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Did You Know You Could Say an Intercessory Prayer to Tolkien?

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

You can read Tolkien, study Tolkien, film Tolkien, cosplay Tolkien and moot Tolkien, but did you know that Catholics can make an intercessory prayer to John Ronald Reuel Tolkien because he is part of the Communion of Saints?

With life often feeling very much these days like we are "fighting the long defeat", it may come as a welcome consolation to know that we can petition the intercessory, loving help of a man whose devotion to God, and whose writings founded on that devotion, have become one of the great moving forces in modern Christianity.

Just as Frodo calls on the name of Eärendil when fighting Shelob in The Lord of the Rings, there could be times and seasons when invoking the name of Professor Tolkien in mindful prayer could help you reconnect with the strength and grace you are seeking.

What is the Communion of Saints?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (Second Edition) defines the Communion of Saints as:

"The unity in Christ of all the redeemed, those on Earth and those who have died. The Communion of Saints is professed in the Apostles' Creed, where it has also been interpreted to refer to unity in the 'holy things' (Communio Sanctorum), especially the unity of faith and charity achieved through participation in the Eucharist...It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek, rather, that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity, the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened."

In other words, we can take strength from the hope that we remain in communion with loved ones who have died and gone to heaven. Far from being separated from one another by death, we remain one Church, one Body.

The Communion of Saints is not to be confused with the special saints who have been officially recognized by the Catholic Church. For example, I took Saint Francis as my patron saint at the time of my confirmation, because of his profound reverence for all Creation.

Painting of St. Francis Statue in Garden with many birds and animals
Visiting Francis - Miriam Ellis

I also feel a special devotion to Saint Patrick, who is the Patron Saint of Ireland.

Painting of Saint Patrick finding shamrocks
An Bealach Glas (The Green Way) - Miriam Ellis

And as Dr. Holly Ordway explains in a recent article, J.R.R. Tolkien chose the 16th century St. Philip Neri as his patron saint at confirmation, noting:

"St. Philip Neri, as well as being “the third apostle of Rome” is the “apostle of joy”. He was by all accounts a cheerful and joyful man, who frequently played jokes on his friends—though usually with an underlying purpose: to encourage the development of humility and self-forgetfulness."

Stained glass window featuring St. Philip Neri
St. Philip Neri - Image Credit Lawrence OP

As I recently heard Dr. Ordway explain in an excellent interview on the Tea With Tolkien YouTube Channel, she proposes that the extra hook at the bottom of Tolkien's famous monogram is no accident but incorporates a "P" into the symbol for St. Philip Neri.

Screenshot of video, credit: Tea With Tolkien

What is an intercessory prayer?

Catholics pray directly to God the Father. It's very important to emphasize that Catholics don't worship saints or put any other figure in the place of God. But they do have the added consolation of asking for help from multiple directions. An intercessory prayer asks someone to make a petition before God on our behalf.

For example, Tolkien wrote an intercessory prayer to Blessed Mother (the mother of Jesus) during the Great War. This as-yet-unpublished prayer is known as Consolatrix Afflictorum (consoler of the afflicted) or Stella Vespertina (evening star) and its opening line will feel strangely familiar to any devoted Tolkien reader:

"O Lady Mother throned amid the stars"

You are quite right if you hear the echo of this petition ringing in the Elvish chant "A Elbereth Gilthoniel, o menel palan-diriel" (O Elbereth Star-kindler, from heaven gazing afar). And if you have ever heard someone sing the Ave Maria or recite the Hail Mary, you have heard an intercessory prayer. The person praying is asking the recipient of the prayer to pray both with them and for them. Because of the teaching of the Communion of Saints in the Catholic Church, this is what makes it possible for people to humbly request that a beloved, departed figure like Professor Tolkien, or any of our ancestors, might pray both with us and for us to God.

What might you pray about in asking Tolkien to intercede for you?

St. Aloysius Catholic Church
St Aloysius Church, Oxford

This is a very personal matter. As Professor Tom Shippey so brilliantly proves in his book, there are countless reasons why readers made J.R.R. Tolkien the "author of the century" in the 20th century. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings as a "a fundamentally religious and Catholic work" but people are drawn to the legendarium for countless reasons, from simply loving a great tale, to loving languages, or nature, or beautiful prose, or fantasy, or art, or costuming, or God. Diversity is one of the key strengths of the vast Tolkien community!

Whether you profess a particular faith or none at all, you are honored and needed. If you happen to be Catholic, however, this path of prayer could be one you would like to explore further.

