Mass in “My Cathedral,” Pedro Arrupe (1981)

The following are notes, rather incomplete yet intimate ones, written by Pedro Arrupe before his stroke in August 1981. The Jesuits’ Superior General describes celebrating Mass, alone, in his private chapel reserved at the Curia in Rome. He provides glimpses of his passionate intimacy with the Eucharist and of his burdens of his office: “the fact of being the general of the Society of Jesus with its 27,000 men consecrated to the Lord and totally dedicated to collaborate with Jesus Christ the Savior, in all sorts of difficult apostolates, which may at times lead to sacrificing life in a bloody martyrdom, carries with it a weight of responsibility and a profound sense of universality of its own.” But it is in celebrating Mass, alone, “looking fixedly at the white host,” that Arrupe is not alone: “I fall on my knees, and 27,000 Jesuits with me, saying as the apostle Thomas from the bottom of my soul and with unswerving faith, ‘My Lord and my God.’” The text’s parenthetical references are to the Spiritual Exercises and the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus.

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.



1.     My cathedral

A mini-cathedral! Just 18 feet by 12. A little chapel which was prepared after the death of my predecessor, Father Janssens, for the new general…whoever this might be! Providence willed that this should be myself. I am grateful to the one who had the idea: he could not have interpreted the wish of this new general better. The planner of this tiny chapel may have desired to give the new general a quiet and convenient place to celebrate the Mass in greater privacy and where he might visit the Blessed Sacrament without leaving his rooms. Possibly he did not think that the little oratory would be the fountain of incalculable power and dynamism for the whole Society, a place of inspiration, consolation and strength…even a living room! It was going to be the room for relaxing in the most active leisure, where doing nothing everything is done! As the idle Mary drinking in the Master’s words, much more active than her sister Martha! Where the Master’s glance and mine cross each other…where one learns much in silence.


The general would have the Lord all the time, every day, next to him, with just a partition between them; the very Lord who was able to enter through the closed doors of the Cenacle, who made himself present among his disciples, the one who would be invisibly present in so many conversations and meetings in my office.


They call this little room the private chapel of the general. It is a teacher’s chair (cátedra) and a sanctuary: Thabor and Gethsemane, Bethlehem and Golgotha, Manresa and La Storta! Ever the same, ever different. If its walls could speak! Four walls that enclose an altar, a tabernacle, a crucifix, a Marian icon a zabuton (a Japanese cushion), a Japanese painting, one lamp. Nothing else is needed; that’s all: a victim, a sacrificial altar the standard of the Cross, a Mother, a burning flame that is slowly being consumed while giving light and warmth, and love expressed by two Japanese characters: God-Love.


Here is a program of life: a life being consumed in love, crucified with Jesus, in Mary’s company being offered to God, as the Victim which is offered to the Father day after day on the altar.


In recent years I have often heard it said: “Why visits to the Blessed Sacrament, if God is everywhere?” My answer, sometimes unexpressed, is: “Really they don’t know what they are saying; God is indeed everywhere, but ‘come and see’ where the Lord dwells: this is his house. My appeal is not to arguments and discussion but to experience lived in the house of the Lord: “One with much experience will speak with understanding.”


“The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” Here those requests rise spontaneously: “Lord, teach us to pray;” “explain to us the parable.” When we hear his words, we understand the expression of popular enthusiasm: “No man ever spoke like this man,” or that of the Apostles: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Then one understands by experience the significance of that sitting at the Lord’s feet and listening to his teaching.”


This cathedral is the theatre of the most important act of the entire daily routine: the Mass. Christ is the true and supreme priest, the Word made man. It is a divine attribute to be contained in the smallest place and not to be circumscribed by the universe: this tabernacle or little tent is not too small for him, but the entire universe is not big enough to hold him.


Each Mass has an infinite value but under some personal circumstances and in some special moments this quality of infinitude is felt more deeply. There is no doubt that the fact of being the general of the Society of Jesus with its 27,000 men consecrated to the Lord and totally dedicated to collaborate with Jesus Christ the Savior, in all sorts of difficult apostolates, which may at times lead to sacrificing life in a bloody martyrdom, carries with it a weight of responsibility and a profound sense of universality of its own.



