Tolkien’s Creation of Species

As Amazon has released and wrapped up their first season of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”, regardless of how the show has performed, it is safe to say that the imaginative world of J.R.R. Tolkien is back on the menu. For many, it is an opportunity to delve back in to a world of fantasy that formed many of our imaginations in our youth; for others, perhaps it is a first taste and an invitation to truly explore this world in its source material for the first time. While the world created by Tolkien is a fantasy, it is a fantasy that comes from the mind and imagination of a Catholic man, and in this way there are many aspects that are imbued with a elements of Catholic faith and symbolism. To this end we offer the following reflection on some of the Catholic symbolism and imagery contained in the world of Tolkien,  originally presented by our French district in their publication “Claves”. 

Originally published at Translated by Anastasiia Cherygova.

Who are the creatures inhabiting the world of “The Rings of Power”?

The series produced by Amazon opens with a very quick indication of the creation of the world of rings, elves, dwarves and many others – in Tolkien’s writings, these species tell us much about ourselves by means of a symbolic device of a fairy tale, which is possible to decode through the author’s own correspondence.

Introduction: Biblical Allegory or Christian Fairy Tale?

The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings are fairy-tale-like works whose inspiration is inherently Christian. Tolkien formally stated that: “The Lord of the Rings is, of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”.1 However, one must understand in what way it is such: Tolkien never intended to create an allegory of revealed mysteries, like, for instance, was done in the Chronicles of Narnia of his friend C.S. Lewis.2

According to Tolkien, in allegories, the author would use a sort of “code language” which one would then decipher.3  Once the audience discovers how, all the symbols become transparent; for instance, that of Aslan being Christ, the White Witch being the devil, etc.

Tolkien did not write that way: he does not seek to impose on his audience a single framework for decoding. He is also not the master of his work to the point of telling what aspect of the “secondary world” corresponds verbatim, word for word, to another aspect of the “primary world”. Instead, he presents which figures of his fairy tale can be compared to a certain reality because the aforementioned figures are more or less consciously inspired from these realities.4  Thereby we get what we could call a diffused Christian symbolism, spread throughout Tolkien’s entire written corpus, so that every reader may, if desired, put oneself to the task and recognize it. On the surface, The Lord of the Rings does not advertise itself as a Christian work. Yet in its essence and central inspiration it is such a work. From time to time, perhaps even often, in one or another character or situation, a Christian idea would present itself, becoming almost evident, but the reader must be willing to see it.

1. A Christian-Inspired Mythology: Eru, Valar and Maia

Tolkien’s fantasy work begins in The Silmarillion with what could be called a creation myth of his world. Yet from the first lines it is obvious that this creation myth is born of a Christian inspiration. First and foremost because there is only one god. Tolkien’s secondary world is not explicitly Christian – there is no question about the Trinity – but it is basically monotheistic. Everything that exists proceeds from the only god named Eru (the Only One) or Illuvatar (the Illuminator). The first creation, in turn, consists of pure spirits called Ainur (meaning Blessed or Saints) or Valar (meaning Powers or Authorities). Whom do Ainur/Valar resemble in the primary world? With whom are they “associated”? Tolkien responds to this in numerous letters: with angels.5  These are created spirits among whom exists a hierarchy. Some rest with the Only One to sing the eternal music of creation. They are like the seraphim (“angels in waiting”) in the terminology of Dionysius Areopagite. Others are closer to the visible world, Earth, Arda in The Silmarillion, which would become “Middle Earth” after a great cataclysm, reminding us of the Biblical flood and especially the Atlantis myth. These are like the archangels (“sent angels”), working on a mission in the visible world for the sake of its inhabitants. Valar are themselves Ainur, the angelic spirits of the first order that the Only One sent on Earth, and these Valar in turn sent the spirits of a lesser order, Maia. Gandalf is one of the Maia, the most loyal and the most active, sent by Valar in the third age of the world to help humans in their battle against Sauron, who is himself a fallen Maia.

Thus, there is an entire invisible host of creation in Tolkien’s secondary world, a hierarchy of spirits created by the Only One that clearly harkens back to the angelic orders of the Christian revelation. Gandalf was compared by Tolkien to a guardian angel, akin to the guardian angel of Middle Earth.6  And through a character like Gandalf, Tolkien reminds us that the lot of humans in visible creation does not depend only on the visible causes. Instead, humans depend, first and foremost, on the actions of invisible, but completely, real forces. Forces that could sometimes become visible, and that are always helping us or harming us. Man thus belongs to two worlds: to the invisible world through his soul and to the visible world through his body. His battle is therefore primarily a spiritual one, bearing a challenge that surpasses the visible world.

