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  • Writer's pictureLucy Vinten

Celebrating the Feast of St Ignatius

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

St Ignatius, whose feast is celebrated 31 July

St Ignatius’ Day is the 31 July, and historically Jesuit Communities have marked the day with Masses, processions and feasts. In the archives we have records of these events from the 19thand 20th centuries, showing how Jesuits celebrated St Ignatius’ Day, and how these celebrations changed over the course of the years.

The Mount Street Jesuit Community recorded its daily services, meals, and comings and goings of individual Jesuits, as well as larger feasts and other events, in The Minister’s Log Books. The Log Books are a kind of diary for the community, and among the events recorded are the St Ignatius Day celebrations.

The earliest year for which the Minister’s Log Book gives an account of the St Ignatius’ day festivities is 1860. A pontifical High Mass was held at 11 am, followed by lunch for nearly 40 people. The Minister notes ‘there was not room for some of our own Fathers’. After Pontifical Vespers and a Procession at 4pm there was dinner then ‘Entertainment at Westminster’.

It became customary for the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster to be present at High Mass on 31July. Cardinal Wiseman came in 1864 and the Log Book notes this:

1864 Pontifical High Mass at 11 in presence of the Cardinal who arrived punctually … Church very full. The Cardinal preached for an hour from a platform placed at the entrance to the Sanctuary – the ceremony over at ½ past 1 – Lunch in the Library – upwards of 40 present. Four Novices who came to assist at the High Mass dined in the Refectory with Fr Clifford and Mr Renshaw & Mr Cardwell. Lunch passed off very well –there were 8 servers – 10 wld have been better.

After 1865 Cardinal Manning, Cardinal Wiseman’s successor, came each year to High Mass on the feast of St Ignatius, though it was noted in 1880 that he was absent due to sickness. Occasionally he would preach, as in 1879. The logbooks are kept in a laconic style – for 1883 the Minister notes:

H. Mass in presence of Card’l Manning sung by Bishop of Amycla. 12 scholastics came from Manresa & 2 Tertian Fathers. So the H Mass was got thru’ fairly well.

The Feast followed straight on from the Mass and for some of the years the invitation and guest list survive, complete with acceptances and refusals. It seems there were usually about 60 guests, and extra Jesuits would be drafted in to help host and serve them all, but the choir boys would be kept firmly out of the way – in 1878 they had their lunch in the pantry.

The traditions continued to develop over the decades, and in the pre-First World War years seem to have become yet more elaborate. In 1912 there was a Feast for the Jesuits the night before, and on St Ignatius’ Day itself there was standing room only in the church and an

…awning put up at church doors. As it was raining most useful. The Cardinal [Cardinal Bourne]came in state – Received by the Fathers at the Church door at 11. All in cassock & cotta. He came afterwards to lunch in the Hall. Almost 65 sat down. In refectory lunch for Choir & servers for about50. Procession of the Bld. Sacrament at 4. 22 novices came. Tea for them in the Hall afterwards.

Guest list to lunch, feast of St Ignatius 1878, showing acceptances and declines

During the First World War the ceremonial aspects of the day were not neglected. In 1916 Cardinal Bourne came again and preached at the Mass, but the lunch afterwards was on a smaller scale than before and the choir were not given lunch. Later, at 4 o’clock there was a procession and Benediction.

There is a gap in the records between 1916 and 1946, and once the records start again there is a change of tone in the entertainment, marked by the fact that cocktails were now served before dinner instead of sherry or wine. Another difference is that the catering was now done by an outside catering company, usually the Mayfair Catering Company.

In 1949 the centenary of the opening of the Farm Street Church was celebrated in style on St Ignatius’ Day. Solemn High Mass was celebrated in the presence of Archbishop Bernard Griffin of Westminster, together with a large collection of bishops and canons. The sermon was given by the Bishop of Lancaster and the Minister comments that it was over long at 40 minutes. Afterwards there were cocktails in the Community Refectory then lunch for 55 in the Sodality Hall. The catering was done by the Mayfair catering company. All the wines and spirits were provided by the house.

The menu from the Feast held in 1963 is preserved in the archives and has been signed by the 5 guests present that year. Seven courses were served with three types of wine, including port. It was clearly appreciated by the guests, as one of them, Sir Gladwyn Jebb wrote:

As late Ambassador to France I may perhaps be supposed to be a minor gastronome: but I should like to say that the meal I have consumed today is a triumph of British Cooking, which I believe is unequalled!

Also written on the menu for this dinner was an extract from a medieval drinking song:

Haec est fides ‘potatica,

Sociorum spes unica;

Qui bene non potaverit,

Salvus esse non poterit

Like many medieval secular songs it was a parody of ecclesiastical hymns or prayers. In this case it echoes the Sixth Century Athanasian Creed, and in a rough translation goes like this:

This is the creed of the drinker,

the one hope of the revellers,

that he who does not drink freely,

cannot be saved.

Clearly the St Ignatius Day feasts were times of good cheer and merrymaking.

Menu, 1961

The changing times of the 1960s, especially the ecumenical movement, are highlighted in 1964when at the Feast of St Ignatius the Anglican Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockward was present in the Sanctuary, the first time since the reformation that an Anglican Bishop had been in a Catholic Sanctuary during Mass.

There were more changes in 1965 when at 1 o’clock on the feast of St Ignatius, a Mass of Concelebration was held, the first to be held in the Farm Street Church. The Second Vatican Council had allowed concelebration for the first time since the medieval period. Seven Priests concelebrated on this occasion, with the Fr Superior as Principal and Fathers J. Walsh, J. Corbishley and T. B. Murray among the concelebrants. After this concelebration became the norm at the Feast, with 18 concelebrants in 1981.

The last year for which we have the Minister’s Log Book accounts of the Feast of St Ignatius is 1987, and it sounds a splendid occasion, at the end of our records of nearly 130 years of St Igantius Day Feasts. It is notable for, among other things, the aptly named Jesuitengarten wine.

Community concelebrations in church at 1145.

Dinner supplied by Carlisle catering for 37 people, including 11 guests invited by Superior (Fr Nye).

Menu: Salmon Mousse: Veal meuniere; Summer Pudding

Wine: Jesuitengarten (presented by Vicomte de Richesrat)

If you are interested in any of the resources mentioned, or would like to find out more about the Archives, please contact us.

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