2.     I shall go to the altar of God

In union with Jesus Christ, I, a priest, carry with myself the entire body of the Society. The walls of this little chapel look as though they would crack. The tiny altar seems to become that heavenly “altar on high” where the prayers of all the members of the Society ascend to the Father “by the hands of his holy angel.” My altar resembles “the golden altar before the throne” referred to in the book of the Apocalypse.


If, on the one hand, I feel myself, as St. Ignatius would have it, “a sore and ulcer” (Sp. Ex. 58), “nothing but an obstacle” (todo impedimenta), on the other hand I find myself identified with Christ, “designated by God a high priest,” “holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens,” “who has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.”


With Christ I find myself too a “victim:” “I saw standing before the throne…a Lamb as though it had been slain.”


The Mass begins on this altar suspended, as it were, between heaven and earth. If I look upward, I can see the heavenly Jerusalem: “its radiance like a most rare jewel, like jasper, clear as crystal.” But “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God, and the Lamb is its sanctuary.” If I look downward, I see “human beings on the face of the earth, in such great diversity in dress and in manner of acting. Some are white, some black; some at peace, some at war; some weeping, some laughing; some well, some sick; some coming into the world, and some dying….”


I am profoundly impressed at seeing from this altar, thus suspended between heaven and earth, all the members of the Society in the world, toiling and suffering in the midst of their endeavors to help souls, “sent throughout the whole world to spread his sacred doctrine among all men, no matter what their state or condition” (Sp Ex 145). How I wish that from this altar blessings may fall as a mighty cascade, graces of light and strength that they need at every moment. In this Mass Christ will offer himself, and I with Him, on behalf of this world and this Society of Jesus.


Again, if I raise my eyes towards the heavenly Jerusalem, I see God’s infinite holiness, “the Three Divine Persons, seated on the royal throne of the Divine Majesty, looking down upon the whole surface of the earth and beholding all nations in great blindness” (Sp Ex 106). Meanwhile the clamor of “We have sinned” surges all the time from the face of the earth, a clamor that resounds with the rumbling of a cataract: “the thunder of thy cataracts;” “then I heard the noise…of many waters and the sound of mighty thunder-peals.”


When I feel myself, like “the servant of Yahweh,” bearing the sins of the Society, chiefly during my generalate, and my own countless personal sins, I appear “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces.” Meanwhile I wish it might be said of me, as it was said of Jesus: “Upon him was the chastisement that made us whole;” “he was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth.” Thus while I hear the great penitential act of the Society, “We have sinned, and have acted perversely and wickedly,” I feel myself “the last of all, as one untimely born, unworthy of being called ‘a son of the Society.’” This is precisely the feeling that permits me to sympathize with the fallen and the straying, and to grasp the whole meaning of those words of the letter to the Hebrews: “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness, he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.”


Christ becomes “the mediator of the new covenant.” I too, in union with the heart of Christ and in spite of everything, I feel myself to be a mediator, and understand why St. Ignatius designates as the primary function of the general of the Society, “that he should be closely united with God our Lord and intimate with Him, that from the Lord, the fountain of all good, the general may so much the better obtain for the whole body of the Society a large share of His gifts and graces, and also a great power and efficacy for all the means which will be used for the help of souls” (Const. 723).


My position between God and the Society of Jesus, as a priest and during the celebration of the Eucharist, is that of a “mediator between God and men,” to govern the whole body of the Society…. This he will do primarily by his prayer which is full of desires and by his sacrifices, to obtain the grace of preservation and development…and on his own part he should hold these means in high esteem and have great confidence in our Lord, since these are the most efficacious means of gaining grace from His Divine Majesty, the source of what is longed for.” (Const. 789–790).


The office of general thus considered appears in all its depth and in clear light: “morning by morning he wakens my ear…. The Lord God has opened my ear.” Aware of my being a priest with the servant of Yahweh, “I do not wish to be rebellious or turn backward; I offer my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pull out my beard. I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” But how consoling it is to read in the sacred text: “When he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous and he shall bear their iniquities.”



3.     The Offertory

I experience the profound feeling of standing before the God of mystery (arcana), the Agios athanatos (Holy Immortal) and the Deus absconditus (the hidden God). I feel that he is present in me and loves me as a father, that he is the fountainhead of all life, and that he accepts my offering.


