Mass in Middle Earth

I love my parish. Among other things, the liturgy is reverent and its music is truly beautiful. But I don’t usually appreciate these local blessings until I travel.

Last weekend I visited Colorado. Since I needed to fly back home early Sunday morning, my friend and I caught a Saturday vigil Mass. The priest was quite nice, and I had already braced myself for standard-fare folksy music. But when it came time for the offertory song, I admit I wasn’t prepared for a trip to Hobbiton:

To my ear, this apparently popular song (entitled “These Alone Are Enough”) is unquestionably a riff on the theme music of the Shire, “Concerning Hobbits,” from Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring. Compare 45 seconds of the previous clip, to this:

As I sat in that Colorado church I thought, surely this song’s similarity to Jackson’s movie soundtrack is an anachronism–the offertory song probably dates from the 1970s folk-Mass golden era. But, lo and behold, Dan Schutte wrote this ditty in 2004, three years after Howard Shore released his score for The Fellowship. I’m no copyright attorney, but Howard Shore might want to call his office.

bilboFor lyrics, Schutte adapted St. Ignatius’ “Suscipe” prayer to this Shire-like melody. Perhaps Schutte imagined the two brave little hobbits, exhausting their last ounce of strength and will on their ascent of Mount Doom, while remembering the orchards and strawberries that they could never hope to experience again.

J.R.R. Tolkien was, of course, a devout son of the Church, and he called the Lord of the Rings a “fundamentally religious and Catholic work.” But somehow I don’t think this form of flattery is exactly what J.R.R. had in mind.

Schutte’s borrowed tune calls to mind one of the other most famous folk Mass imitations of pop music: Marty Haugen’s “Gather Us In,” mirroring Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”

My unexpected musical journey in Colorado has led me to conclude that the beginning of liturgical restoration by Pope Benedict came not a moment too soon. And it has renewed my immense gratitude to the pastor and choir at my parish, for following Pope Benedict’s lead.



Categories:Culture Liturgy Pope Benedict Uncategorized Video

  • Tori

    I don’t think they sound anything alike.

  • Joe Niemeyer
  • FatherVol

    Forget the music (and I have always maintained the same sentiment about the relations of :Gather Us In” and Lightfoot’s classic to the point I refuse to let it be sung in my parish), I want to know who was coming to dinner at that table set with a dinner plate and water goblet…..

  • lola

    Clever you! I was clueless, but absolutely don’t mind the new tunes – and adapting the words. Don’t think the Lord cares about it either! As long as we are singing his praises! Thanks for the insight, though…:)

  • Myfairmatron

    I agree that Tolkien’s skin would crawl. After all, he defiantly continued with the old responses after the Mass of Pope Paul VI was introduced.

    That being said, I believe there are exemptions in copyright law for religious services and educational purposes. I’d be interested to hear what any lawyers have to say.

    • Elinor Dashwood

      I’m delighted to hear this! I also make the Latin responses during OF Massses. I started to do so about fifteen years ago in order to occupy my mind with something more suitable than how much I loathed the new pastor, but I like it for its own sake now. It’s wonderfully effective in destroying the warm communitarian feeling that parishes always seem to want to instill in those attending the Mass. I wouldn’t go back to English now if Pope Benedict himself asked me to do so.

  • Christopher Hale

    I think you perhaps need some musical training, Matt. Schutte’s song sounds nothing like the Hobbit theme. Oddly enough, that song that you ridiculed was played during Pope Benedict’s youth rally in Yonkers, New York in 2008.

    • Mike

      I think perhaps Matt needs to take a chill pill. He is posting about something which essentially seems to be a matter of taste. And the similarity to the hobbit theme is purely incidental- similar musical instrumentation is the primary reason they sound the same. They both have obvious Celtic influences, and Celtic music all sounds the same to some people.



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