Father Peter’s Final Vows
At an evening Mass on Friday 15th June, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, Father Peter made his final profession in the Society of Jesus, in front of the Jesuit Provincial, Father Dermot Preston SJ, the local Jesuit Superior, Father James Crampsey SJ, and a large congregation, boosted by a number of Jesuit visitors and by Father Peter’s parents and other family members. Music was provided by singers and musicians from the Sunday 8pm Mass as well as from the choir and music group, and Mass was followed by a reception in the hall. [Photos: Ruth Morris]
As people often ask about the significance of a Jesuit’s final vows, here are a few words of explanation:
Final Vows? What’s that?
Even lifelong Catholics have a hard time understanding what a Jesuit’s final vows are all about. “Didn’t you take vows after two years of novitiate?” “Aren’t you ordained already?” “Don’t you live according to poverty, chastity and obedience anyway?” The answers to those questions are: yes, yes and yes. So final vows deserve a little explanation.
Jesuits take “first vows” after they have completed their two-year novitiate. And indeed we vow to be poor, chaste and obedient, in imitation of Christ. But in those first vows we promise that we “will enter” the Society of Jesus. In a sense, it’s an offering to God, which we hope will be confirmed. “As you have freely given me the desire to make this offering,” we say in first vows, “so may you also give me the abundant grace to fulfil it.”
After completing the many years of Jesuit training and – for those Jesuits who become priests – some years after ordination, a Jesuit is invited into the final stage of his training, called “tertianship,” which includes making the full Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola for thirty days – the “Long Retreat”. After this, a number of Jesuits are asked to complete evaluations of your suitability for final vows (called informationes), answering several broad questions (“Does his life as a Jesuit give witness as a man consecrated to God?”, etc.) The evaluations are sent to your home province, and from there to Rome, where the superior general of the Society of Jesus decides whether to admit you to “full incorporation” in the Society.
Several analogies are helpful, but imperfect. It’s somewhat like getting academic “tenure” (you’re already a professor but now a “full” one). It’s somewhat like becoming a partner in a law firm (you’re already a member of the firm, but now a “full” one). Or, more indelicately, it’s somewhat like becoming a “made man” in the Mafia (cf. Goodfellas)!
A better way to say it is this: the Society of Jesus is accepting that offer you made all those years ago as a novice. As another Jesuit said, at First Vows, you accept the Society; at Final Vows, the Society accepts you, “for better or worse.”
James Martin SJ (adapted)