Liturgical Colour : Green or White (Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words of the Scripture we rejoice in the remembrance of the historic event of the Dedication or Consecration of the Papal Basilica St. Mary Major, also known well by its Italian name, Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore. This is one of the four great Papal Major Basilicas, and it is also the most important of churches and basilicas dedicated to the Blessed Mother of God.
The Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major is a great Marian shrine, most well-known for its holy icon of the ‘Maria Salus Populi Romani’ or the Protectress of the Roman people. This icon is a Byzantine style icon that dated from the fifth or century after the birth of Christ, and therefore had been around in Rome for a very long time, and was well-known and had great following both in Rome and beyond. In recent years, our Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis had been visiting the icon before and after his foreign trips and thus made the icon even more popular.
The icon of ‘Salus Populi Romani’ further highlighted the Marian character of this great church and Basilica, but how did this Basilica came up to be in the first place? It was one of the oldest churches in Rome, lasting from the late era of the Roman Empire, from a time not long after Christianity was tolerated and eventually became the official faith of the entire Empire. This Basilica was also often known as the Basilica of Our Lady of Snows for the well-known miraculous occurrence that led to the foundation of the Basilica.
It was told in the Church history and tradition that a Roman patrician named John and his wife made a vow to donate their personal land and wealth as they had no son and heir to continue their family and inherit their legacy. They made the vow to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and they prayed asking for guidance and help in finding the proper site to build a church dedicated to God and to His blessed Mother.
And in the most wonderful and miraculous way, on the fifth day of August, on one of the hills of Rome, the Esquiline Hill on which the Basilica of St. Mary Major now stands, during the very height of the hot Roman summer, snow falls on the hill and covered the very spot that Mary had marked for this great shrine and church. And that was how this great Basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Snows, the Blessed Virgin Mary, came to be.
Ever since then, the Basilica had stood for many centuries as the symbol of the faith that all of us mankind has in the Lord through His mother Mary, and it has become a strong rallying point and place for devotees and the faithful, inspiring many to return to the faith. And this homage to the Blessed Mother of God was also part of the affirmation that came with the official recognition of Mary as the Mother of God at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, which took place around the time the Basilica was built and dedicated.
Why is it that we have such great dedication and devotion to Mary? That is because we honour her first and foremost as the Mother of God, by virtue of her being the mother of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Who is both God and Man, and because Mary is the Mother of Him Who is God Incarnate, that is why she is also the Mother of God. And throughout history the mother of an important persona, such as rulers and kings have always had great honour applied to them.
And even more so than just this, Mary is so honoured because of her exemplary faith and dedication, her righteousness and piety, her love for her Son, all the virtues she has possessed that are great examples and inspiration for each and every one of us. Indeed, if the Lord were to point out for someone or an example for us to follow, first and foremost, He is likely to say, “There is My mother, follow her and her examples, devote yourself to her, and you will find the straightest path to heaven.”
That is why, as we celebrate the Dedication of this church and House of God, we recall Mary, the mother of God, and her brilliant examples in faith. Let us all follow her and be inspired by her and love God wholeheartedly as Mary had once done. Let us all look towards the Lord with faith, and commit ourselves anew to Him, with His mother Mary by our side, guiding us on the path forward that we will always do what the Lord has taught us to do, that indeed, we will be blessed because we obey God’s will and does what He wants us to do as said in our Gospel passage today.
O Holy Mother of God, Mary, Our Lady of Snows, most virtuous and wonderful of all the children of man, pray for us and intercede for our sake always, before your Son in heaven. Pray for all of us sinners now, and at the hour death, and lead us all into your Son, that He may show us mercy and forgive us our sins. Amen.