Pedro Arrupe wrote the following reflections on the importance of Mary and Marian devotion to Ignatius and the Society of Jesus for a book of Jesuit saints and blesseds. The version that appears below was published by Jesuit Sources in a collection of letters and addresses of the superior general.
For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.
Mater Dei mater mea esti: this expression of St. Stanislaus Kostka represents the conviction and the experience of member of the Society of Jesus:
All members of our Society have rightly had an outstanding devotion to Mary our mother…. No mother ever had more sons, none was ever more blessed or showed such fidelity…. For none was ever so holy, beautiful and fair, none so honored or endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. No mother ever had more love for her Son … Mother of the living, means of grace, begetter of life, Mother of God, our mother, who therefore loves us and out of love prays to God on our behalf and begs for us….
Mary is indeed the mother of the Society.
1. The Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Ignatius
Mary played her part in the conversion and training of St. Ignatius:
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.
She also had a role in the composition of the Exercises and the Constitutions. The young Society saw Mary as Virginem Dei Matrem, quae Societatis universae patrocinium suscepit universal (the virgin Mother of God who has undertaken the patronage of the entire Society).
Ignatius’ devotion, which was non secundum scientiam (not according to knowledge) at the beginning, was gradually purified, from the time when he wanted to avenge the honor of the motherhood of Mary with a dagger directed against the Moor who had insulted her, and then left his dagger and his sword on Our Lady’s altar and gave his clothes to a poor man on the eve of Our Lady’s Annunciation by night, until he attained the heights of mystical prayer, when his Mother “interceded for him before her Son and the Father.” His entire life is marked by her presence “whom he saw with his inner eye.”
Ignatius’ constant petition “to the Mother” was “that she would place him with her Son.” This grace was granted, and “he felt such a change in his soul that he saw clearly that the Father placed him with his Son in such a way that he could not doubt it.”
In Ignatius’ writing Mary always appears together with her Son, as in the offering at the end of the Exercise of the Kingdom and in the companions’ last vows at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. While Ignatius was deliberating about the poverty of professed houses, on 14 February 1544, he said the Mass of Our Lady, who offers her Son to the Father. On the following day he notes in his Spiritual Diary that “at the consecration I could not help feeling or seeing her, as though she were a part, or the gateway of all the grace that I felt within my soul. At the consecration she showed that her flesh was in that of her Son.”
The figure of Mary was always prominent in Ignatius’ life, especially while he was writing the Exercises and the Constitutions appearing to him repeatedly both at Manresa and in Rome. Those documents form the basis of the Society and Mary played her part in their development.
2. The presence of Mary in the Society’s history and in the life of every Jesuit
Mary always appears in the light of her Son’s work. Mother and Son belong alike to the mystery of our redemption, into which we were born as sons of God. Between Mary’s immaculate conception and her glory comes the sacrifice of the cross. It was for the cross that Mary had been given her Son, and for the cross that she had to give him up again to God. “This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation, and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross.” The Virgin Mother is seen as indissolubly linked to the work for which Christ desired to be born of her. And so Mary is mother also to the Companions of Jesus; she brings them forth as sons of Christ, and places them under his standard.
Throughout its history the Society has been linked to Mary in this way, in its individual members and as a body. The Jesuit’s vows are made to the Son of Mary, Jesus who is God Almighty, and “Eternal Lord of all things,” in the presence of his mother. She has always been regarded by Jesuits as mediatrix of all graces, and the Society has loved her at different times as Lady, Queen, and Mother. It can be said of every Jesuit that tenerrimo ajfectu ferebatur in Beatissimam Virginem tamquam in Matrem suam (he is most tenderly attached to Our Blessed Lady, regarding her as his mother), but, like Ignatius, without being excessively emotional about it. There is not a Saint or a beatus of the Society of whom it cannot be said that he cultivated Mary’s love with the affection of a son. Numquam quiescam donec obtineam amorem tenerum erga dulcissimam matrem Mariam (I shall never be at peace till, I have achieved a tender love for our most sweet mother Mary).
