Commentators have noted that lembas has Eucharistic overtones in accordance with Catholic teachings. Lembas literally sustains the hobbits’ lives, strength and will, while the Eucharist is the spiritual “Bread of Life”. Also, Gollum and other evil creatures cannot abide lembas, while Catholics are instructed not to receive the Eucharist if in the state of mortal sin. Further, the Eucharist is sometimes called viaticum, a Latin term meaning “for the way,” literally the spiritual food for the Christian’s arduous journey through earthly life to heaven. The term viaticum was more commonly heard in Tolkien’s day than today. In a private letter, Tolkien acknowledged that lembas bore religious significance.
—List of Middle-Earth Food and Drink: Lembas
…I can completely understand Tolkien’s horror at a scriptwriter’s plan to call lembas a “food concentrate”! Even in its short description above, this physical bread is obviously not just physical: “It fed the will and it gave strength to endure…" No matter how good a food concentrate is, it isn’t going to feed the will, which Tolkien considered a core element of being human. Lembas is physical but its effects point to a deeper kind of nourishment. In traditional Catholic vocabulary, especially for someone of Tolkien’s generation, the very use of the word "waybread" is a hint that this bread has something in common with the Eucharist; when a Catholic is fortunate enough to be able to receive Communion just before death, in Latin it’s called viaticum — "food for the journey" or, by a more literal translation, "food for the way." The idea that the potency of lembas increases when not combined with other foods calls to mind saints who lived for parts of their lives on nothing but the Eucharist, and even the general Catholic practice of not eating for a period of time before receiving Communion. For a Catholic to read that description and not think of the Eucharist would be like trying to not think of a pink elephant.
Does that mean lembas is the Eucharist? That when Frodo and Sam munch on it they’re taking Communion? No. But it’s more than a symbol of the Eucharist, as a plain piece of bread or goblet of wine might be, because its effects go beyond those of a plain piece of bread or goblet of wine. In a way, you could call it a sacrament of a Sacrament: it points to the Eucharist, which points to the presence of Christ. In the pre-Christian setting of LotR, the Sacrament hasn’t yet arrived, but the sacrament foreshadows it. Even Christians who don’t read John 6 literally (Catholics do) can certainly see the description of lembas pointing to the Bread of Life, Who feeds our will and provides spiritual strength beyond our own mortal ability…
—Frodo Lives in Us: Sacramental Spirituality
Tolkien stated once that the lembas;
“…also has a much larger significance, of what one might hesitatingly call a ‘religious’ kind. This becomes later apparent especially in the chapter ‘Mount Doom’.” [Letters p. 274-275, 1958].
This ‘religious’ significance of the Lembas that becomes apparent in Mordor is the ability to rely solely on the sustenance provided by consuming it, and the strength it gives to the wills of Frodo and Sam.
“The Lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was occupied with food, and the longing of simple breads and meats. and yet this waybread of the elves had a potency that increased as the travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind." [LotR p. 915].
Jesus being present in the Tabernacle of a Catholic Church is a fulfillment of the Jewish Tradition of God’s presence residing in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle of the Temple in Jerusalem. But now He resides in every corner of the world.
Tolkien had a huge love of Adoration as is shown in this letter to his son.
“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament… There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the complete surrender of all, and yet by the taste [or foretaste] of which alone can what you what you seek in your earthly relationships [love, faithfulness, joy] be maintained, or take on the complexity of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires." [Letters p. 53-54].
“But I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning — and by the Mercy of God have never fallen out again…" [Letters p. 340].
Regarding receiving the Bread of Heaven:
Tolkien: “Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals." [Letters p. 338].