As I raise the paten, I try to penetrate with the eyes of Christ and with the light of faith, through the infinitude of the universe, to the very heart of the Trinity: “Blessed are you, God of all creation; through your goodness we have this bread to offer….” At the same time those words from the old text come to my mind: “which I, thy unworthy servant offer to thee, the living and true God.” All my unworthiness faces me again: “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;” “and he shall bear their iniquities.”


You know everything, Lord! As I raise the paten, it seems to me that all my brothers gaze at it, feeling themselves to be present: “and for all those around me.” The paten seems to expand as “my innumerable Sins and negligences and those of others are accumulating, along with the aspirations and desires of the whole Society. Like Moses, I feel that “I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.” I feel as though the hands of all the Jesuits of the world would help me to sustain this most heavy paten, loaded with sins but also with desires, hopes and petitions. I seem to hear the Lord say to me, as he said to Moses: “I will take some of the spirit which is upon you and put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.” And then, as though the paten would become lighter or my arms stronger, I am able to lift the paten higher as if to place it nearer to the Lord.


“And also for all the faithful Christians, living and dead…and for the salvation of the whole world.” I almost feel like fainting when faced with human malice and sin. I need that you stretch out your almighty hand, Lord. “I stretched out the heavens alone, I spread out the earth. Who was with me?” Sustained by this powerful hand, I shall be able to carry on: “This bread will become for us the bread of life.”


I now take the chalice with the wine which will be changed into the blood of Jesus. “Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer…it will become our spiritual drink.” This wine, fruit of the vine pressed down in the wine-press and fermented, will be converted into the blood shed on the cross.


This chalice, symbol of that cup that caused you to shed blood at Gethsemane, and that was so bitter that you wished you would not have to drink it, will soon become the chalice of your blood poured out for the salvation of the world. Into it are now poured the sufferings of so many Jesuits who, crushed in their turn, have given or shall give their lives for you in a bloody or unbloody manner, their tears, their sweat…a fowl unsavory mixture which, when united with your blood, will become pleasant and sweet-scented—the aroma of Christ.


“We know that this is to be our lot…to suffer affliction,” but irresistibly impelled by your charity (“for the love of God overwhelms us”), we choose and beg “to be received under your standard … and bear insults and wrongs, thereby to imitate you better” (Sp Ex 147).


Certainly, you have heard our prayer, for the cup is overflowing, but charity makes us to be “overjoyed with all our affliction.” This chalice, converted for us into “a fragrant offering and sacrifice, is accepted by you as an offering pleasing to God and will become for us “a spiritual drink.”


Thus, bowing before the throne of the Trinity, I can say with the whole Church: “In the spirit of humility and with a contrite heart, let us be received by Thee, O Lord; and grant that the sacrifice we offer in thy sight this day may be pleasing to Thee, O Lord God.”


Our Sacrifice: of Christ, mine, and of the whole Society, as a body united in the charity of the Holy Spirit, members and head with Christ (cf Const. 671). United also with “the bond of obedience” (Const. 659), by which we all, as one man, offer the daily holocaust of our lives, “in which the entire man, without any reservation, offers himself in the fire of charity to his Creator and Lord.” Our personal sacrifices, united in the daily community holocaust, constitute a total sacrifice, our sacrifice of praise.



4.     Preface and Consecration

From the heart itself of the Society spontaneously rises that acknowledgement, “Father, it is truly meet and just, it is our duty and our salvation always and everywhere to give you thanks.” Our song of praise would join that of the angels and blend with it into a harmonious choir, every member of which sings in his own voice in a multitude and diversity of tones, similar to that impressive chorus formed by that “great multitude which no man could number from all the tribes and peoples and tongues…crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb.” Our song would join also that of the Society triumphant in heaven and that of all the angels and saints, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”


Following on this mighty chorus, I seem to hear a striking silence. “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is at hand; the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.” “Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord!” “There was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” Let us, therefore, keep in the silence of our heart, as Mary did, everything that is going to take place on “this altar in heaven,” the mystery of the Passover, in which “Christ was immolated,” the mystery of the Redemption of the world, the mystery of the highest glorification of the Father. “And they were filled with wonder and astonished at what had taken place.”


