Our Most Beloved Star

In JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, the hero Hobbit, Frodo Baggins, receives a precious gift from the Elven Queen, Galadriel, "And you, Frodo Baggins, I give you the Light of Eärendil, our most beloved star. May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out." 

The gift is a relic, a phial of water containing light from the Evening Star that lights the fictional universe of Middle-Earth fashioned by the Creator in the beginning, before the Fall.  When Frodo finds himself alone in the dark against the giant evil spider Shelob, he invokes the name of the star and the light repels the dark and evil monster.

Tolkien, of course, didn't write a catechism, but he did imbue each and every word with his Catholic faith and while Lord of the Rings is not an allegory such that this thing represents that thing directly, there is much of our Catholic faith that is illustrated by the story.

We don't live in a world populated by Elves, Orcs, Wizards, and Men, but we do live in a world populated by Men, Angels, and Demons.  We are not merely flesh and blood, but luminous spiritual beings as well.  Because we are "spiritual amphibians" (to quote C.S. Lewis), spiritual things have real effect on the material world, and vice versa.

The story of Frodo and the Light of Eärendil recalls what the Church calls "sacramentals."  The Catechism of the Catholic Church quoting the Second Vatican Council offers this explanation: "Holy Mother Church has, moreover, instituted sacramentals. These are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy"(# 1667).

 For example, I wear a "four-way" cross-medal around my neck, and have done so since I was a boy.  It was given to me by my grandmother after she returned from Rome, the cross-medal having been blessed by Pope John Paul the Great.  In the center of the medal is the dove symbolizing the Spirit, and in each arm of the cross-medal are images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St Christopher, the emblem of the Miraculous Medal, and Our Lady of Carmel with the Child Jesus.  The silver cross-medal carries with it the blessing of the Holy Father since his prayers remain with the medal forever, just as my own prayers echo across space and time.  It is always "now" for the Ancient of Days and those gathered with Him in Heaven, so there is no end of prayers offered to Him by us or the holy ones.

The Catechism reminds us the power of sacramentals come from the Sacraments themselves, which of course are the work of the Spirit through the once-and-for-all mediation of Jesus Christ.  Scripture attests to this belief in the power of prayer: "The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful" (Jas 5:16b).  We know that the priests of the Church, each consecrated and commissioned to be "another Christ" for us, have a ministry to exercise the righteous prayers of Jesus the High Priest, as well as those of the holy ones (the saints) praying at the Throne (Rev 5:8).  Of course, there are Christians like John Paul and Padre Pio who achieve holiness here on earth.  I am grateful that I have a blessing from our beloved late pope to carry with me at all times.

Now sacramentals are not talismans, or charms, or anything like that.  Prayer is not magic.  Sacramentals and relics derive their power from Christ as a way of conforming ourselves to Him, whereas magic is the attempt to control creation by our own (or another's) power.  Sacramentals do have the power of prayer, however, and that is great power indeed.

Just like Frodo, we can have a light to illuminate our way in dark places when all other lights go out.  The use of the sacramentals of the Church reminds us of the sovereignty of God, and the power of prayer.

My four-way medal is worn almost smooth now; I can barely make out the images on the front.  But when I turn the medal over and read the engraving "Roma" (Rome), I am reminded whose prayers reside upon it.  When I went to war in 2002, my medal came with me, and I am convinced the prayers of the Holy Father helped keep me safe.  The prayers of a righteous man, indeed.

A light when all others go out.

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  • Guest

    Actually, those words are from the Peter Jackson version of Galadriel. Tolkien's Galadriel says the following:

    "And you, Ring-bearer…I come to you last who are not last in my thoughts. For you I have prepared this…In this phial …is caught the light of Eärendil's star, set amid the waters of my fountain. It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out. Remember Galadriel and her Mirror !"

    In the Tolkien universe, the stars are not directly created by Eru, the One, but by Varda Elbereth, working as an intermediary with Eru's blessing. The light of Eärendil is the light of a Silmaril, a gem in which the light of the Two Trees was locked, before the Trees were poisoned by the great spider Ungoliant at the behest of Morgoth, the first Enemy. (The Sun and Moon are the last fruit and flower of each of the Trees, coaxed from them after they began to die by the power of their intermediary maker, Yavanna.) Eärendil and the Silmaril are sent into the sky as a sign of hope for Middle-earth- and Eärendil's rising is followed by the War of Wrath, in which the Valar and the Elves of Aman defeated Morgoth and thrust him out of the world into the Void.

    Thus, in giving Frodo some of Eärendil's light, Galadriel is giving him a connection to the downfall of Morgoth, Sauron's predecessor and superior – light untainted by the touch of Ungoliant, Shelob's mother. In a way, it is even more Catholic of Tolkien to set it up in this manner- the light of the Phial is not just an untouched relic of better days, but a link to a previous victory over the powers of darkness.