2. Man and His Images: Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits

One of Tolkien’s ideas consists in the fact that, before the “fourth age”, the age of human dominion, many species would appear on Earth and prepare it for the reign of man. These are Elves, the firstborns of the Only One in Arda, as well as Dwarves and Hobbits, or halflings. Why go with these imaginary species, at times similar to man, yet also different from him? Tolkien himself answers quite clearly: elves, dwarves and hobbits are in and of themselves images of man and his nature, with his very complex and very different capacities and aspirations.


Elves, as writes Tolkien, “represent the artistic, aesthetic and purely scientific aspects of human nature elevated to a higher degree than what we find among humans”. This is why elves are passionate about art, poetry, music, but also sciences. They very much like to work with matter to improve and beautify it. In addition to this, elves possess certain privileges that allow them to attain in their work great perfection. Privileges that are inaccessible for fallen man, specifically immortality. Tolkien specifies that this immortality is limited, measured by the life of the physical world itself. Elves last as long as the Earth itself lasts, until the end appointed by Eru. What will come of them afterwards is not indicated.

Does this suggest that elves are akin to humans raised to perfection in every way, freed from all human foibles? The answer is no: elves could be killed. Even more significantly, they are morally fallible, like all creatures. They could become prideful, egotistical, excessively possessive, as represented in the storyline of The Silmarillion. Elves could become entangled in attachment to their craft to the point of rejecting one of the most essential characteristics of the world: its finitude, its corruptibility, its proneness to change and, ultimately, to destruction. This is the tragedy of the elves: they are immortal, but the created world, which they love deeply, isn’t. If they revolt against this condition, they subsequently become the “embalmers”, those who in vain attempt to rid the present world from its eventual change and from its finitude, constraining it in a “perfect” state, at least in the elves’ eyes.7  They thereby fall victim to the temptation of a kind of transhumanism.

Thus, elves constitute for us, just as Tolkien’s other imaginary species, at one and the same time an example and a warning. If you could surpass yourself by science or by art, if you could create a truly beautiful masterpiece, or if you could discover through your research new scientific realities, you will overcome death as long as it is allotted to you, being “sagely elf-like”. But if you would flee into the aesthetic dreams, if you would become egoistical and possessive about your knowledge or your art, if you would enclose yourself in the nostalgia for a bygone past, then you would become “foolishly elf-like”, degrading yourself by what is supposed to elevate you.


When it comes to the dwarves, they represent an “earthly” side of human nature; the desire to work the land, to extract its various riches, to construct sturdy homes that would defy time. That’s why dwarves are small – close to the ground – robust, capable stone masons, blacksmiths and exceptional goldsmiths, living in mountains and caves. They are brave and tough, but they could also be terribly stubborn, spiteful and prone to unbridled greed, the traits that are exemplified by dragons. This was the situation of Thorin in The Hobbit. The dwarves of Tolkien tell us: “Work the land, shape gold and silver, but do not become voracious like the dragons because you are made for something greater than this.”


Finally, hobbits are an ordinary humble people of simple tastes, with a penchant for good food and cozy homes. They are “average men”, whence comes their small size. They are often too limited, too down-to-earth homebodies, but they are also capable of rising to heroism, if they are helped by their greaters. It is the meeting with Gandalf and the elves that would reveal the dormant heroism of Bilbo and subsequently that of Frodo and Sam.


Through his imaginary species, Tolkien managed to present a lively and convincing image of the possibilities of human nature, of all its strengths and its desires, which could ennoble man or at the same time degrade him. The perfect man would be the one who is able to embody simultaneously the contemplative spirit of the elves, the readiness to work and the patience of dwarves, and the good sense of realism of hobbits. In creating a fellowship of two humans, four hobbits, an elf and a dwarf together around Gandalf, “the guardian angel” of Middle Earth, in their battle against Sauron, it is as if Tolkien tells us: do not neglect anything that you have within yourself, cultivate your best gifts and let the grace of God purify them and elevate them. This is how you will contribute, for your part, to pushing back against evil and increasing the good in the world.


