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Kate Taliaferro reviews a self-study course on one of her favorite authors, presented by St. Paul Center's Emmaus Academy.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to participate in the St. Paul Center’s Emmaus Academy this January. I was able to take the course Tolkien’s Liturgical Imagination presented by Dr. Ben Reinhard. This course covered a wide range of topics, both liturgical and Tolkien, as perhaps the name suggests. It did not disappoint. 



Dr. Reinhard begins his lectures by inviting the listeners into Tolkien’s daily life, proposing that before liturgical elements can be found within Tolkien’s works, we first have to understand just how liturgically grounded his life was. And boy, was it! As someone who has studied liturgy, I was deeply impressed with Tolkien’s knowledge of liturgical texts and the ways he seamlessly wove them into his regular correspondence and life. Tolkien even recommended memorizing important liturgical prayers as a critical way for his son, Christopher, to remain close to his faith while serving in World War II.   

Many of us know the prayers of the Mass and can say them along with the priest and community during Mass. Many of us know popular songs or poetry that can be recited along with the album playing. But have you ever tried to repeat them on your own, by yourself, without the text in front of you? It is an interesting and challenging exercise, because sometimes those prayers, songs, or poems you thought you knew so well are difficult to recall in full unless you have taken the time to deeply study them. Tolkien studied them deeply.   

This deep study of the liturgy and daily living it out (Tolkien attended Mass daily for the majority of his life) could not but shape and inform his writing. Dr. Reinhard goes through a number of examples, letters, and short stories, teasing this theory out before getting to what everyone is waiting for: The Lord of the Rings. I am a Tolkien lover, and I found many references and moments which made me smile as I recalled the wider story surrounding whatever portion was being referenced. However, Dr. Reinhard does a good job providing the wider context and details needed to understand whatever portion of whatever story he is using to illustrate his point.  

I very much enjoyed this course. As I said, I already love Tolkien’s stories. But after this course, I have a deeper appreciation for who Tolkien was and how his quiet Catholicism helped him tell these masterful tales. I also have a better grasp on why these stories have such an inspirational quality. If you are someone who is on the fence about Tolkien, or hasn’t quite gotten through his stories, I would still recommend this course to you. I hope that you will find a new connection to Tolkien that inspires you to give his works a try. At the end of the day, as Dr. Reinhard explains, Tolkien’s works are about the exaltation of the humble (I’m looking at you, hobbit fans), which is, at its core, a most liturgical and Catholic viewpoint. 



Copyright 2024 Kate Taliaferro
Images: Screenshots from StPaulCenter.com, all rights reserved.