AMDG

ign_image_17Today is the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, where Catholics believe Mary was taken body & soul into heaven.  It is also the day that St. Ignatius chose as a historic day for the Jesuits.  Ignatius and his first six  companions, Faber, Xavier, Laynez, Rodriguez, Salmeron,  Bobadilla took first simple vows at Mass celebrated by Faber.  As James Brodrick wrote in his excellent book, – The companions repaired together at dawn to a little unused chapel half-way up the slopes of Montmarte, and there, unobserved except by God, burned their boats behind them during a Mass celebrated by Favre.  It was the quietest ceremony, that laying of  the foundation stone of the society of Jesus, so quiet that even the seven themselves had no inkling of what they had started.

Traditionally it became the day when many Jesuits took their vows – Why did these founding Jesuits choose to take their vows on this feast day?  It is day I and many other Jesuits privately renew our vows….  Why did Ignatius choose the feast of the Assumption?

9780300060799_p0_v1_s260x420It is clear that his devotion to Our Lady was intense even in an age when Marian devotion was becoming increasingly polemical due to the newly established Protestant sects. In Ignatius life as in the life of the Church it had acquired considerable popular force.  At Key moments in Ignatius’s mystical life Mary was very close, his vigils at Aranzazu and Monsteratt, his petition at La Storta that he may be placed ‘with the son’ . William Meissner, a Jesuit Psychologist, describes this as a  balance to an image of God that was being progressively masculinised. Mary could bring a mothers love and understanding to the inadequacies and anxieties of her children and plead their case before divine judgement.   She has become for many Catholics the idealised image of maternal concern.   So for Ignatius, this feast which emphasises Marys special place in heaven in the church is supplemented by their offering and making these simple and perpetual vows.  As Broderick says – they really have burnt their boats here – and they do so confidently under the mantle of the Assumption.

assumpWhen Pope  declared the doctrine of the Assumption as infallible in 1950,  Protestants were angry because it wasn’t in Scripture. The recently deceased John Edwards SJ pointed out with delicious irony that the (Anglican) Archbishop of York, standing beneath his cathedral’s 600 year old Assumption roof-boss, deplored it as an innovation. The position of the Orthodox was more nuanced: they believed it, of course, but were furious that the Pope had defined it.  Whatever the controversy – devotion to Our Lady is as strong as ever in world-wide Catholicism, and this day is celebrated with great joy as it was in the ancient church before we all started feuding.  It is in the spirit of this joy and wonder that some of us Jesuits renew our vows, that we can offer our own ‘little-lives’ in imitation of Mary’s incredible openness and generosity with God.