*When Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are pursuing the Orcs across the planes of Rohan:
“Often in their hearts, they thanked the Lady of Lórien for the gift of lembas, for they could eat of it and find new strength even as they ran." [LotR p. 417]…
—MythicTruth: The Lembas
[We are to believe that the Eucharist began in the womb of the Virgin Mary]
Nor could Tolkien deny that the Holy Eucharist appears in The Lord of the Rings as the waybread (lembas), given by the elves to the hobbits to eat on their journey. The lembas reinforces the hobbits’ wills and provides them with physical sustenance in the dark and barren lands on the way to Mount Doom. As the Church teaches, while the Eucharist still tastes and looks like bread and wine, our sensations shroud a deeper mystery: The Eucharist is truly Christ’s body and blood. So in The Lord of the Rings the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Eucharist appear shrouded in the mysterious elements of Middle-earth. The best way to understand this is to see such examples of Catholic symbolism as literary “accidents.” To leave them out would have diminished the story; they are parts of Tolkien’s effort to make his world complete, true for all times and places.
As an author, Tolkien believed that his stories did in a limited and literary way what a priest does at the consecration: They present us with Christ and the entire story of creation and redemption through common elements of the world — in this case Middle-earth — which is shot through with the Truth of all Truths.
—Jason Boffetti, Tolkien’s Catholic Imagination
[Elvish lembas and Elijah’s way bread]
In the Old Testament, an angel gave Elijah a similar food for his journey to the mountain of Horeb:
Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!” He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb. (1 Kings 19:3-8)
There are saints who ate nothing except Holy Communion.
Technically speaking, inedia is the abstinence from all nourishment for great lengths of time. Among the saints, this gift is usually manifested as the ability to exist for months or years with no food but Holy Communion. Profiled saints reported to have received this charism include
* Blessed Alphais of Cudot
* Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich
* Saint Mary Ann de Paredes
* Saint Nicholas of Flüe
…it will be necessary to describe a little of the uniquely Catholic worldview. In fine, it is a sacramental one. At the heart of all Catholic life is a miracle, a mystery, the Blessed Sacrament. Surrounded traditionally by ritual and awe, it has been the formative aspect of Catholic art, drama, and poetry. The coronation of Kings, swearing of oaths, marriages, celebrations of feast-days, all have a Eucharistic character.
This great miracle was held to be prefigured by the sacrifice of the Jewish temple, and indeed to have been foreseen in some dim way also by the mysteries and philosophies of the ancient world. Hence nothing that was not evil in these older faiths was rejected out of hand, although a clear distinction was made between them and Catholicism.
Under this influence, Catholic societies were societies of wonder. Life was held to be a series of miracles. With God Himself appearing on the altar, in consumable form, how difficult were wizards, elves, or the change of seasons? As Aragorn replied to Eothain: “The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!" So might reply any European of the past, or a Cajun, Galwayman, Sicilian, Micmac, Tagalog, Alfur, or Baganda of today. It is this quality which leads us to dub those peoples "mythopoeic," and their modern equivalents "superstitious" or "backward."
The Blessed Sacrament was very much at the heart of JRRT’s devotional life. As he informs his son on p. 339 of his Collected Letters:
I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and rearising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honour, and put (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. “Feed my sheep” was His last charge to St. Peter; and since His words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life. It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was really launched — “the blasphemous fable of the Mass” — and faith/works a mere red herring.
This one finds echoed in the figure of lembas, which “had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone, and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure…” (Vol. III, p. 262). This is all very reminiscent of the large literature of Eucharistic miracles, and of such people as St. Lydwine, St. Francis Borgia, and Theresa Neumann, who lived off only the Blessed Sacrament.
—Charles A. Coulombe, The Lord of the Rings: A Catholic View
…One of my favourite Catholic things about the trilogy is the date when the Ring is finally destroyed in the Cracks of Doom. This cataclysmic and salutary achievement, which begins a new age for Middle Earth, took place on March 25. Catholics recognise this as both the Feast of the Annunciation and the date traditionally assigned to the Crucifixion of Our Lord.
…But the Eucharist does not only strengthen us in the end. It strengthens us throughout the journey of our life. It is the “bread of the strong,” the “bread of life,” and the “food of the elect.” As a sacrament, it is a means of grace, so it increases sanctifying grace and carries with it a pledge of all the actual graces we need to be strong in resisting sin. Theologians, poets, and preachers have long waxed eloquent on the Eucharist possessing spiritually all the qualities that food has materially: It fortifies, heals, satiates, and refreshes the one who partakes of It.
