Tolkien and the Eucharist

In honor of yesterday’s Feast of Corpus Christi and its Octave, remnants of which still exist in the 1962 Liturgy, this is something of a literary tribute to the Bread of Life.

It is well known that J.R.R. Tolkien, the celebrated fantasy writer who gave us The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was a Catholic. He was not a writer who just happened to be also a Catholic; he was a writer whose Catholicism permeated his work. Although there are those who object to a world of goblins, elves, and dwarves as an escapism that is not Catholic or wholesome, Tolkien’s Middle Earth was a very “sacramental” place which at times only thinly veils its author’s Catholic world view, and this we know by his own testimony. Tolkien’s Catholic principles impregnate his writings, particularly the Rings trilogy. I would include in these principles his monarchism, respect for hierarchy, fascination with matter as a conduit to unseen spiritual realities, deep sense of chivalry, respect for the principle of subsidiarity, high regard for virtue as a means to happiness, and penetrating sense of the redeeming value of suffering and asceticism. His world is a fallen world where evil lurks, but good is more powerful than evil, and there is an abiding sense of Providence. I could also mention the fact that good is beautiful and evil is ugly in Tolkien’s world. Today, there is a studied effort to reverse this schema, or at least to render good and evil ambiguous.

One of my favorite Catholic things about the trilogy is that when the Ring is finally destroyed in the Cracks of Doom, an event which begins a new age for Middle Earth, it happens on March 25. Catholics recognize this as both the Feast of the Annunciation and the date traditionally assigned to the Crucifixion of Our Lord.

The lembas bread is another example of Tolkien’s Catholicism. It is manifestly a literary type of the Eucharist. For the unfamiliar, lembas is bread made by the Elves. Literally, the word means “journey bread” or “waybread” in Elven, a language of Tolkien’s invention. (He was a linguist and philologist.) The Elven etymology of lembas was doubtless, at least in part, a reference to the Eucharist as viaticum. Now, viaticum itself contains a very powerful imagery since the word (from the Latin via = “way”) comes from the ancient world and connotes a meal taken in preparation for a journey. It was “baptized” by Catholics and came to signify the Eucharist received on one’s deathbed, in order to strengthen him for his journey into eternity. The Roman Ritual has a special rite for administering Holy Communion as viaticum.

But the Eucharist does not only strengthen us in the end. It strengthens us throughout the journey of our life. It is the “bread of the strong,” the “bread of life,” and the “food of the elect.” As a sacrament, it is a means of grace, so it increases sanctifying grace and carries with it a pledge of all the actual graces we need to be strong in resisting sin. Theologians, poets, and preachers have long waxed eloquent on the Eucharist having spiritually all the qualities that food has materially: It fortifies, heals, satiates, and refreshes the one who partakes of it.

There is, of course, much more to be said of the Blessed Eucharist, but let’s get back to Tolkien and one of his many descriptions of lembas in the trilogy. In this passage, Frodo and Sam are near the dreaded Mount Doom, the fiery mountain which is the only place where the Ring can be destroyed. They are in terrible physical danger because they are well into the enemy camp. They also lack water and have had nothing to eat other than the lembas.

“As for himself, though weary and under a shadow of fear, {Sam} still had some strength left. The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travelers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.” (Return of the King, 262)

For more on Tolkien’s Catholicism, see The Lord of the Rings — a Catholic View, by Charles A. Coulombe, K.C.St.S.

» Masons in the News: The Masonic Plot by Father Manuel Guerra Gomez — A Spanish Theology Professor gives credence to what are often unthinkingly dismissed as “wacko conspiracy theories.” Excerpt: “On the other hand, in the English-speaking world and in the northern countries, in Turkey, etc., it is not that they [Masons] seek to gain power, they are the power.” Those wondering why Catholics are concerned about Masonry should peruse our section on organized naturalism. See also: Italian Law Enforcement Once Again Mounting a Huge Investigation into the Secret Societies — Remember the Italian Police Bust of the PII (Propaganda Due) Lodge in the early 1980s? Looks as if we are about to have another. We shall see what develops from this. It is illegal in Italy for secret societies to have clandestine members or to engage in conspiratorial activity. Would that abortion, divorce, pornography, and the sale of contraceptives were also crimes in this “Catholic” country. Wherever Catholic apathy allows organized naturalism to thrive, these moral ills always follow.