I would suggest that in forming your own intercessory prayer to the professor, you might think about the themes in his work that he cared about most and that resonate most strongly with you and that you are seeking some help and guidance with. Here are some suggestions, simply offered for consideration and inspiration:

  • Tolkien reverenced the green world and Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si' makes it the duty of all Catholics to take an active role in healing Climate Change. The destruction of the industrial revolution which Tolkien sorely mourned in the English countryside of his boyhood is now felt in the fires and mega storms affecting all of us all over the world. You might pray with Tolkien for guidance on how you can most effectively be part of the transition off fossil fuels and towards a loving and grateful stewardship of the Earth.

  • Tolkien often suffered from ill health, as is seen in his letters. If you or a loved one is unwell, you might pray for both strength to bear the struggle and, if possible, for healing.

  • Tolkien's creativity rescued him from many of the distresses of poverty in old age. If you are a creative person and are trying to find a way to to use your talents to be able to support yourself, you might pray for God to send the right people your way so that you can make meaningful connections with those who will love and support your work.

This year, I have been asking for Tolkien to help me with my art. I've had many health struggles and am seeking the grace to be able to share some moments of beauty and goodness with other people through my work. Vatican II urges Catholic artists to use their gifts as a means of uplifting communication with our fellows, and I have been thinking about this invitation a great deal lately.

I strongly sense that my fellow travelers on the road that goes ever on and on are tired, wounded by Climate Change, COVID, war, greedy government policies, the confusion of online society, and other troubles, and I would be glad to think my work could offer even a moment of peace and happiness in someone else's hard or busy day. Intercessory prayer to Tolkien to help me in this effort seems to give me a quiet sense of strength and purpose, and it is just good to share a moment with the man who has done so much to enrich my life. If you give it a try, I hope it brings you joy.

Tolkien and the Holy Spirit

At the beginning of this article, I called J.R.R. Tolkien one of the great, moving forces of modern Christianity. Anecdotally, I've heard accounts of his writings being responsible for readers' conversions to Catholicism, and given the effect he had on C.S Lewis, this would not surprise me. But my claim is both simpler and grander than this:

Tolkien's uniquely powerful telling of the ancient story of good vs. evil may have done more than any other modern book to pull readers out of their imposed roles in a worldly world.

As a 21st century American, I am keenly and poignantly aware that the forces of industrialization and capitalism would have me never think beyond what I can produce and consume. We aren't meant to think about good or evil, or God, or pity, or love. We are meant to go to work and Walmart and be done with it.

Painting of Bilbo setting out with the dwarves
"At the Green Dragon Inn, Bywater" - Miriam Ellis

But when we get on that road from The Hill, and wander into Rivendell, and fight Smaug, and hear our small protagonist praised for valuing "food and cheer and song above hoarded gold" we begin to have a different vision of ourselves than the one corporate goals would confine us to.

When we take to the longer road with Frodo and Sam, and we meet elves who once saw the light of the two trees and know first-hand of the existence of Eru, and we walk right into the shadow of the Enemy, and we are exhausted and weary in our tattered clothes but glimpse that star twinkling above the forsaken land with "light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach," we have come a long way away from being mere cogs in some CEO's wheelhouse.

And when we make it to the Music of the Ainur, and Tolkien's glorious sub-creation narrative of the making of the world, we are awed by the glory and, perhaps, far less likely to let any force in this world make little of our souls, our worth, our status as the beloved creatures of a Great Creator. Tolkien has taken millions of us on this journey, this "escape of the prisoner" and it is a profoundly different message than the one with which we're inundated on the screens of our ever-present new technology. He has made us the ones who cheer for the Ents overcoming "the mind of metal and wheels," weep for the eucatastrophe of the downfall of the dark tower, and welcome the return of the king.

Tolkien was adamant, repeatedly, that his "fundamentally Catholic" faërie tale should never be treated as a Christian allegory, but the journey it takes his readers on can make them very serious, indeed, about the ultimate battle of good vs. evil and having to take what strong stand they can on one side or another. To me, as a Catholic, this is what classifies the legendarium as inspired reading - as works inspired by the Holy Spirit - because of its power to move hearts to pity, discernment, humility, awe, and good.

These are messages, it seems, which readers from all walks of life remain hungry for. The professor's dynamic popularity proves it. We know we are meant for more than the work-and-Walmart slot. We can put on a cloak of journey, think about and face the bigger questions, and if we happen to travel the Catholic road, a little intercessory prayer with Tolkien could be a good walking stick for support along the way.


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