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters, Letter No. 142 to Fr. Robert Murray, (S.J.), p. 332.
  2. Tolkien would reiterate this affirmation more than once in his correspondence. For example, in letter 181 to Michael Straight, dated approximately January or February 1956 (estimated), op.cit., pp. 447-448: “There is absolutely no (underlined within text) moral, political or contemporary “allegory” in this work. It is a “fairy tale”, but written – according to the conviction that I previously expressed in a long essay “About the Fairy Tale”, that it is an appropriate audience – for adults. For I think that fairy tale has its own way of reflecting about the “truth”, different from the one expressed in allegory, in satire or in “realism” – and in a certain way a more powerful one.”
  3. Tolkien underscores several times in his letters that he himself discovered certain characters and certain events of his story in the process of writing. He was personally quite surprised by it. Cf., for instance, letter 163 to W.H. Auden, pp. 416-417.
  4. We find a good example of this viewpoint in the already cited letter to R. Murray. Father Murray had written to Tolkien that the elf-queen Galadriel made him think of the Virgin Mary. Tolkien answers him by saying: “I think I see exactly what you mean (…) by your references to Our Lady, on whom is built all of my own perception, a limited one, of beauty, in majesty and in simplicity alike” (Letter 142, p. 331). Tolkien did not at all conceive Galadriel as an allegory of the Blessed Virgin. But the Blessed Virgin represents for him an ideal of feminine beauty. In imagining a very beautiful elf-queen, that is to say a human woman, but endowed with a fairy-like beauty which surpasses all the possibilities of this world, he could not have not been inspired, even unconsciously, by the idea that he got from the Blessed Virgin Mary. He thus gave to Galadriel the traits that are “associated” to the Blessed Virgin.
  5. For example, letter 153 to Peter Hastings, op. cit., p. 373: “The immediate authorities are the Valar (the Powers or the Authorities): the “gods”). But they are only created spirits – of an elevated angelic order, we should say, assisted by lesser angels – worthy of reverence, thus, but not of adoration.”
  6. Cf. Letter 156 to Robert Murray, November 4, 1954, p. 389: “I would venture to say that he (Gandalf) was an ‘angel’ incarnate, strictly speaking about an ἀγγελος: that is to say, with other Istari, mages, ‘those who know’ (Istari is translated as “wizard” because of a link with the words “wise” or “witting”, mind and knowledge, specified by Tolkien, p. 399), an emissary of the Gods of the West, send to the Middle Earth while a formidable crisis provoked by Sauron was looming on the horizon.” Tolkien well specifies in this letter in what sense Gandalf is really “dead” following the battle with the Balrog, and the fact that his return, with a new body, endowed with greater powers, is not thanks to the Valar, but to the Creator.
  7. Cf. Letter 181, p. 455 : “Like if a man should hate a very long, unending book, fixating himself on the chapter that he likes the most.” Some elves have “fallen into the trap of Sauron” that the art rings taught them because they had an excessive desire for power, in hopes of “stopping the change, keeping everything new and beautiful, forever.”

November 23, 2022

Advent – Preparation not Anticipation

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

Advent Wreath

As early as the day after Halloween, Christmas music begins to be heard.  Perhaps even earlier, stores will decorate for Christmas with the associated holiday wares displayed.  Throughout December, TV channels will play collections of Christmas movies.  Then, on the 26th of December, it all comes to screeching halt.  Trees are out on the curb, decorations come down, and we return to our regularly scheduled programing.  This way of keeping Christmas, and the days leading up to it, is not the way our Catholic forefathers would have kept it.  Christmas and its days were celebrated as Christmas, while the days leading up to Christmas, the days of Advent, were kept as days of preparation, not anticipation.1

As Lent is a penitential period of preparation for Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord, so Advent (from the Latin for “a coming, an approach, arrival”)2 was a penitential period of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and for receiving the special graces which accompany it.  Advent, then, was considered a mini-Lent.  While Church Law has not bound the Latin faithful to penance during Advent in some time, the season still carries the marks of being penitential.  The Gloria is not sung during Masses of the Season, the penitential violet is worn, the Altar is not decorated with flowers, and the organ is silent.  Historically, the Ite, Missa est was replaced by the Benedicamus Domino and the Deacon and Subdeacon would lay aside their vestments of joy for the folded chasuble.  It is incongruous, then, for the faithful to begin keeping Christmas at home while the Church is in such a period of preparation.  How then, can the faithful keep this season of Advent in a fitting way, not corrupting this time of preparation by following the world but rather in a Catholic spirit?

