let me clearly state that I have no formal training in the transcription or translation of Latin into English. I have done my best with a few Latin dictionaries to make this translation admittedly with a Catholic world view (that was also prevalent in Helinandus’ day and which he undoubtedly held as a Roman Catholic monk). I believe that the essence of what Helenandus was trying to convey is decently reflected here but at the same time I welcome any professional advice given in charity from better qualified individuals.

I noticed that where certain words had several choices of meanings that some might make explicit references to the liturgy of the Mass. Also some phrases are clearer when understood from a Catholic perspective of the Holy Eucharist. For instance the Latin word “dapes” may be translated as “sacrificial feast/meal” or more plainly as “banquet”. Some dictionaries offer even “meal of meat”. In other words we are talking about real flesh or meat.

Then there is also the coupling of the term “preciosae” with “dapes” which is clearly defined as “precious”. Is it a coincidence that Catholics refer to one species of the Eucharist as the Precious Blood?

The meal is served “gradatim” from which we can see that the word “gradale” or “gradalis” is derived (Gradale as etymologists inform us is where we get the term grail as in Holy Grail). “Gradatim” literally means step-by-step or gradual. The Holy Mass is said and prayed in step-by-step fashion and the oldest of the four important chants of the Mass is called the Gradual. The name Gradual came from the medieval practice of singing a psalm while standing on the set of steps leading to the Ambo. Not all the way up the steps but on the way up… gradually ascending them.

Consider also that when the common people partake of this meal they are thankful. The Latin word “grata” means thanks as does the Greek word “Eucharist” which we name our Blessed Sacrament. This is the proper way to approach the Most Holy Eucharist, with a humble and contrite heart, with thanksgiving.

But most compelling is not a single word or a pairing of words but a repeated phrase, “and so by means of its content.” From this phrase we see that it is not the grail itself that gives the rich and the poor alike the reason to be thankful. It is not for the glorification of the grail itself that it should be decorated lavishly. Rather it is that precious sacrifice which the grail contains which merits veneration (cf Matthew 23:20-22). Of course the mere fact that Christ used it makes it a relic par excellence!

From these translations and considering that Helinandus was a Cistercian monk who would certainly have understood the liturgical references in his choice of words, I believe it is a reasonable conclusion that the term “gradale” from its very beginning was blessed with a deep liturgical meaning.

Original Latin:
Hoc tempore (717-719) in Britannia cuidam heremitae demonstrata fuit [monstrata est] mirabilis quaedam visio per angelum de [santo] Ioseph decurione nobili, qui corpus Domini deposuit de cruce et de catino illo vel [sive] paropside, in quo Domius caenavit cum discipulis suis, de quo ab eodem heremita descripta est historia quae dicitur gradale [de gradali]. Gradalis autem vel [sive] gradale gallice dicitur scutella lata et aliquantulum profunda, in qua preciosae dapes [add: cum suo jure] divitibus solent apponi gradatim, unus morsellus post alium in diversis ordinibus. Dicitur et vulgari nomine greal [graalz], quia grata et acceptabilis est in ea comedenti, tum propter continens, quia forte argentea est vel de alia precioso materia, tum propter contentum .i. [id est] ordinem multiplicem dapium preciosarum. Hanc historiam latine scriptam invenire non potui sed tantum gallice scripta habetur a quibusdem proceribus, nec facil, ut aiunt, tota inveniri potest.

Introduction, The Grail Legend by Emma Jung, Marie Louise von Franz, pg 29
Concerning the Word Graal Greal, Modern Philology, March 1916 pg 185
Latin – English translations:
– Pocket Oxford LATIN Dictionary, Oxford University Press Inc., New York
Catholic Archives
Starz21 Online Translator
Translation Guide Online Translator
New Advent
Ancient Texts

Luke 23:50-53
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
50And behold there was a man named Joseph, who was a counsellor, a good and just man,
51(The same had not consented to their counsel and doings;) of Arimathea, a city of Judea; who also himself looked for the kingdom of God.
52This man went to Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.
53And taking him down, he wrapped him in fine linen, and laid him in a sepulchre that was hewed in stone, wherein never yet any man had been laid.
Matthew 27:57-60
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
57And when it was evening, there came a certain rich man of Arimathea, named Joseph, who also himself was a disciple of Jesus.
58He went to Pilate, and asked the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded that the body should be delivered.
59And Joseph taking the body, wrapped it up in a clean linen cloth.
60And laid it in his own new monument, which he had hewed out in a rock. And he rolled a great stone to the door of the monument, and went his way.
John 19:38
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
38And after these things, Joseph of Arimathea (because he was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews) besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate gave leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
Matthew 23:20-22
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
20He therefore that sweareth by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things that are upon it:
21And whosoever shall swear by temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth in it:
22And he that sweareth by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.
  1. implied by context of the preceding entry I presume []
  2. some texts have the word Sancto which means saint []
  3. decurione – means senator. []
  4. From scripture we know that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin and it is this status which gained him access to request the body of Jesus and gave him the means for His burial. Luke 23:50-53 Matthew 27:57-60 John 19:38 []
  5. it may or may not have been extant at the time Helinandus wrote this []
  6. Gall – from Gallic meaning of or pertaining to France []
  7. some translate grata as agreeable because of the phonetic similarity but this doesn’t exist in the Latin pronunciation []
  8. Gallice – from Gallic meaning of or pertaining to France []

One Response to “Liturgical References in Helinandus Gradale Text”

  1. Nice post, Tim. I think you are on target when applying a liturgical significance to Heliandus’ Gradale text. Here are some more Cistercian/liturgical connections you might consider:

    As you mention, the word grail (graal, grael) as a common noun referred to the dish or plate used in meals served in courses (as the Last Supper, being the last legal Passover from a Medieval Christian perspective, certainly was). It is my understanding that the term grail was also applied to the Gradual for the reasons cited in your post.

    Also, one of St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s most famous works was “The Steps of Humility,” a treatise on the 12 opposing virtues needed to counteract the 12 “Steps of Pride” enumerated by St. Benedict. I guess that means that Bernard’s “Steps of Humility” is the original 12-step program! In any case, Cistercian spirituality was vitally concerned with this “step-by-step” process.

    It is believed by medieval scholars like P.M. Matarasso that the anonymous “Queste of the Holy Grail” was undoubtedly written by a Cistercian and is an allegorical rendering of Bernard’s “Steps.” The introduction to Matarasso’s translation refers to the quest for the grail as “the mysteries of the Eucharist revealed.”

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