The Holy Grail: “The Chalice of the Atonement”?

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

Since childhood, I have been drawn to stories about the Holy Grail. The idea of the quest for something so symbolic of all that is holy, perfect, and loving has fascinated and inspired me, and I think it is part of why I have had a lifelong desire to seek and find that “grail” myself. I was quite excited, therefore, when I came across what I see as a reference to it in the Course.

In the Urtext version of T-2:III, “The Altar to God,” Jesus talks to Helen about the “chalice of the Atonement.” First, he says that,

The Atonement can only be accepted within you…. You have experienced it largely as EXTERNAL thus far, and that is why your EXPERIENCE of it has been minimal. You have been SHOWN the chalice many times, but have not accepted it “for your self”.

(This reminded me of his New Year’s comments to her and Bill about their not believing the witnesses to the truth of God’s Love (T-16.II) and about their sharing his teachings but not accepting them for themselves (T-16.III.))

Then he goes on to say,

For perfect effectiveness, the chalice of the Atonement belongs at the center of the inner altar, where it undoes the Separation, and restores the wholeness of the Spirit.

As I read these passages in the Urtext and the commentary for the Text Reading Program, something started to percolate in me. I went to my dictionary to see what it had to say about the Holy Grail, and found that it is considered the “symbol of religious perfection, visible only to the spiritually and morally worthy.” My Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols offered this:

Called a chalice… it is taken to be the cup of the Last Supper and the cup in which Joseph of Arimathea caught the blood of Christ on the cross…. the cup of salvation…. In Christianity the Grail is also the Sacred Heart of Christ. The loss of the Grail represents the loss of the Golden Age, Paradise, man’s primordial spirituality, purity and innocence. In Christian legend the Grail was given to Adam but was left in Paradise after the Fall. It is at the centre of Paradise and must be refound…. The quest for the Grail is the return to Paradise… the search for the Lost Word.

Here’s the picture that is coming to me: Traditionally in churches, the chalice (the symbol of the holy grail) is the cup of wine representing Jesus’ blood, which is drunk at the altar of communion. It’s a reminder of Jesus having died atoning for our sins, and thus of his role as our saviour.

Here, in these passages from the Urtext, the chalice is of atonement––atonement in the sense of our realizing that “Paradise” was not lost; we did not do something sinful to cause our “fall” from Heaven; there is nothing to atone for; and our purity and innocence are intact. It is the cup of salvation, but not salvation from our sins, but from the belief in ourselves as sinful.

Jesus says,

I do not want to share my body in communion because this is to share nothing. Would I try to share an illusion with the most holy children of a most holy Father? (T-7.V.20:7-8)

The chalice that Jesus is holding out is not a physical cup from which I drink in order to take him into myself. It’s a spiritual cup from which I drink in order to take into myself the Atonement, his perfect and final lesson: “the final lesson in which unity is restored” (M-14.3:10); “the final lesson he [God’s Son] need learn, for it teaches him that, never having sinned, he has no need of salvation. (T-13.In.4:6). The chalice doesn’t belong on an altar in a church building, but on the altar of my mind. It’s all that belongs there, “where it undoes separation and restores the wholeness of the mind” (T-2.III.2:1).

I don’t know if any of this is what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of the “chalice of the Atonement,” or if I am really off track, but it makes sense to me. It also puts the quest for the Holy Grail in a whole new light for me. I see that I don’t need to continue with the quest anymore. The chalice isn’t lost and doesn’t have to be sought for and “refound,” but only accepted. All I need do is realize that I already have what I have always sought. All that remains is for me to take this chalice, drink from it, and accept the precious gift it has to offer me: the truth of what I am, what I always have been, and what I always will be.