Tree of Jesse by Jan Mostaert

The first way would be to undertake acts of penance.  Even if this is not currently enjoined by Church Law, it would be completely in keeping with the liturgical expression of the season.  In 1962, the Vigil of Christmas (which is Christmas Eve day, not anticipated Masses said in the evening of the 24th and not the Midnight Mass, which is the First Mass of Christmas) was still kept as a day of fasting and complete abstinence.  Additionally, in 1962, Ember Wednesday and Ember Saturday of Advent were days of fasting and partial abstinence (meat only at the main meal) while the Ember Friday was a day of fasting and complete abstinence.  It is important to keep in mind that Advent does not only prepare for the liturgical commemoration of the coming of Christ into this world, but also for the coming of Christ into the souls of the believers, and, more, His coming at the end of time as Judge.  All three provide ample reason for each to prepare his soul by penitential exercises.

When it comes to decorating, the house should not be adorned for Christmas until slightly before the feast itself.  However, Advent Wreaths, Advent Calendars, and Jesse Trees can and should be used as decorations in the weeks leading up to the Nativity.  The tree, as it might need to be purchased some time prior to the feast, can be set up and perhaps decorated in a way that befits this season of preparation, perhaps with violet and rose.  The lights could be put on, but not yet turned on.  With respect to the Nativity creche, the following schedule could be followed, coordinating with the Church’s liturgy:

    • First Sunday of Advent – Set up the creche (stable-cave) with animals
    • Ember Wednesday – Add the figure of Mary as this is the first time she is presented in a Gospel of the Season
    • Christmas Eve Day/Vigil of Christmas – Add the figure of Joseph as the Gospel of the Vigil Mass is about his dream-vision
    • Following the Christmas Midnight Mass – Add the figures of the Angel and of the Christ Child, as His temporal birth is recounted in the Gospel
    • Following the Dawn Mass of Christmas (the Shepherds’ Mass) – Add the figures of the shepherds as the Gospel of the Mass recounts their going to the stable
    • Epiphany – Add the figures of the Magi
Winter Ember Days
Abel Grimmer’s Winter (1607)

When it comes to music, Christmas carols are best omitted until the feast itself.  Advent songs are, of course, highly recommended.  The Fraternity of St. Peter, the Benedictines of Gower, and the Monks of Clear Creek all have Advent albums.  Songs concerning winter can also be sung keeping in mind that Winter starts astronomically at the winter solstice and the Advent Ember Days liturgically mark the transition from Autumn to Winter.  Note too that historically at the liturgy of the First Sunday of Advent, clerics would transition from the Autumn to the Winter volume of the Breviary.  Wintery decorations would not be out of place either.

Several feasts punctuate the Season of Advent, such as the Feasts of St. Barbara (December 4th), St. Nicholas (the 6th), St. Lucy (the 13th).  Each have their particular home-traditions which the faithful would do well to observe.

Special attention should be given to the Magnificat antiphons sung at Vespers from 17th to 23rd of December inclusively, the Greater Ferias of Advent.  These antiphons are known as the “Great Antiphons” or the “O Antiphons” (as they all start with “O”).  Unlike throughout the year, these Magnificat antiphons are sung standing.  Each antiphon invokes the Messias under a different title: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonaï (Lord), Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse), Clavis David (Key of David), Oriens (Orient / Day-spring), Rex Gentium (King of the Nations / King of the Gentiles), and lastly Emmanuel (Emmanuel / God is with us).  The first letter of each of these titles can be read as a backwards acrostic which spells, in Latin, “Ero cras,” meaning “Tomorrow I will be [there].”  These Antiphons are the basis of the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

Christmas Tree and Presents

Having kept Advent in such manner, the faithful will be much better prepared to celebrate Christmas and receive the special graces of the season than had the practices of the world been followed.  When the time comes, Christmas should be kept as Christmas, with the decorations, carols, food, and all of the trimmings!  This celebration should be extended at least until the Feast of the Epiphany (the 13th Day of Christmas), or the Commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord (the Octave Day of the Epiphany), or even to the 40th and Last Day of Christmas, Candlemas.

William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, TX.

  1. Much of the historical and liturgical information contained within this article comes from Guéranger, Prosper. The Liturgical Year, 1 (Advent). Trans. Shepherd, Laurence. (Fitzwilliam: Loreto Publications, 2000), chapters 1-3.
  2. Lewis and Short, s.v. “Adventus.”

November 21, 2022

Minor Orders: November 19, 2022

This Saturday, November 19th, 22 candidates will receive the minor orders of Porter, Lector, Exorcist, and Acolyte, which will be conferred by his Excellency Bishop Robert Finn. The ceremony will take place in the Chapel of Sts. Peter and Paul of Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary. Both the ceremony and the reception will not be open to the public.

