Posted by: fvbcdm | August 6, 2013

Feast of the Dedication of Saint Mary Major (5 August 2013)

 Throughout the world, there are hundreds of thousands of places of Catholic worship—the great basilicas and cathedrals, the parish churches, the chapels, the monasteries and convents, down to the crude chapels composed of just four posts and a thatched roof in the heart of Africa or Asia. But of all these places where we worship God, there are four buildings which enjoy the privilege of a very special honor. They are the four major basilicas in Rome to which pilgrims have been flocking for centuries. And they are the cathedral of Rome, Saint John Lateran basilica; Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, known best to the world because most of the great papal ceremonies take place there; the principal church dedicated to Our Lady, Saint Mary Major; and the shrine over the tomb of Saint Paul, called Saint Paul’s outside the Walls. Today we celebrate the dedication of Saint Mary Major, and in doing so, we celebrate not only Our Lady, the Mother of God, but also our devotion to her which is such an essential and beautiful element in our Catholic spiritual life.

We don’t know very much about Our Lady’s activities after the first Pentecost, when she presided over the Apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem, awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit.  No doubt, she would have known many of the first disciples; it is quite possible that she knew Saint Paul after his conversion; maybe she knew Saint Stephen, the first martyr. According to tradition, she went with Saint John the Apostle—into whose care Our Lord had commended her as he died on the cross—to Ephesus where Saint John was the first bishop.  In any case, there was a devotion to her which began with the personal knowledge between her and the contemporaries of Jesus, and then developed into a major theological element of the Church.

For the first two centuries of Christianity there was no possibility of building churches because of the Jewish and then the Roman persecutions.  But when, in the year 313, the Emperor Constantine allowed the church to exist and operate, churches sprang up all over the Christian world. According to an ancient, but probably fictitious story, there was a snowfall (in August!) on the Esquiline Hill in Rome, resembling a blueprint for a building. This old legend has given rise to the title “Our Lady of the Snows” sometimes given to Our Lady.  Snow or no snow, Pope Liberius built a church on that hill in honor of the Mother of Our Lord. It is still sometimes referred to as “the Liberian basilica.”

In the year 431, the Council of Ephesus formally endorsed the title “Mother of God” which had been much controverted up until then. This infallible declaration, which we echo every time we say, “Holy Mary, Mother of God . . .” gave great impetus to the Christian devotion to the mother of Our Lord, and the Liberian church was renovated into a much larger and more imposing basilica which is one of the prides and joys of Rome and the Church to this day. Our Dominican pope Saint Pius V chose to be buried there; Pope Pius XII celebrated his first Mass there the day after his ordination to the priesthood. When Columbus brought the first gold from the new world to the king and queen of Spain, they in turn sent it to the Pope, who decreed that it be used to gild the ceiling of Saint Mary Major.

Thus today, the Catholic world celebrates Our Blessed Mother, our devotion to her which adds such beauty and richness and tenderness to our relationship with her divine Son, and the history of that devotion from the time of Jesus’s life on earth until the end of time. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

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