Meditation of the Day
In order to prepare ourselves well for consecration to Our Lady, it is not enough to grow in our knowledge of her beauty, titles, privileges, and other perfections. We must give serious thought to how we will personally respond to what we learn of her during these thirty-three days. To paraphrase Jesus’s teaching in the gospel (Matt. 7:21), it is not enough to say “My Lady! My Lady!” to benefit from her maternal protection and intercession. We need to make real changes in how we live, to reflect our new awareness. That is why, as we traverse Middle-earth, we will be stopping not only to contemplate the characters, places, and powers that give us deeper insight into who Mary is for us, but also to examine how other characters in the story respond to who she is for them.
Our first model of consecration is Frodo Baggins, the Ringbearer, the one whom divine Providence has ordained to carry out the most perilous enterprise of all: to take the Ring, the Dark Lord’s greatest weapon, into the very heart of his kingdom, and cast it into the fire of Mount Doom, where it was forged ages ago. Frodo’s own “doom” will involve a long way of the cross; and so, more than any other character, we can see revealed in Frodo the traits of the Man of Sorrows, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. (For more insight on how various characters in LOTR reflect the three offices of Christ—Priest, Prophet, and King—, see the work by Ryken in the “To Go Deeper” section below.)
Frodo responds to the encounter with the Elbereth-invoking Elves in a manner that shows not only that he is polite and respectful, but that he is eager to learn as much as he can from them. He begins by greeting them in Quenya, their ancient speech (the equivalent of Latin in Middle-earth): “A star shines on the hour of our meeting.” He is far from fluent, but he makes every effort to use what he knows of their tongue to speak to his hosts and to understand what they are saying. He shows genuine humility and trust by asking for advice; and he is rewarded with the title “Elf-friend.” When Gildor, the leader of the company, learns that Frodo and his friends are being hunted by the Black Riders, he invokes a blessing upon him: “May Elbereth protect you!” And indeed, in very critical encounters with the powers of darkness later on (Weathertop, the Ford of Bruinen, Cirith Ungol), he will be able to call upon her name and enjoy the benefits of her protection.
Let’s transpose this response into Christian terms. Like our own great High Priest, Jesus, Frodo begins his ministry in total humility, by putting himself at the school of Mary. He does more than treat her name as a magical talisman: he exhibits the virtues of heart and mind that show his sincerity in desiring to enjoy her friendship, by befriending and learning from her greatest friends, the Elves, the holy ones who reverence her and live by her light. By becoming an Elf-friend, that is, a saint-friend, he becomes a Mary-friend.
If all this Christian symbolism, woven deeply into the fabric of what you may have thought was just one more work of modern fantasy fiction, gives you reason to think that Tolkien was a literary genius as well as a profound Catholic thinker, you are not alone! There is no doubt that Tolkien was a creative genius, and the secret of his genius lay in the conformity of his mind to the divine mind. If we admire the creative genius of a Tolkien, how much more should we admire the genius of the God who inspired him! He is the Author, not just of a work of fiction, but of the true Story: the great history of our world and the even greater history of its salvation, which enfolds the mystery of our own lives. If Tolkien, using the gifts that God gave him, was able to write such a brilliant story, how much more brilliant should we find the story of our own lives, the one that God is writing right now? If we understand how magnificently good He is, and how unimaginably wise, we can only entrust ourselves without reserve into His all-powerful hands. We can only conclude, with Julian of Norwich, the great 14th-century English woman mystic, that despite the devastation caused by sin, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Revelations 27:8-11.209).
O Jesus, living in Mary,
come and live in your servants,
in the spirit of holiness,
in the fullness of your power,
in the perfection of your ways,
in the truth of your virtues,
in the communion of your mysteries.
Rule over every adverse power,
in your Spirit,
for the glory of the Father. Amen.
– Jean-Jacques Olier, S.S. (1608-1657)
- One of the best ways to put ourselves at the school of Mary is to befriend those who loved her the most on earth. Pick one or two saints who are renowned in the Church for their devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and humbly seek to learn as much as you can from them.
- Make an act of trust that if you do your best, with the help of God’s grace, to become a Mary-friend, she will reward you with her presence and protection when you need them the most.
- Learn some Marian prayers or chants in their original language, and incorporate them into your prayer life.