Friday, January 18, 2008

The Manner of Reaching a Decision in the Election of a General.

As I pray for the members of the 35th General Congregation as they prepare to elect a new superior general, I thought I should spend some time reflecting on the sections of the Jesuit Constitutions dealing with the election of the General. You might appreciate taking a look at these as well, and those of who you are praying for the Society in this time of transition may find the following text particularly helpful. Quoted below are excerpts from the text of Chapter 6 of Part VIII of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, in the English translation issued by the Institute of Jesuit Sources in 1996. The title of Chapter 6 is, appropriately enough, "The Manner of Reaching a Decision in the Election of a General."

When the congregation has convened that was summoned to elect a new general after the death of his predecessor [or, in this case, after his predecessor's resignation], he who has been given the function of vicar should address all its members, four days before the election of the new general, exhorting them to make it in a way conducive to the greater service of God and the good governance of the Society. In addition to this day, they will have another period of three days to commend themselves to God and reflect better upon who in the whole Society might be most suitable for that office. They will seek to be informed by those capable of supplying good information but make no decision until they have entered and been locked into the place of the election.

. . .

On the day of the election, which will be that following the three mentioned, the Mass of the Holy Spirit should be said, and all should attend and receive Communion.

Later at the sound of the bell those with the right to vote should be summoned to the place of assembly. One of them should deliver a sermon in which he exhorts them in a general way, with no suggestion of alluding to any individual, to choose a superior such as is required for the greater divine service. After all together have recited the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, they should be locked inside the place of the congregation by one of the superiors or rectors or another member of the Society charged with this in the house where the assembly is held. They are enclosed in such a manner that they may not leave nor be given any food except bread and water until they have elected a general.

. . .

If all by a common inspiration should choose someone without waiting for the voting procedure, let him be the superior general, for the Holy Spirit who has moved them to such an election supplies for all procedures and arrangements.

When the election does not take place in that manner, the following procedure should be followed. First, each one should pray privately and, without speaking with anyone else, make the decision in the presence of his Creator and Lord on the basis of the information he has. He will write on a piece of paper the name of the person whom he chooses for superior general, and sign it with his name. One hour at most should be given for this. Thereupon all should reassemble in their seats. The vicar, together with a secretary to be chosen for this purpose from among the professed and by another to assist should arise and attest his wish to admit no one he should not, nor to include anyone. He should give to all general absolution from all censures for the purposes of the canonical election. After the grace of the Holy Spirit has been invoked, he should go with his companions to a table placed in the center. The three should request their votes from one another and before handing it over each should pronounce an oath that he is naming the man whom he judges in our Lord most fit for the office. The votes should be kept together in the hands of the secretary. Then they should request each member of the congregation to hand in his vote by himself and in the sight of all, similarly in writing and preceded by the same oath.

Afterwards in the presence of all the secretary should read the votes aloud, naming only the person chosen. Then the numbers should be compared with each other, and the person found to have more than half of all the votes is to be the superior general. Accordingly . . . [the vicar] will formulate the decree of election, saying:

"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, I, N., in my own name and the name of all those who have the same opinion, elect N. as superior general of the Society of Jesus." This done, all should immediately step forward to do him reverence, kneeling on both knees they should kiss his hand. The person elected will not be able to refuse either the election or the reverence, calling to mind in whose name he is obliged to accept it. Then all should recite together the Te Deum laudamus.

Once again, I ask your prayers for the members of the 35th General Congregation as they carry out the grave responsibility of selecting a new leader for the Society of Jesus. AMDG.


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