The Society has always defended the glories of Mary in a number of different ways, by theological study, preaching and teaching the Faith, in art and architecture, in its missions and its Marian Congregations, but above all in its daily life. In all these ways the Society’s apostolic activity has been such that the Jansenists said that, under the influence of the Jesuits, Christianity had degenerated into “Marianity.” This was a false interpretation of the maxim Ad Iesum per Mariam (to Jesus through Mary) which the Society has made its own. It is true, however, that we have always regarded Mary as Mother, as the way (Strada), and as “Advocate, Auxiliatrix, and Mediatrix,” but always in such a way as to draw attention to Christ, as Ignatius would insist.
3. Marks of the Society’s Devotion to Mary
One pre-eminent feature of the Society’s devotion to Mary is a remarkable trust, as of a son for his mother, a mother who showed complete submission in order to give a mother’s service to her son, becoming “the handmaid of the Lord,” which for Ignatius was always the expression of man’s ultimate end.
The theologians present Mary to us as the immaculate one, the fairest of creatures, who is exalted above all the angels and saints put together (Suarez, Bellarmine and Canisius), since Jesus Christ is the only man who was able not merely to choose his own Mother, but actually to create her, in his omniscience and omnipotence, as the most perfect creature, raised up by the Lord as Queen of the Universe.
Mary was the fruit of God’s omnipotence and was placed at the service of his infinite love, and therefore as daughter of the Father, mother of the Son, and spouse of the Holy Spirit “after her Son, was exalted above all the angels and above all mankind” and is closest to the Trinity, so that we can use of her the words of Leo XIII, quoting St. John Damascene, that eius in manibus sunt thesauri miserationum Domini (she carries in her hands the treasures of the Lord’s mercies).
Scripture complements this picture, telling us that Mary was the creature who was closest to the mystery of Christ, since she alone gave him his humanity and shared most fully in his Cross. Mary is the mater dolorosa, who suffered as no one else in the world suffered, and thus became “our mother in the order of grace,” inspiring compassion in us and at the same time encouraging us to be what we really are. When we see her suffer so much “with no wavering at the foot of the Cross,” and realize that Jesus gives her to us: “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother,” when we consider “the loneliness of Our Lady with so much suffering and weariness,” we can be sure that the Queen of Heaven, exalted as she is, and powerful as she is, knows our sufferings, since she brought us forth in pain, with a love inferior only to the love of God. She is the Virgin “who gave an example of that maternal love” with which she is willing and able to come to our aid. “She cares with a mother’s love for the brothers of her Son who are still on their pilgrimage, surrounded by dangers and difficulties.” For that reason she is a sign of hope and consolation, and so in our difficulties the cry that is forced from us is monstra te esse matrem (show thyself our mother).
This spirit of sonship, like that of a child with its mother, is a characteristic of Ignatius. It was this same spirit that made him see himself as “an unworthy little servant” of Mary at Bethlehem, that made him feel, when he failed in something, “a certain shame or something like it before the mother of God,” as he says several times in his Spiritual Journal.
I saw a likeness of Our Lady, and realized how serious had been my fault of the other day, not without some interior distress and tea.rs, since it seemed that I was in disgrace with Our Lady who prayed for me so often, after my many failings, so much so that she hid herself from me, and I found no devotion either in her or from on high.
As I was praying to the Son to help me with the Father in company with his Mother, I felt within me an impulse to go before the Father, and in this motion I felt my hair stand on end, and also a very noticeable burning in my whole body, and following upon this tears and devotion at Mass.
The Jesuit continues to look for help and protection from Mary as mother, just as Ignatius himself hoped and desired: “May it please Our Lady to intercede between us sinners and her Son and Lord, and obtain for us that with the co-operation of our own toil and effort she may change our weak and sorry spirits and make them strong and joyful to praise God.”
Other Apostolates Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—III, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1981, “Marian Devotion in the Society,” pg. 341–347.