The Basilica of St. Paul-outside-the-Walls plays a significant role in the life of the Church Universal this year in which we celebrate the Bi-millennium of the Birth of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Nations.
It also holds an important role in the life of St. Ignatius Loyola and in the early days of the Society of Jesus, where the first companions of Ignatius [Inigo] made their profession several months after Pope Paul IV approved the new order to be called the Company of Jesus (Societatis Jesu in Latin, hence the abbreviation for Jesuits of S.J.)
St. Paul’s-outside-the-Walls is one of the Seven Churches which Ignatius the pilgrim walked to in 1523. There on April 22, 1541, Ignatius and the five companions who could meet in Rome—Lainez, Salmeron Broet, Jay, Codure—made their solemn vows; Francis Xavier was already on his way to the Indies.
“When we reached St. Paul's,” wrote Ignatius, “all six went to confession, one to another. And it was decided that Inigo [Ignatius] should say Mass in the church, and that all the others should receive the Blessed Sacrament from his hand, making their vows in the following manner: Inigo, saying the Mass, Just before Communion, holding in one hand the paper on which the vow formula was written, turned toward the kneeling companions, and said the words of the vows.
“After saying them, he took Communion, receiving the Body of Christ our Lord. When he had finished consuming (the chalice), he placed the five consecrated hosts on the paten and turned to the companions... Each one took the page of vows into his hand... and said the words aloud. When the first had finished, he received the Body of Christ our Lord. Then, in turn, the second did the same; so too the third, fourth, fifth.” Mass was celebrated at the Altar of the Virgin, where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved. At that time it was up against the right pillar of the triumphal arch over the Confession.
“When Mass was over,” Ignatius continued, “after praying before the indulgenced altars, they came together at the high altar, where each one came to Inigo and he went to each. Giving an embrace and the kiss of peace, not without much devotion, feeling and tears, they brought an end to the ceremony of vows and of the beginning of their vocation.”
Pedro Ribadeneira, who accompanied them, spoke of the extraordinary devotion of Pierre Codure; “with such vehement divine consolation that he was unable to hold it in, it came bubbling out... He went ahead in Lainez's company across the fields. We heard him filling the heavens with sighs and tears. He cried out to God in such a way we thought he would pass out...”
There is an image of Mary and the Child Jesus in the cloister, which these early Jesuits reverenced. They were also aware--as it was Easter Week--of Ignatius' suggested contemplation among the resurrection appearances of the Risen Jesus coming to his Blessed Mother before any other person, to share with her the joy of his victory and glorified Body. To those who question the appropriateness of the appearance to Mary, Ignatius quotes Scripture to refute them, "Are you also without understanding?" (Mark 7:18)
And so Jesuits the world over today celebrate in their communities the feast of Mary, Mother and Queen of the Society of Jesus. This evening I will join many Toronto area Jesuits, our jubilarians of 2009, benefactors and friends for this feast at St. David's Church (Maple, ON), followed by the Provincial's Dinner at a near-by banquet hall. Pray for us Jesuits on this special day.