There is, of course, much more to be said of the Blessed Eucharist, but let’s get back to Tolkien and one of his many descriptions of lembas in the trilogy. In this passage, the Hobbits Frodo and Sam are near the dreaded Mount Doom, the fiery mountain which is the only place where the Ring can be destroyed. They are in terrible physical danger because they are well into the enemy camp. They also lack water and have had nothing to eat other than the lembas.
“As for himself, though weary and under a shadow of fear, [Sam] still had some strength left. The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats. And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.” (Return of the King, 262)
Indeed, Tolkien’s lembas provides the fantasy reader with some very Catholic literary food for thought!
—Brother André Marie, M.I.C.M., J.R.R. Tolkien and the Eucharist
[The waybread that fills us] Fr. David O. Reyes, Jr.
The reading for today’s Solemnity of Corpus Christi reminds us of what the renowned English author, J.R.R. Tolkien, expressed in his celebrated The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In this fiction, hobbits Frodo and Sam were given the task of destroying the powerful but evil One Ring. They had to go through the barren paths of Middle Earth in order to reach the place where the One Ring was forged and where it could only be destroyed — Mount Doom in Mordor. The Elvin queen Galadriel gave them lembas bread for the long journey. Tolkien explains that “this waybread of the elves had a potency that increased as the travelers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods… It fed the will, and it gave strength… beyond the measure of mortal kind.” Tolkien, being a devout Catholic, has partly intimated in his fiction what the Eucharist is for us, Catholics.
Tolkien’s lembas comes to mind when we hear what today’s liturgy provides us in the sequence before the Gospel proclamation: “Lo! The angel’s food is given to the pilgrim who has striven." Similar to Tolkien’s bread, the Eucharist is food for us, pilgrims journeying in the barrenness of this life towards the superabundance of eternal life.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains to us how we are made strong in the Eucharist: it increases our union with Christ, it forgives our venial sins, and preserves us from grave sin (cf. CCC, 1416). Saint John Mary Vianney knew this truth when he admonished his parishioners to partake of the Eucharist always: “He who communicates loses himself in God like a drop of water in the ocean. They can no more be separated… When you have received our Lord, you feel your soul purified, because it bathes itself in the love of God" (Monnin, Alfred. Esprit du Curé d’ Ars, XII).
When we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we become complete.
Christian readers of this devoutly Catholic author will no doubt hear the Eucharistic echoes within this symbol in the text. And, in many ways, the lembas resembles the bread of the Eucharist, especially in Tolkien’s own Roman Catholic context, in which the bread is believed to become, literally, the body of Christ, nourishing the believer on the pilgrim journey of faith. Outside of a specifically Christian interpretation, however, readers can appreciate the symbolic image of “feeding on hope." Hope sustains and nourishes. Literally, neither the hobbits nor we can live without it. Therefore we must seek and cling to hope, and "digest" it as we are able.
—The Return of the King: Metaphor Analysis
[Scandal in the Church: Tolkien’s Response] Nicole Stallworth, Catholic Exchange
…Tolkien’s true answer to the crises of the Church, wherever they appear in history, is two-pronged: the Blessed Sacrament and prayer. He recommended the Eucharist as the “only cure for sagging or fainting faith… Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.” Within the canon of the Church Triumphant are saints who lived on no other nourishment than the Eucharist. Tolkien was no doubt familiar with them (the Elvish waybread called lembas had a potency to sustain the body that grew as lembas became the only source of sustenance) but he was more likely speaking from experience — he received communion frequently, almost every day at many points in his life.
When desperate feelings encroach, he said that there is nothing to do but pray, “for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves.” But, then again, prayer is everything. In the midst of frustration and helplessness, prayer is our most powerful weapon. Our prayers help build the Kingdom of God, especially when they start with personal holiness.
