St. Ignatius' First Mass

On Christmas Day, 472 years ago, St. Ignatius Loyola celebrated his first Mass. He had been ordained 18 months earlier, on the feast of the Birth of St. John the Baptist, June 24, 1537. He had been hoping to celebrate his first Mass in the land where the Son of God took flesh and was born, but because of the threat of Turkish pirates no ships would sail from Italy to the Holy Land. He settled for the next best place--the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. This church, one of the major basilicas of Rome, was the first Roman church built in honor of the Mother of God. In it was a chapel dedicated to the Nativity and relics from the manger where Jesus was laid after His birth. If he couldn't celebrate his first Mass in Bethlehem, he would celebrate it there, on Christmas Day.

Christmas is a Eucharistic feast. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity took flesh and was born in order to give His flesh for the life of the world. The Bread of Life was born in a town named Bethlehem, a name which means "House of Bread." His mother placed Him, who would one day say, "my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink" (John 6: 55), in a manger, a feeding trough.

After (and probably during) that first Mass and throughout his ordained life, St. Ignatius cried during Mass. Such tears are a sign of spiritual consolation which St. Ignatius describes in his "Spiritual Exercises" as "when some interior motion is caused within the soul through which it comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord.... Similarly, this consolation is experienced when the soul sheds tears which move it to love for its Lord..." (#316). His early Jesuit companions testified that St. Ignatius felt cool and without consolation if he did not shed tears three times during Mass. It got so "bad" that "his doctor forbade him to surrender to tears because it was destroying his eyesight and his overall health. As was his wont, he obeyed his doctors and received even more consolation, albeit without tears" (Harvey Egan, S.J., "Ignatius Loyola the Mystic," page 190).

If we pause and reflect, it will be clear that today, Christmas, is a day of consolation. How much Jesus loved us by becoming incarnate, being born, living our human life with its joys and sorrows, and even sharing in our death so that we who die might share in His resurrection. How much Jesus loves us by giving Himself to us in the Eucharist. If we really thought and prayed about this we would have what Pope John Paul II hoped for the entire Church in his Encyclical on the Eucharist--"amazement." It's an amazement that could even bring us to tears.