Saturday, August 5, 2006
Dedication of St. Mary Major in Rome

Greater Double (1955 Calendar): August 5
Optional Memorial (1969 Calendar): August 5

Each year on August 5th the Church celebrates the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. This is one of only three such universally held feastdays. There is a separate feast to celebrate the Dedication of St. John the Lateran (on November 9th) and a third that celebrates the Dedication of both St. Peter’s Basilica and the Basilica of St. Paul outside the walls (on November 18th). These four basilicas are the four major basilicas. Many other minor basilicas have been designated as such by the Popes throughout the world, but these four basilicas are held in universal esteem by the faithful. They are the highest-ranking church buildings in the world.

And the story behind St. Mary Major is the story of one of the earliest miracles attributed to our Blessed Lady. 

According to Tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared in a dream to two faithful Catholics, the patrician John and his wife, as well as to Pope Liberius who reigned from 352 – 366 AD, asking them to build a church in her honor where the snow would fall on the night of August 4th into the 5th. On the night announced in 358 AD, snow began to fall on the location where St. Mary Major is presently located. This of course is a miracle considering it fell on that small location in the heat of August, a notoriously warm period in Rome.

Pope Liberius went and traced the outlines of the church in the snow himself, and the first basilica was built on that site. However, it was completed nearly a century later by Pope Sixtus III following the Council of Ephesus in 431 during which Mary was declared to be the Mother of God. The feastday kept by the Church on August 5th is known as both the Feast of the Dedication of St. Mary Major but also as the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows, on account of the miracle attributed to our Lady.

The Importance of the Basilica 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.
 Source: The Church's Year of Grace by Pius Parsch via Catholic Culture


Grant to us Thy servants, we beseech Thee, O Lord God, that we may enjoy perpetual health of mind and body: and through the intercession of blessed Mary ever Virgin may be delivered from present sorrow and possess eternal joy. Through our Lord.

Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

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