Pray for our Seminarians

November 18, 2022

Join us on Nov. 29 for Giving Tuesday

The FSSP is celebrating its thirty-fourth anniversary this year. It will not be long before we see a good group of our members entering a stage of life where active ministry can become limited. We have also had some men, already priests for a number of years, join our ranks. Most Americans retire in their mid-60’s, but one of our priests recently and reluctantly transitioned from actively leading one of our apostolates at the age of 89! All of these priests deserve to know that we will take care of their housing, medical care, and other necessities of life. Many of our priests ordained in the past decades are soon reaching a stage in life in which medical costs can increase exponentially.

Some priests will experience serious medical problems. For reasons only He can understand, God sometimes allows His faithful workers to undergo medical hardships that require costly care. In just this last year one of our priests had a sudden illness that required immediate heart surgery. Now he must travel regularly to a specialist doctor for ongoing care. Thanks to God’s providence in giving us many wonderful benefactors who helped us establish the Priest Forever fund last year, we are able to care for our priests without question in such necessities. Father is doing well and continues caring for souls thanks to your support!

Please Support the FSSP’s “Priest Forever” Fund on Giving Tuesday

As the North American Province expands, we will need more priests to work outside of parish life for the benefit of the internal life and working of the Fraternity. There are certain decisions within a community that can only be made by priests. Ordaining more priests, opening more apostolates, and expanding current apostolates will require more oversight and support from provincial headquarters.

As our order grows and ages, the need grows with it. Your ongoing support of this fund helps us provide for the physical needs of our FSSP priests even when they are not assigned to active life in a parish apostolate. Your donation to this fund is a profound “thank you” to our hardworking priests for making a total gift of their lives

Last year, we raised $278,633 to establish this fund. This year, to continue supporting the needs of our priests, we hope to raise $200,000. Here is how you can help.

Please Make Your Gift on November 29th

As you may already know, Giving Tuesday is an annual online event in which nonprofits of all kinds seek to raise money on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. This year it will be on November 29, 2022.

Your gifts on Giving Tuesday will support the overall good of FSSP priests wherever they find themselves in life, be it working in an active apostolate, assigned to other duties, or in need of medical care. You’ll help us establish new apostolates and staff them with hardworking priests. Your gift will give those priests confidence that just as they have always been there for your spiritual needs, you will always be there to care for their physical needs.

Just in time for winter, donors who give a gift at the $1500 level will receive a Fraternity branded fleece jacket, and those who give a gift at the $500 level will receive an FSSP-branded beanie hat. Additionally, those who give at the $250 level will receive an FSSP holy water bottle. As a special thanks to all who support us, every donor to this fund will be entered into a drawing to win special gifts like rosaries, prayer books, or FSSP-branded items.

Check your email, social media accounts, and the Missive for reminders as Giving Tuesday approaches.

We are always profoundly humbled by your generosity and immensely grateful for your friendship and support. With your help, the FSSP will continue to form priests for life.

November 14, 2022

Building on Rock: Camp St. Peter

In 1998, Camp St. Peter in the Black Hills was born.  Since then, the seminarians of OLGS have organized and run successful annual camps for more than 1,000 young boys.  In 2020, a not-for-profit organization, Saint John Bosco Camps (SJBC), was founded to continue the camps. The mission of SJBC? To form young men in the virtues they need to become strong Catholics and strong fathers – either as natural fathers of children or as spiritual fathers in the holy priesthood.

SJBC strives to provide the boys of our traditional Catholic communities with a positive experience of the Church and its sacred teachings and traditions through joy-filled interactions with FSSP priests and the seminarians of OLGS. They experience the grandeur of God’s creation during their time in His beautiful, untouched wilderness.

Demand continues to grow for these unique camps. In 2022, SJBC had over 200 applicants, for only 96 spots between its two camps. Up until now the difficulties of renting properties and moving equipment has presented an obstacle to more growth.  But SJBC is up for the challenge of meeting this growing demand and is even considering expanding its operations through the offering of additional types of camps in the future. A critical first step is to locate a permanent home for the camps.

In order to secure the foundation of its charism, St. John Bosco Camps has launched a capital campaign, “Building on Rock”, to purchase and develop a property.  This campaign will also help establish a fund to develop further programs in the future.  Please consider helping St. John Bosco Camps to achieve this goal by donating now at

November 8, 2022

Cuius regio, ejus religio

by Fr. John Rickert, FSSP.

An online article from Brill says the following:

The Peace of Augsburg

The slogan cuius regio eius religio (Latin, “whose land, his religion”) was coined early in the 17th century by the Protestant canon lawyer Joachim Stephani to describe a key principle of the Peace of Augsburg of September 29, 1555, which gave the Imperial estates the freedom of deciding between Catholicism (Roman Catholic Church) and Lutheranism (Protestantism; Protestant churches) in their own territories.