The sublime moment of the Consecration is drawing near. In union with the whole body of the Society, identified with Christ, I hold the host in my hands and pronounce the words, “This is my body:” my body, that of Christ; “This is the cup of my blood:” a solemn moment which can be commented only in awesome silence. Christ converts the bread into his body and the wine into his blood, but the one pronouncing the sacramental words is I! This identification with him is such that I can say, this is my body, but it is Christ’s body. My inner self is all ablaze, as if I felt the Heart of Christ beating instead of mine, or within mine! As though his blood was coursing through my veins at the moment of consecration!


The mystical sacramental separation of the body and blood of Christ is a reality and a symbol, but he who receives the body receives the whole Christ and he who receives the blood receives the whole as well.


The redemption of the world was thus accomplished: incarnation, death, paschal mystery, salvation. All this is repeated at this moment in my hands. I remain “filled with astonishment,” yet “I believe Lord, help my unbelief.” Christ in my hands! The Lamb that takes away the sins of the world is not on the highest throne of the Apocalypse, but in my hands, as bread under the sacramental species … I believe! At the moment of the consecration the perfect glorification of the Father takes place; this will soon be expressed in the doxology: “Through Christ, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, Almighty Father, forever and ever.”


At this solemn moment I pause a while, “in order to reflect and ponder upon what presents itself to my mind” (Sp Ex 53). How does the world appear from this altar? How does Jesus Christ see it? In order to understand this I must enlarge my heart to world proportions. Like the Heart of Christ, the heart of the body of the whole Society must be enlarged, and with it the heart of each one of us. Ours must be a heart that embraces all men without exception, as the Heart of Christ “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” so that finally “there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”


From this altar, between heaven and earth, one gets a better vision and understanding of the needs of men in the vast world; one sees and understands, in a new light, the import of that universal mission: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation.” I personally feel myself, as it were, hurled to the world, and with me the whole Society sent to the wide world. This is its target, its allotted task until it return again to glorify the Lord once the battle for the Kingdom is won.


My ears keep on ringing with those reassuring statements: “I send you,” and “I am with you always.” These words fill our hearts with confidence. My incomparable companion is Christ himself, who is not only present on this altar but within me, filling me with his divinity, and who sends me to those who did not receive him. My response can only be, “Lord, what would you have me to do?” and “What ought I to do for Christ?” (Sp Ex 53).


The body of the Society, in its full awareness of being sent and strengthened with the power of God, feels rejuvenated and full of vigor and zest; it feels the blood of Christ coursing in its veins, and the fullness of the Spirit of Christ possessing its very being, as if propelled by the rush of a mighty wind. Who will be able to withstand this Society if it faithfully follows the line of mission pointed out to it by the Lord? The Society knows that the life of its members is that of “men crucified to the world and to whom the world is crucified,” and that no one will be able to withstand “the wisdom and the Spirit which speaks” in such men, nor resist their voice.



5.     The Our Father

The Father of the Society: all sons of the same Father, of the Father who asked the Son, loaded with the cross at La Storta, to receive Ignatius as his servant, thereby confirming the name of “Society of Jesus.” The “Our Father” is the perfect prayer for the individual and for the community.


“Who are in heaven.” A Jesuit must always look heavenwards. There is his Father and his fatherland. Our entire life is for the Kingdom. “Your Kingdom come.” All our labors would be of no avail without the divine help in establishing this Kingdom. The whole Society asks for this grace most earnestly, because it knows that the success of all its undertakings hinges on the answer to the prayer.


Your will be done.” We must cooperate with the divine will, for which it is necessary to know it. Give us, Lord, the sense of true discernment for knowing at every moment what your will for us is. Keep on enlightening us to find your will and strengthening us to fulfill it.


The Society’s only goal is the carrying out of your will, your will manifested in various ways but specially through obedience. My responsibility, as superior general of the Society, is very great indeed. To him all authority is given “ad aedificationem!” Your will be done: may I never be an obstacle; may I never disfigure, misrepresent or mistake your will for the Society. It is very painful to think that this might happen; keep me faithful to your teaching and never let me be parted from you (prayer before Communion). I consider this a most necessary grace. Therefore, bowing before the paten that holds your Body, I repeat this prayer again and again: death a thousand times rather than to be separated from you. “As the Lord lives…wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.”


