What is the cosmic mystery of the chalice? Locked into the mystery of the chalice is the mystery of everything. I can only begin by quoting this amazing passage from Mark’s gospel:
The disciples were on the way, going up to Jerusalem,
and Jesus went ahead of them.
They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.
Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them
what was going to happen to him.
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man
will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death
and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him,
spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death,
but after three days he will rise.”
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
came to Jesus and said to him,
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?”
They answered him,
“Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
They said to him, “We can.”
Jesus said to them, “The chalice that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The first mystery is this: that we have set before us the basic choice of the entire human race. Here is the choice of Adam and Eve. Here is the choice of Everyman. Here is the choice of Cain and Abel. Here is the choice of you and me. The choice is stark. The choice is the disciples planning their own glory, power, prestige and pleasure while Jesus offers them a share in his passion.
What will you have? Choose from the words that begin with “P”” Power, Prestige, Prosperity and Pleasure or Pain, Persecution and the Passion?
Look how amazing Mark packs everything into this gospel passage: Here is the second mystery of the chalice–that both dominical sacraments are merged: baptism and eucharist. Will you be baptized and will you take the chalice?
The next mystery of the chalice is the mystery of ordination. Here Christ offers the way of the Warrior Priest and the Way of the Suffering Servant. Both are bundled into this one passage where Christ speaks of being priest and victim, but links this directly with being the suffering servant.
By the way, this is the profound reason why women may not only not become priests, but also may not become deacons. It is because the deacon is not simply a servant to the church. The deacon is an icon of the Suffering Servant–who is Christ. This is why, in God’s providence, the first martyr was also a deacon–Stephen’s martyrdom was the sacramental identification of his diaconal service and ordained status as being one with Christ.
The priest is in persona christi as Great High Priest. The Deacon is in persona Christi as the Suffering Servant. Now this is an interesting thing to observe when it comes to the hot button issue of women’s ordination to the diaconate. Some will say that a woman can serve as a deacon and do all the things a deacon can do. Maybe in a practical sense this is true, but when it comes to the iconic imagery of the Mass it is not so.
The deacon is also in persona Christi as not just the servant–but the Suffering Servant. Note how, in this gospel, the role of the servant is inextricably linked with the suffering and passion of Christ.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.
So then, the deacon’s servant role is not simply that of practical service to the church, but that practical service to the church fulfills an iconic function which is fused from, and is derived from, the passion of the Christ.
The final mystery of the chalice is the liturgical mystery. We see the priest and the deacon at the liturgy, performing the functions of deacon and priest in the cosmic ceremony. It is there that we see all the aspects of Christ being shown in iconic form. There is Christ the priest. There is Christ the Victim, There is Christ the Suffering Servant. There is Christ the Good Shepherd. There is Christ the Husband. There is Christ the Bridegroom. There is Christ the Judge. There is Christ the King. There is Christ the Lord.
In the economy of salvation these icons are not insignificant. They are not meaningless. Instead they resonate deeply within the human heart. The echo profoundly in the human psyche, in our shared experience, in our shared humanity and in our shared subconscious
The liturgy–through ceremony and ritual–keys these archetypal icons and we connect with them at a level beyond, above and below ordinary language. Because these icons are visual cues they connect to the pre linguistic area of our experience. We are therefore, through the icons of the Mass connecting with very deep parts of our collective memory, and therefore these icons are crucial for the seepage of redemption down to the very depths of our mind and spirit.
Then, very simply, we accept and take in this cosmic mystery as the priest lifts the chalice at Mass and we then come forward to share in that chalice.
This is why I call this mystery “cosmic”–because it connects with all that is deeper and higher than our usual lives of perception and pity.
These cosmic mysteries are the “deep magic from before the dawn of time.”
We tinker with them as fools play with matches and gasoline in a firework factory.