The idea is that the prince of each region would decide what the religion would be for that region.  The result was that Bavaria and southern Germany remained Catholic, whereas the parts north of the old Roman Empire became Lutheran.

The manifest Relativism of this approach clearly leads the way to secularism, in which the State officially becomes “neutral” but in reality, as seen over and over, becomes hostile to religion in general and the tenets of Christianity in particular.

Yet the great Catholic thinker Juan Donoso Cortés (1809 – 1853) argues convincingly in his Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism that every State is a confessional state; the only real question is what religion the State will profess.  (For a brief summary of this masterpiece, see his Letter to Cardinal Fornari.)

Thus, the question becomes, “Can a Catholic accept the principle, ‘Cujus regio, ejus religio‘?”

Yes, and in fact, must.  Why?

Because Christ is the King of all the Earth, and we should follow the religion that He Himself has given us.

Padre Antonio Vieira (1608 – 1697) says that the Reign of Christ, Our Lord, is not only spiritual but also temporal, and he demonstrates this from the Holy Scriptures and Church Fathers.  “It would be absurd,” he says, “to think that Christ did not have as much dominion as Adam.”

Vivat Christus Rex!

October 30, 2022

Halloween for Catholics: Fr. Rock Interview

Fr. William Rock FSSP recently sat down with the Catholic Drive Time YouTube channel to answer some questions on the history of All Hallows Eve and how modern-day Catholics should approach the holiday.

October 27, 2022

Praying for the Dead and the Requiem Mass

by Fr. William Rock, FSSP

“It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.” (2 Mac 12:46)

It is a dogma of the Catholic Church that the souls detained in Purgatory (the Church Suffering) can be assisted by the suffrages of the living faithful (the members of the Church Militant).  These suffrages (intercessory prayers, indulgences, alms and other pious works, and above all the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass) remit before God some degree of the temporal punishments due to their sins which the poor souls still have to render.1 So important is the undertaking of these suffrages that the Church has listed it as part of one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy, namely, “to pray for the living and the dead.”

As the Roman Liturgy developed, certain Masses were produced whose sole purpose is to pray for the dead.  When the various forms of the Masses for the Dead were settled, only the readings and the three prayers (the Collect, Secret, and Postcommunion) of these Masses differed among them.  The chants and ceremonies for the different types of Masses for the Dead are the same.  Among these Masses are the Funeral Mass and the three Masses assigned to All Souls’ Day.  Each of these Masses for the Dead may be called a “Requiem Mass” based on the first word of the Introit (the entrance chant) which is common to all.

Sorrow is the natural response to the loss of a loved one.  The Church shares in this sorrow of her children.  This sorrow is deepened by the Church’s general uncertainty concerning the eternal fate of her children who have died (except, of course, those solemnly canonized).  For these reasons, during a Requiem Mass, she vests her ministers in the color black, a color symbolizing the deepest mourning and grief.  The yellow hue of the unbleached candles and the absence of flowers and organ add to the sorrowful atmosphere.  But the Church and her children, relying on the mercy and love of God, hope that a blessed, eternal reward will be granted to the faithful departed.  These two themes, of sorrow and of hope, are intermingled throughout the Requiem Mass both in the texts themselves and in the tones of the chants.  For example, the chants at the start of the Mass are in a sorrowful tone, but, at the end of the ceremonies, the chant is lighter.

The sole focus of the Church during a Requiem Mass is the soul or souls for whom the Mass is being offered.  This is clearly brought out in the liturgical ceremonies that are proper (although not necessarily unique) to this Mass.  Many of these proper ceremonies are omissions from what is normally performed, as they would be unfitting for such a Mass or would draw the Church’s attention away from the departed.  Other changes are made to direct the liturgical focus to the departed and away from those present.  The following are practices proper to the Requiem Mass:

