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Friday, December 31, 2010

The Titular Feast Day of the Jesuits

January 1st is the titular feast of the Society of Jesus, a day which honors Mary as the Mother of God and of the Society. It is a day which celebrates the giving of the name of Jesus to the infant boy.

The giving of the name "Company (Society) of Jesus" occurred in September 1540 when the early companions and Ignatius were founded as a religious institute.

Ignatius and two of his companions, Peter Faber and James Lainez, decided to go to Rome to place themselves and the other companions at the disposal of the Pope. A few miles outside of Rome at a chapel at La Storta, the companions stopped to pray. At this spot, Ignatius had the second most significant of his mystical experiences. In his vision, God the Father told Ignatius, "I will be favorable to you in Rome" and that he would place him with His Son. Ignatius did not know what his experience meant for it could mean persecution as well as success since Jesus experienced both.

While in Rome, the Pope joyously put them to work teaching scripture and theology and preaching. On Christmas morning, 1538, Ignatius celebrated his first Mass at the church of St. Mary Major in the Chapel of the Manger, which was thought to have the actual manger from Bethlehem. If Ignatius was not going to be able to say his first Mass at Jesus' birthplace in the Holy Land, then this would be the best substitute.

During Lent in 1539, Ignatius convened all of his companions in Rome to discuss their future. They had never thought of founding a religious order, but now that going to Jerusalem was out, they had to think about how they would spend their time as companions. After many weeks of prayer and discussion, with the Pope's approval, in which they would vow obedience to a superior general who would hold office for life, they would place themselves at the disposal of the Holy Father to travel wherever he should wish to send them for whatever duties. A vow to this effect was added to the ordinary vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Formal approval of this new order was given by Pope Paul III on September 27, 1540. Since they had referred to themselves as the Company of Jesus, their order became known as the Society of Jesus in English. Ignatius was elected on the first ballot of the group to be superior, but he begged them to reconsider, pray and vote again a few days later. The second ballot came out as the first, unanimous for Ignatius, except for his own vote. He was still reluctant to accept, but his Franciscan confessor told him it was God's will, so he acquiesced. On the Friday of Easter week, April 22, 1541, at the Church of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls, the friends pronounced their vows in the newly formed Order.

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