Dedication of the Church of Our Lady of the Snow (St. Mary Major)
Ordinary Time: August 5th
We celebrate today the dedication of one of the four most
illustrious churches of Rome. While each diocese and parish keeps
its own dedication anniversary, the Church universal commemorates
the consecration of the four great Roman basilicas, the mother
churches, we may call them, of Christendom, viz., St. John Lateran,
St. Peter, St. Paul Outside the Walls, and St. Mary Major. By means
of these feasts, the Church seeks to link all Christians with the
This feast commemorates the miracle of the snowfall that occurred
during the night of August 4-5 in the year 358 on the site where the
basilica now stands. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary
appeared in a dream to two faithful Roman Christians, the patrician
John and his wife, as well as to Pope Liberius (352-366), asking
that a church be built in her honor on the site where snow would
fall on the night of August 4-5. Pope Liberius traced the outlines
of the church in the snow and the first basilica was built on that
site. It was completed about a century later by Pope Sixtus III
(432-440), after the Council of Ephesus in 431 during which Mary was
declared to be the Mother of God.
In Rome the Basilica of St. Mary Major will hold its traditional
triduum from August 1 to 3 and two days of celebration on August 4
and 5. During the pontifical Mass and the second vespers, the
traditional shower of flower petals will descend from the ceiling of
the basilica to commemorate the August snowfall in 358.
Dedication of St. Mary Major
St. Mary Major is important to Christendom for three reasons:
(a) It stands as a venerable monument to the Council of Ephesus
(431), at which the dogma of Mary's divine Motherhood was solemnly
defined; the definition of the Council occasioned a most notable
increase in the veneration paid to Mary.
(b) The basilica is Rome's "church of the crib," a kind of
Bethlehem within the Eternal City; it also is a celebrated station
church, serving, for instance, as the center for Rome's liturgy for
the first Mass on Christmas. In some measure, every picture of Mary
with the divine Child is traceable to this church.
(c) St. Mary Major is Christendom's first Marian shrine for
pilgrims. It set the precedent for the countless shrines, where
pilgrims gather to honor our Blessed Mother throughout the world.
Here was introduced an authentic expression of popular piety that
has been the source of untold blessings and graces for Christianity
in the past as in the present.