  • All of the ceremonial kisses during the Mass are omitted except during vesting and divesting and those that reverence the Altar (which represents Christ).
  • The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar are shortened, as the joy expressed in the excluded portion is out of place in such a Mass.
  • The Altar is not incensed at the beginning of the Mass.
  • At the Introit, all present would normally cross themselves, but during a Requiem, they do not. Instead, the Priest makes a Sign of the Cross over the Missal, which, for this act, represents the deceased.
  • The Gloria and Alleluia, as they are joyful, are omitted. The Alleluia is replaced by a Tract.
  • The Sequence Dies Iræ is recited before the Gospel.
  • Unless performing an action that would require otherwise, all but the Sacred Ministers kneel during the Collect (opening prayer) and Postcommunion (prayer after communion) in supplication for the departed.
  • The Subdeacon is not blessed after chanting the Epistle.
  • Prior to the reading of the Gospel, a preparatory prayer is omitted and the Deacon is not blessed.
  • Candles and incense are not used during the proclamation of the Gospel.
  • After the proclamation of the Gospel, the Gospel Book (Evangeliarium) is not kissed and the associated prayer is omitted.
  • The water in the cruet at the Offertory, which represents the people, is not blessed.
  • The Gloria Patri (the Glory be), as it is an expression of joy, is omitted.
  • During the Offertory, only the Oblations (the offered bread and wine), Altar, and Priest are incensed. Usually, all present would be incensed as well.
  • Unless performing an action that would require otherwise, all but the Sacred Ministers kneel from the Sanctus until the reception of Communion (not even standing for the Our Father).
  • During the Canon (Eucharistic Prayer), the Subdeacon does not hold the paten as the Roman Rite does not have a black humeral veil. He does, however, incense the Host and the Chalice during the Elevations.
  • The endings of the Angus Dei (the Lamb of God) are changed from “have mercy on us” and “grant us peace” to “grant them rest” and “grant them eternal rest.” The striking of the breast is omitted.
  • The Pax (Sign of Peace) is omitted.
  • The normal dismissal, Ite, missa est, is omitted. In its place is said Requiescant in pace (may they rest in peace).
  • The blessing of the faithful at the end of Mass is omitted.
  • If a Bishop celebrates a Requiem, he does not use the crosier, the ceremonial shoes and stockings (buskins), or gloves. He wears only the simple white mitre during the ceremonies and puts on the maniple before the Prayers at the Foot.  He does not bless any of the servers or ministers during the ceremonies.

An Absolution ceremony may be performed following the Mass.  This ceremony takes place at the coffin or, if the body (or bodies) is (are) not present, at a catafalque (a coffin-like structure) or at a black pall spread on the floor.  The catafalque or pall represent the body (bodies) of the deceased.  During the ceremony, the coffin, catafalque or pall is incensed and sprinkled with Holy Water and prayers are said on behalf of the departed.

The previously mentioned uncertainty concerning the final state of the souls of the Church’s children who have died is, in a sense, a blessing for those who survive the departed.  This is because our Faith teaches us that one can always pray for good outcomes of past events whose conclusions are hidden from mortal eyes.  As God is outside of time, past, present and future have no real meaning for Him.  As strange as it might seem, God can act in the past due to things which happen in the future.  Therefore, prayers offered on behalf of the dead not only effect their state in Purgatory but can also have an influence at a moment of death that occurred in the past of those praying.

Illustration by Martin Travers

The Liturgy for the dead, based on this truth, places the Church and the faithful as pleading figures accompanying the departed soul into the presence of the Judge at the moment of death – pleading figures praying, imploring, on behalf of the soul before the unchangeable eternal sentence is pronounced.  This also explains why this Liturgy asks for things that would have chronologically already been decided irrevocably (such as the welcome to heaven or condemnation to hell).  While treating of the ceremonies of All Souls’ Day, Dom Guéranger explains this as follows: “to God, Who sees all times at one glance, this day’s supplication was present at the moment of the dread passage, and obtained assistance for the straitened souls.”2 It should always be remembered that death does not end relationships, but only changes them.

But the Church in her Liturgy is not content with simply being a pleading figure.  So great is her love for her children, that the Church, and the faithful united with her, takes on, as it were, the identity of the departing soul and speaks as the soul should have spoken at the moment of passing.  This explains why the first person (“I” or “me”) is used in many of the chants of the Mass and surrounding ceremonies.  In these places it should be understood that the reciters are speaking on behalf of the deceased at the moment of death.3

As the faithful prepare to celebrate the Masses of the upcoming All Souls Day and to keep November as the Month Dedicated to the Poor Souls, may these reflections aid them in understanding the great work of mercy they are undertaking.


Fr. William Rock, FSSP was ordained in the fall of 2019 and is currently assigned to Regina Caeli Parish in Houston, TX.

  1. See the Old Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Prayers for the Dead.”
  2. Guéranger, Prosper. The Liturgical Year, 15 (Time After Pentecost Book VI). Trans. Shepherd, Laurence. (Fitzwilliam: Loreto Publications, 2000), 142 (All Souls’ Day).
  3. See the Old Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Libera Me.”