Tolkien makes an important point in his writings. When his characters reach an apparent dead end, Gimli says, “This is a bitter end to all our toil and hope.” Aragorn responds, “To hope, maybe but not to toil.” Sam Gamgee, one of his simplest and finest characters, “did not need hope, as long as despair could be put off” by devoting himself to his task — to serve Frodo, as he had done for years. It is for this reason that Tolkien spoke of Sam as the real hero. A well-trained faith will supply us when hope seems to fail, strengthening our will and directing our steps. We must train ourselves in the faith if we want to exercise it with faithfulness.
Tolkien described faith as a permanent and indefinitely repeated act rather than a momentous, final decision. Our task is prayer, and our prayer should be to love with the love of Christ for His Bride, His Church. As Tolkien knew, “Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge)… We must therefore either believe in Him and in what He said and take the consequences; or reject Him and take the consequences.”
Waybread of the Elves. Lembas was used for long journeys. It gave strength to travellers and could also help bring healing to the wounded or sick. One cake was enough for a full day’s march. Lembas remained fresh for many days if unbroken and kept wrapped in mallorn leaves. The thin cakes were a crisp, light-brown on the outside and cream-coloured on the inside. They were exceptionally tasty.
Lembas was originally given to the Elves by Yavanna. She sent Oromë to give the Elves lembas for their Great Journey to Eldamar. Yavanna made the lembas from corn that she grew in the fields of Aman and the cakes imparted the strength of that land to those who ate it.
The Elves learned to grow this corn in Middle-earth. The secret of making lembas was kept by Elven women called Yavannildi, the maidens of Yavanna. Only they were permitted to handle to corn and bake it into cakes. The highest-ranked woman was called massánie or besain: the Lady, or breadgiver.
The Elves rarely shared lembas with mortals because it would cause them to become weary of their mortality and to long for Aman, where they could not go. Melian showed great favour to Turin when she gave Beleg lembas to bring to his friend in the wild. This was the first time the Elves had provided lembas for the use of Men. Voronwë shared lembas with Tuor on their journey to Gondolin. Voronwë’s stash of lembas had helped him survive many years lost at Sea.
Galadriel gave lembas to the Fellowship when they left Lothlorien in February of 3019. The lembas sustained the travellers on their quest. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli ate lembas as they ran 45 leagues in less than four days in pursuit of the Uruk-hai who had taken Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took captive. Merry and Pippin ate some lembas to revive their strength when they escaped captivity near Fangorn Forest. “Lembas does put heart into you!" said Merry. (TTT, p. 61) Aragorn was able to discern what became of the Hobbits in part because of the crumbs of lembas and discarded mallorn leaf found at the edge of the woods.
On the way to Mordor, Sam Gamgee carefully rationed the lembas, but he worried that the supply might not last for a return journey. Frodo offered some lembas to Gollum, but Gollum spit it out calling it “dust and ashes.” (TTT, p. 229) The Orcs in the Tower of Cirith Ungol also disliked the look and smell of lembas, so they left Frodo’s supply when they stripped him of his possessions. This was fortunate, for without lembas Frodo and Sam would not have made it to Mount Doom.
Names & Etymology:
Lembas is Sindarin. The older form was lenn-mbass meaning “journey-bread.” The Quenya word is coimas meaning “life-bread.” The word massánie is derived from masta which is Quenya meaning “bread.” The word besain is derived from the Noldorin bast also meaning “bread.” The Yavannildi were called Ivonwin in Sindarin because Ivann is the Sindarin for Yavanna. Both words are from the stem yab meaning “fruit.”
—Food and Drink of Middle-earth
[Jesus: Fruit of the Tree of Life]
For their journey, Galadriel graciously bestows upon the Fellowship — a representation of the church — seven mystical gifts; no mere symbols these, but glimmering reflections of the Church’s seven sacraments — the conveying of spiritual grace through temporal rites. And at her Mirror, Galadriel derides the Reformers’ taunt of Eucharistic magic in the Mass when she says: “For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same words for the deceits of the enemy.”
—Stan Williams, 20 Ways “The Lord of the Rings” Is Both Christian and Catholic