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

  • Carrie Wehmeyer

    You don’t know how blessed you are! Last weekend we were treated to a recessional that was a straight up rip-off of Over at the Frankenstein Place from Rocky Horror Picture Show.

  • Tom

    The flute music was odd, but what is with the china plate and glass/crystal stemware. And what is it placed on? An altar or what? What?

  • Tim

    Matt, I can’t decide if you are trying to make a pitch for “traditional” church music (you seem to have something against more contemporary liturgical music), or if you just have a hearing deficit when it comes to music. Both Schutte’s and Haugen’s pieces are good music – you seem to have picked some of the poorest examples of them for the article.
    Almost any music can be wonderfully appropriate for enhancing worship, but that also means that any tune can be done well, or not.
    The article seems to be trying to make a pitch for traditional music for worship, but totally fails. Maybe a better tack would be to encourage music more of a living thing, no matter what genre chosen.

  • Timothy Cool

    I have to agree with the previous post…after listening to each set of videos and music, none of them sound alike much at all…at least not enough to say they “mirror” another. In conclusion, I believe the author of this story “tells” a good story, but has a deaf ear when it comes to music.

  • Mary

    I agree with Christoper Hale, they sound nothing alike, except that there’s a flute playing in both.

  • Justin Gough

    As an avid Tolkien fan and lover of Howard Shore’s accompanying scores, the Schutte piece sounds nothing at all like the Shire theme. I can hear the first few notes of the verse “Take my heart…” as being similar, but neither do the melody nor the chord progressions that follow imply any stolen intellectual property. They, in fact, are totally dissimilar.



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