Guest post by Lucas W. Holt
Behind the Mind of Middle Earth: How The Lord of the Rings Presents an Imaginative Defense of the Catholic Faith (Conclusion)
An Imaginative Case for the Holy Eucharist and the Anointing of the Sick
The role of authority and the reflections of Mary in Galadriel are two specifically Catholic elements in the series, but we also get a subtle taste of at least two of the sacraments, The Sacrament of the Eucharist and The Anointing of the Sick. It is subtle, but one can see in certain images, and through language Tolkien employs, that there is a Catholic feel to the story. The first of these, the Eucharist, can be seen in the miruvor and the lembas, which bear similarities to the wine and bread of Holy Communion, the former being a liquor and the latter being a kind of bread. Both miruvor and lembas nourish and strengthen the traveling companions on their arduous journey. Furthermore, one needs only to have a small amount in order to be aided. Consider the following passages:
‘Give them this,’ said Gandalf, searching in his pack and drawing out a leathern flask. ‘Just a mouthful each – for all of us. It is very precious. It is miruvor, the cordial of Imladris. Elrond gave it to me at our parting. Pass it round!’ As soon as Frodo had swallowed a little of the warm and fragrant liquor he felt a new strength of heart, and the heavy drowsiness left his limbs. The others also revived and found fresh hope and vigour.
‘I thought it was only a kind of cram, such as the Dale-men make for journeys in the wild,’ said the Dwarf. ‘So it is,’ they answered. ‘But we call it lembas or waybread, and it is more strengthening than any food made by Men, and it is more pleasant than cram, by all accounts.’
Furthermore, lembas “fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.” Just as the lembas and miruvor strengthen and nourish the Company as they travel on their journey, so too in the Catholic’s life the Holy Eucharist is what nourishes and strengthens him/her on their earthly pilgrimage.
Not only do we see Eucharistic imagery in miruvor and lembas, but also we can see some Eucharistic language in the story. For example, after Merry and Pippin met Treebeard and were traveling with him, they come to a resting place to spend the night. The place they settled was Wellinghall, an ent-house, inside of which we see that “A great stone table stood there, but no chairs.” Shortly after the hobbits go inside with the slow-speaking Tree, we read that, “Treebeard lifted two great vessels and stood them on the table. They seemed to be filled with water; but he held his hands over them, and immediately they began to glow, one with a golden and the other with a rich green light.”This scene echoes what a Catholic encounters during the Mass. The language ‘a table but with no chairs’ is a similar description of an altar, or at least in reading that line one can visualize an object that would look similar to an altar. What follows is perhaps more interesting, though: Treebeard placing his hands over what ‘seemed to be filled with water’ and then the liquid transforming. This is evocative of the way the priest during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass places his hands over the Eucharistic bread and wine during the epiclesis in which the priest calls down the Holy Spirit to transform the Eucharistic bread and wine.
The Eucharistic language and imagery in the above passage is subtle, and one who is not familiar with Catholic teaching might not recognize these similarities. However, this serves to illustrate the somewhat hidden catholicity of The Lord of the Rings. What we see is not necessarily overt scenes where Christ or his Church are symbolized, but instead imaginative interactions and language that permeate the entire work so that when the reader steps into Middle Earth it has a Catholic feel to it, even though the reader might not be conscious that they are in that kind of a world.
The second sacrament the reader encounters in LOTR is The Anointing of the Sick. The similarities between what we see in LOTR and this sacrament, however, is more explicit. The chapter called “The Houses of Healing” in The Return of the King exemplifies the nature of this sacrament. The fact that it is Aragorn who brings healing to Faramir, Eowyn, and Merry reflects the teaching that it must be a bishop or priest—one in authority—who administers the sacrament. Also, that it must be used in severe instances. Of course, anyone can take care of another; and, indeed, other people in the house are caring for the three characters mentioned above. But it is Aragorn who uses athelas (which bears similarities to holy oil) and runs his hands over their heads and calls them by name to bring them back to health. “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.’” This echoes the ministry of Jesus, the Wounded Healer and King of kings, who, during his earthly life cured the diseases of many, drove out demons, raised people from the dead, and by his Passion defeated death and opened up a fountain that cleanses people from sin.
A Meaningful World
These Catholic elements in the story––authority, typological characteristics of the BVM, the Holy Eucharist, Anointing of the Sick––, while important in themselves, nevertheless achieve their apologetic value most significantly in their cumulative effect. All of these elements gathered up and mixed together point to an ordered, meaningful, sacramental universe. Nature has meaning (the trees fight in battle; when it is light/morning hope seems to spring; the air brings messages), food has meaning (lembas, miruvor), relationships have meaning, and the choices that the characters make are meaningful. All of Middle Earth is full of meaning and purpose. One does not read LOTR and think, ‘Ah, well, it does not really matter if the Ring is destroyed or not. After all, it is just one battle of many. If the Enemy prevails, there will be another confrontation in the future’. No. The fate of Middle Earth depends on what happens to the Ring, whether it is destroyed or not. This is true in our own world, too. The world we inhabit is filled with meaning: all of creation, and indeed the choices we make in our lives, matter and mean something. So when the reader enters into Middle Earth they can taste and see what it is like to have a Catholic worldview; they can try on a pair of spectacles and experience a sacramental vision of the world. Furthermore, there is this: just as the reader cannot simply shrug at what happens to the Ring, so too one cannot shrug at the Resurrection: the fate of the universe depends on whether or not Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. If this sounds incredible, it is because it is.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 290.
 Ibid., 369.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, 936.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, 470.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, 470.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, 860.
 There are other elements that make LOTR Catholic as well: the theme of Pity, the care for the environment, the reflections of Christ in Frodo (Suffering Servant), Aragorn (King), and Gandalf (Resurrected Christ), the monastic nature of Tom Bombadil, the similarities between the duration of the Quest and the dates of events with the Church’s liturgical calendar. Addressing all of this, however, would require an entire book!
Lucas W. Holt is a missionary with Spiritus Ministries in Menasha, Wisconsin. He holds a B.S. from the University of Arizona, as well as a PGDip from the University of Oxford. He is also the creator of Pelican Poetry, which is a literary project dedicated to restoring a sense of wonder at the world.