October 25, 2022

Historical Reflections on the FSSP’s 34th Anniversary

Today the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter celebrates its 34th anniversary. For the benefit of the many new souls in our parishes who are just learning about us, it is a good time to take stock and reflect on the FSSP’s founding and growth.

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter was founded by eleven priests, one deacon, and a handful of seminarians at the Abbey of Hauterive in the French Alps on July 18, 1988. Only three months later, on October 18, the Fraternity was established as a Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical Right by Pope John Paul II.

The first priestly ordination for the new community took place in Rome in December, 1988. In the fall of 1989, the first Fraternity seminary, the Seminary of St. Peter, opened its doors in the small Bavarian town of Wigratzbad. The seminary offers priestly formation to students from more than a dozen countries. In Europe, priests of the Fraternity work in, among other venues, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Italy.

The Fraternity’s work in the New World began in 1991 in Dallas, Texas. The months that followed saw the establishment of two additional apostolates: Rapid City, South Dakota and Scranton, Pennsylvania. It was the invitation to Scranton by Bishop James C. Timlin that would prove most significant for the Fraternity’s future growth.

The North American Headquarters was moved there in 1993 and both a year-long program for prospective seminarians and a boarding school for boys opened in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania, a few miles outside of Scranton. In 1994, Bishop Timlin approved the establishment of a full-fledged seminary, with one year to be added to the academic program each year. In 2000, the first men to complete the full seven-year course at the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary were ordained to the priesthood.

By 1997, growing enrollment had forced the seminary to relocate to a closed hotel in Paupack, Pennsylvania. A few months later, the decision was made to build a new seminary in the Diocese of Lincoln, with the kind permission of Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz. Ground was broken for this exciting project—the first seminary to be built “from the ground up” in the United States in decades—on October 3, 1998. Classes began there in September of 2000.

Today, the over 300 priests of the Fraternity work in many dioceses throughout the world, including in Europe, the United States and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, South and Central America, and Africa.

October 18, 2022

Formed by Tradition: On Veils

by Fr. John Rickert, FSSP

Taking part in a Fraternity apostolate means having the Traditional Mass, yes, but it means much more than that; it means absorbing, internalizing, living, and transmitting Tradition in its fullness.

We receive Tradition as a holy gift, treasure it, and pass it on to those who come after us. We realize, in humility, that in the long run, Tradition will judge us and that it is really not for us to pass judgement on Tradition.  Traditio sacra sacrorum tuitio. Sacred tradition is a safeguarding of sacred things, and more importantly, of being safeguarded by them.

For those who are still being formed by Tradition – a formation that can indeed fill a lifetime – it may be hard to understand why it is so important for women to wear veils in church.

Let me begin with an experience that occurred to me some years ago now. Once, when I stopped for gas at a roadside convenience store, the attendant at the cash register saw me in my cassock and asked, completely at a loss, “What’s with…???” and motioned up and down with her hands to indicate that she was referring to my garb.  She didn’t even know what to call it.  At that time I was still a seminarian, and I explained to her that I was hoping to become a priest.

When we see a policeman or a soldier or a nurse, for example, we know who they are by the way they are dressed.  And I hope that when you get ready to come to church, you dress with church in mind: you realize a distinctiveness in being in church. It is not like going anywhere else.

Proper attire for a woman, according to the Tradition given to us clearly by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 and confirmed by Pope St. Linus, who was the second pope, right after St. Peter, is to wear a veil or head covering while in church.  I have noticed that men tend to be good in observing the rule that applies to them, namely, that they should not wear a hat in church.  I hope that if you saw someone wearing a baseball cap or a fishing hat in church, you would realize that this is not appropriate and indicate in some way to him that he needs to take it off.

Now, you might be wondering why a priest wears a biretta in church and could wear one even during the sermon. Some Fraternity priests do.  The answer is that the biretta is a sign of office; a much more striking sign of a higher office is the bishop’s mitre, which he does wear when he preaches.

Dear faithful who are ladies, what I hope you will find in wearing the veil is that you have a particularly strong awareness of where you are, that you are focused completely on Our Lord and not worried about external appearance.

from Wikimedia Commons.

The glory cloud of the Lord covered Mount Sinai in the Old Testament and Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. We cover the altar with three layers of linen cloths; we veil the tabernacle; we even, in a sense, veil the cassock by the surplice or the alb; we veil a ciborium that contains consecrated Hosts; and the priest uses a humeral veil to hold the monstrance. And Our Lady is veiled in her apparitions.

A veil indicates sacredness and dedication to God.

October 11, 2022