On this day in 1541, seven months after Pope Paul III gave official approval to the founding of a new religious order, the Society of Jesus, and two weeks after his election as its first General Superior, St. Ignatius and his first companions celebrated Mass at Mary's altar in St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome. Before receiving Holy Communion, Ignatius held the consecrated host and each of the first Jesuits pronounced his vows. Then they received. April 22 is now celebrated in the Jesuits as the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Society of Jesus.
St. Ignatius had a deep devotion to Mary. She played a critical role in his conversion. One night in mid-August, 1521, she, with the Child Jesus, appeared to him. He writes about this, using the third person, in his Autobiography:
"One night, while he lay awake, he saw clearly the likeness of Our Lady with the Holy Child Jesus, at the sight of which he received most abundant consolation for a considerable period of time. He felt so great a disgust with his past life, especially his sins of the flesh, that he thought all such images which had formerly occupied his mind were wiped out."
On the eve of the Annunciation in 1522, St. Ignatius made an all-night vigil at the Shrine of the Madonna of Montserrat. He left behind his sword and dagger and offered himself to Mary and her Son as their knight.
I've always considered Mary to be the Mother of my Jesuit vocation. As a high school student I began praying the rosary which became a chain linking me to Mary through various tests and trials. In the past, Jesuits took "vow names" which never replaced their actual name as happens in other religious orders but which were a simple act of devotion. When I pronounced my first vows in 1973, I took the name "Mary." Since my middle initial is "M" for Michael, this has worked out well and whenever I use that initial I think of these two patrons--Michael the Archangel and Mary, Mother of my vocation and of the Society of Jesus.
Jesuits' devotion to Mary clearly shows up in our present pope who often prays to her and visits the Church of St. Mary Major before and after every trip abroad.
Here are the prayers which I and some of my brother Jesuits used as we celebrated Mass together this morning:
Collect: "Almighty and everlasting God, you chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of your eternal Word. Make us strong and faithful servants of that Word in the Society of Jesus, which has consecrated itself to you in the presence of Mary, our mother."
Prayer over the Gifts: "Lord God, you made the Virgin Mary a companion in the sufferings of your Son and in the glory of his resurrection. Turn our eyes toward him whom we have pierced, so that, seeking his kingdom on earth, we may enter eternal life with Mary, our mother."
Prayer after Communion: "You have raised up Mary, O Lord, because she believed in your word. By the grace of her Son, may we, who call her blessed, experience the power of her intercession."