In the following letter to all major superiors in the Society of Jesus, sent on December 1, 1973, Pedro Arrupe explains the importance of liturgy and of three newly released liturgical books (the Jesuit Supplement to the Missal; the Jesuit Supplement to the Lectionary; and the Supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office). He argues that Jesuits’ historical devotion to saints, and to the Jesuit saints in particular, aligns with findings of the Second Vatican Council. Arrupe also stresses “the great importance we should attach to the liturgical life in the context of the broad and organic renewal program of our life and apostolic activities.”
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Reverend and dear Father, P. C.
Among the more weighty tasks which, in accordance with the Second Vatican Council, the Church of the present has to fulfill are also enumerated the renewal and development of the Sacred Liturgy, which “is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed and at the same time the source from which all its force flows.”
In its desire to live and think with the Church, the Society has always promoted the liturgical movement in a great variety of ways. With the freedom granted by the Church, the Society also from the very beginning worked at the proper adaptation of its own liturgical celebrations.
In conformity with the norms regularly published by the competent authority over the past few years, I saw to it that the New Calendar of the Society was promulgated, and I asked a special Commission to compose new texts and to prepare the necessary schemas for the liturgical celebrations proper to the Society.
In promulgating this new Liturgical Proper I would first like to stress the great importance we should attach to the liturgical life in the context of the broad and organic renewal program of our life and apostolic activities.
The renewal to which the Society is invited by the Church and by the evolving world cannot be achieved except by an interior conversion: only through individual and collective conversion shall we be able to find both the method and the strength to transform our religious life and apostolic work.
As for conversion, there is today no other way to arrive at it than that which leads to our origins, that is, to Saint Ignatius’ own conversion. Two books gave him the initial impetus: The Life of Christ, and the Flos Sanctorum. The love of the Word of God and the emulation of the Saints gradually led him to spiritual maturity: and when it was a matter of trying to find God’s will, we see Ignatius undertaking pilgrimages, practicing ascetical austerity, engaging in prolonged prayer, and finally describing the discernment of spirits in the book of the Exercises.
But our imitation is not concentrated on Saint Ignatius alone. If we consider that the Society and its presence in today’s world should themselves be a recommendation especially by the witness of our fidelity, this same consideration will enable us to understand that in the course of more than four centuries it made itself known by other companions who followed God’s will with great generosity. Among the companions who, in widely different circumstances, manifested through their splendid way of life the spirit of the Exercises and the Constitutions, the Church and the Society single out for us those inscribed in the calendar of Saints.
If we want the Society to rejuvenate itself we must—without neglecting the demands of our own times—continue to draw nourishment from the proper source, that is, from the pristine Ignatian intuition and from our whole tradition. Therefore we must return to that sound cult of our Saints and Blessed who in our days have, for a variety of reasons, unfortunately been relegated to the background.
In these circumstances it seems quite opportune to publish the Proper of the Society, which should be seen not as a mere implementation of the decrees of the Council, but rather as an excellent help to bring about that renewal to which all of us should sedulously apply ourselves.
While recalling the memory of the Saints, we do, in spite of our weakness and failures, render thanks to God for the accomplishments by which He graciously enabled our Society to serve the Church, and at the same time we fulfill the duty we have to work for His greater glory.
Further, in honoring the memory of our Saints, we collectively implore God to grant us to be like our predecessors who never strayed from the path which led to God, even with the total abnegation of their own lives.
Finally, in celebrating their memory it is given to us especially to find the word of God, the seed from which both they and the rest of the Society gathered a copious harvest. In fact, without this salvific word, we would try in vain to achieve renewal and bear fruit. That is why the new Proper contains an abundance of readings from Sacred Scripture, which can fittingly be used widely in a spirit of freedom and of truth.
When we reflect on the singular manner in which Saint Ignatius was impelled towards his conversion while reading those two books, we find that the example of the Saints and the readings from Scripture joined him inseparably to our Lord. Let us hope that the same will happen to us, for as Saint Francis of Sales once wrote, there is no greater difference between the Gospel and the life of the Saints than there is between written music and music that is chanted. Both are the living word of God. In fact, “In the lives of those who shared in our humanity and yet were transformed into especially successful images of Christ, God vividly manifests to men His presence and His face. He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of His kingdom.” But in all sincerity we should admit that at times we did not pay much attention to this music and that consequently those who were chanting it, were unable to help us much. Gradually we have discarded the reading of the lives of the Saints, thinking that Christ could be better reached directly; but we should acknowledge that this option was not without harmful effects. Actually, do not most of us have to admit that in the early stages of our life in the service of Christ, the example of one Saint or another, whose life we had read, has profited us greatly?
Therefore, when speaking of honoring the Saints, let us guard against being ignorant about their lives, lest we stumble into a mere ritualism, causing the liturgical renewal to desiccate for want of the necessary roots. It was for this reason that I saw to it that, while the liturgical texts were being composed, a volume should be prepared with the title “Spiritual Profiles of the Saints and Blessed of the Society of Jesus.” It will surely help if we know those whom we honor and to make them known to the faithful at large when occasion offers. These texts, prepared with special care by experts chosen from all parts of the Society, will assist us in our liturgical celebrations to unite ourselves more closely to God, and thus also to strengthen the union of souls which we are striving for.
The sacred liturgy is of the greatest importance and the most noble form of the service we can and ought to render to the Holy Trinity. But, as the Second Vatican Council indicated, our praise of God is enriched when we unite it to the worshipping Church in heaven, joining with and venerating the memory first of all of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary and of all the Saints. At the same time, while on earth we continue our pilgrimage towards the Lord, and surrounded by infirmities and weaknesses, this worship shown the Divine Majesty becomes a prayer of petition, reaching the Heart of God, through the intercession of all our brethren who are with Christ in glory and who with Him, in Him, and through Him plead for us with God.
The liturgy also is an expression of the life we are hoping for a life of constant sharing in the mystery of Christ, i.e. in the proclamation of the Gospel and in the supreme sacrifice which is the source of our life.
With all these considerations in mind, and having heard the opinion of the General Assistants, I promulgate with this letter the New Liturgical Proper of the Society of Jesus. ….
May God our Lord, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Society, and through the prayers of our Father Ignatius and all our brethren who are with Christ in glory, bestow abundant blessings on this liturgical renewal, so that the spiritual progress and apostolic activity of all Jesuits may receive a new stimulus, for the greater glory of God.
Recommending myself to your prayers,
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Superior General of the Society of Jesus
Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “The Liturgy in a Jesuit’s Life,” pg. 323–328.