Meditation of the Day
The very first vision of Mary that we encounter, as we retrace the journey of the central characters in The Lord of the Rings, occurs as Frodo, Sam, and Pippin are being hunted by what they know only as a Black Rider—who (they will eventually learn) is one of the Nine Ringwraiths, the most fearsome servants of Sauron, the Dark Lord. They are in the gravest peril they could possibly be in Middle-earth, short of encountering the Enemy himself. They are saved by an unexpected, providential meeting with a group of Elves, who are on their way westward through the Shire, but when they hear of the hobbits’ plight they agree to take them into their company for the night. Very significantly, it is when Frodo hears them speaking the name of Elbereth that he recognizes them as High Elves, the most holy of the peoples of Middle-earth: “‘These are High Elves! They spoke the name of Elbereth!’ said Frodo in amazement.”
In Tolkien’s mythos, Elbereth (star-queen) is one of the names of Varda (the exalted), one of the benevolent Powers of the world. As her name indicates, she rules the stars. Gilthoniel means “star-kindler.” Much later in the story, the narrator explains: “Varda is the name of that Lady whom the Elves in these lands of exile name Elbereth” (Bk2 Ch8). Analogously, in Catholic liturgy and piety, the Virgin Mary is reverenced under many titles. She is frequently invoked as “Our Lady” and “Queen of Heaven.” One of the most well-known Marian hymns, the Salve Regina, calls upon her to show us her Son “after this our exile.” Like the Elves, we Christians do not consider ourselves to have a permanent home here below. We are on pilgrimage through a land of shadows, dangers, and suffering. But we have a bright beacon shining down upon us as a sign of hope that we will one day reach our homeland safely. And it is good for us to sing in praise of her beauty, especially when evil threatens to overtake us.
The Elves, too, sing a hymn to Elbereth in the woods of the Shire, out of sheer joy at her loveliness, manifested in the stars that shine overhead:
Snow-white! Snow-white! O Lady clear! O Queen beyond the Western Seas! O Light to us that wander here Amid the world of woven trees! Gilthoniel! O Elbereth! Clear are thy eyes and bright thy breath! Snow-white! Snow-white! We sing to thee In a far land beyond the Sea.
AVE REGINA CAELORUM
|Ave, Regina cælorum,|
Ave, Domina Angelorum:
Salve radix, salve, Porta,
Ex qua mundo lux est orta:
Gaude Virgo gloriosa,
Super omnes speciosa,
Vale, o valde decora,
Et pro nobis Christum exora.
|Hail! O Queen of heav’n enthron’d!|
Hail! by angels mistress own’d!
Root of Jesse, Gate of morn,
Whence the world’s true Light was born.
Glorious Virgin! joy to thee,
Loveliest whom in heaven they see.
Fairest thou where all are fair!
Plead with Christ our sins to spare.
- When the troubles and evils of this life press in on us, the temptation is to narrow our vision, to “look down” and to turn in upon ourselves. Instead, we can choose to “look up,” to gaze in awe and wonder at our heavenly homeland and its glorious inhabitants. Praise is one of the purest forms of devotion because it is gratuitous. Today, let’s look for an opportunity to express our admiration for our heavenly Queen’s beauty.
- There is a vast treasury of hymns and poems to Our Lady in our heritage. We can look up one that we are not familiar with, and make it our own.
- Like the Elves, we can use the sight of natural beauty to remind us of the Blessed Land where our Queen awaits us, beyond the bounds of time and space.
To Go Deeper
- Fr. William G. Most, “Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth”
- Entry on Varda in the Encyclopedia of Arda.
- Stephen C. Winter, The Shire is Stranger than Frodo Thinks.