With my eyes fixed on the consecrated host I present it to the Brother who accompanies me in the celebration and takes the place of all the Jesuits. As the first disciples who saw Jesus when John the Baptist drew their attention to him…. There they saw a man; here we see only a piece of bread. This is an act of true faith: believing against what we see. The act of faith in the Eucharist is indeed “a hard saying; who can listen to it?” No, Lord, faith in the Eucharistic mystery is not hard, it is rather a motive of immense joy: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I believe!


“Lord, I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be healed,” as you healed the centurion’s servant. The Society believes that you are the Lord, and wants to shelter you under its roof: in our houses, in our churches, in which we want to visit you and contribute to your glorification and cult. And especially the Society wants to shelter you in the hearts of each one of us and in the tabernacle of each community, where they will keep you company and seek from you light, comfort and strength to carry out the mission you have entrusted to them.


Enter, Lord, under the roof of your Society. We need you. There are so many crises of faith, so many sophisticated interpretations parading as scientifically theological…; at times even Christian piety is made light of as though these manifestations of solid and Ignatian faith were antiquated superstitions. “And my soul shall be saved.” Lord do not permit the Society to yield in this matter or degenerate from what St. Ignatius wanted it to be.


Looking fixedly at the white host, I fall on my knees, and 27,000 Jesuits with me, saying as the apostle Thomas from the bottom of my soul and with unswerving faith, “My Lord and my God.”



6.     The Body of Christ keep me for everlasting life

Lord, keep the whole Society; keep me especially, since You have given me this office of so great responsibility. Communitarian communion; identification with Christ. A food that is not transformed but transforms. Body of the Society christified; all united and converted into Christ himself. What better “union of hearts!” “For me to live is Christ,” now more than ever.


How well Nadal’s observations fit in here! “Accept and diligently exercise the union wherewith the Spirit of the Lord favors you regarding Christ and his powers. Thus you may come to perceive in your soul that you understand through his intellect, will by his will, remember through his memory, and that your entire self, your existence, your life, and your actions are realized not in you but in Christ. This is the highest perfection in this life, power divine, happiness beyond compare.”


With this identification of the Society and of each one of the Society With Christ our apostolic activity and our help to souls will gain in efficacy; our words will be those of Christ who knows which is the suitable word at every moment; our plans and manners of apostolate will be precisely those which the Lord will inspire us, which cannot fail to be fruitful…. A Society of Jesus, truly of Jesus, one with Him.



7.     The Blessing of Almighty God

How consoling and moving for me, as identified with Christ, to impart the blessing, his blessing, to the universal Society, a blessing which cannot fail to be efficacious.


This blessing goes to you, workers of the Lord’s vineyard, scattered throughout the world and beset with so many difficulties;


—to you, who are bound to the bed of suffering by pain and infirmity, and offer your prayers and afflictions for souls and for the Church and the Society;


—to you, Superiors, who bear a heavy responsibility and have been entrusted with a task not easy in the present times;


—to you, in charge of the formation of our young Jesuits, who are shaping the Society of tomorrow;


—to you, Coadjutor Brothers, who in a decisive moment of our history are going through a profound transformation and who are serving the Church and the Society with so much dedication and selflessness;


—to you, young scholastics and novices, in whom necessarily rests the hope of the Society for the future, for which you ought to be men dedicated to the Church and souls in the Society, deeply imbued with the spirit of St. Ignatius;


—to you very specially, living in countries deprived of true freedom, who need to feel that the Society is very near to you and values your difficult ministry and testimony;


—to all of you, in the furthermost corners of the world, in the most hidden room in our houses, in the remotest station in the jungle:


May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit descend upon you and remain with you always.


The Mass in my Cathedral is ended. Go and set the world on fire!



Original Source (English translation):

Arrupe, Pedro. In Him Alone Is Our Hope: Texts on the Heart of Christ (1965–1983): Selected Letters and Addresses—IV, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1984, “The Mass in My ‘Cathedral,’” pg. 45–58.

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