J.R.R. Tolkien Letters

From two letters of J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) to his son Michael (1920-1984), on the Blessed Sacrament:

• March 1941:

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. … There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.”

• November 1963:

“The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. (It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand – after which [Our] Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.)

I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and rearising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. ‘Feed my sheep’ was His last charge to St Peter; and since His words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life. It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was really launched – ‘the blasphemous fable of the Mass’ – and faith/works a mere red herring. I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that carried out by St Pius X: surpassing anything, however needed, that the [Second Vatican] Council will achieve. I wonder what state the Church would now be but for it.

… I live in anxiety concerning my children: who in this harder crueller and more mocking world into which I have survived must suffer more assaults than I have. But I am one who came up out of Egypt, and pray God none of my seed shall return thither. I witnessed (half-comprehending) the heroic sufferings and early death in extreme poverty of my mother who brought me into the Church; and received the astonishing charity of Francis Morgan. But I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning – and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again: but alas! I indeed did not live up to it. I brought you all up ill and talked to you too little. Out of wickedness and sloth I almost ceased to practise my religion… Not for me the Hound of Heaven, but the never-ceasing silent appeal of Tabernacle, and the sense of starving hunger. I regret those days bitterly (and suffer for them with such patience as I can be given); most of all because I failed as a father. Now I pray for you all, unceasingly, that the Healer (the Hælend as the Saviour was usually called in Old English) shall heal my defects, and that none of you shall ever cease to cry Benedictus qui venit in nomme Domini [‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’].”

(These letters are numbered 43 and 250, respectively, in: The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien. The full book is available for free online. According to the editors, the allusion to Pius X is a “[possible] reference to [this pope’s] recommendation of daily communion and children’s communion.” Tolkien’s father died when he was 4. Regarding his mother’s death and Fr. Morgan, here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia: “Mabel Tolkien was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1900 despite vehement protests by her Baptist family, which stopped all financial assistance to her. In 1904, when J. R. R. Tolkien was 12, his mother died of acute diabetes… insulin would not be discovered until two decades later. Nine years after her death, Tolkien wrote, ‘My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to ensure us keeping the faith.’ Before her death, Mabel Tolkien had assigned the guardianship of her sons to her close friend, Father Francis Xavier Morgan of the Birmingham Oratory, who was assigned to bring them up as good Catholics.” In this Oratory, also a crucial element in the life of St. Newman, Tolkien attended Mass and was an altar boy between 1902 and 1911.)

Image: Rorate Mass before dawn during Advent of 2018 at the Igreja Paroquial de São Nicolau in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo apparently sent by this church to the website of the New Liturgical Movement, where I found it.

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