August 5th, The Feast of the Dedication of Our Lady of the Snows (St. Mary Major)
Hast thou entered, said the Lord to Job, into the storehouses of the snow, or hast thou beheld the treasures of the hail; which I have prepared for the time of the enemy, against the day of battle and war? (Job 38: 22-23)
The story of the founding of the Basilica of St. Mary Major (from the Breviary of Pius V):
“Under the pontificate of Liberius, John, a Roman patrician, and his wife, who was of an equally noble race, having no children to whom they might leave their estates, vowed their whole fortune to the Blessed Virgin Mother of God, begging her most earnestly and continually to make known to them by some means in what pious work she wished them to employ the money. The Blessed Virgin Mary graciously heard their heartfelt prayers and vows, and answered them by a miracle.
“On the Nones of August, usually the hottest time of the year in Rome, a part of the Esquiline Hill was covered with snow during the night. That same night the Mother of God appeared in a dream to John and his wife separately, and told them to build a church on the spot they should find covered with snow, and to dedicate it to the Virgin Mary; for it was in this manner that she wished to become their heiress. John related this to Pope Liberius, who said he had dreamt the same thing.
“He went, therefore, with a solemn procession of priests and people to the snow-clad hill, and chose the site of a church, which was built with the money of John and his wife. It was afterwards rebuilt by Sixtus III. At first it was called by different names, the Liberian basilica, St. Mary at the Crib. But, since there are many churches in Rome dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and as this one surpasses all other basilicas in dignity and by its miraculous beginning, it is distinguished from them by its title of St. Mary Major. On account of the miraculous fall of snow, the anniversary of the dedication is celebrated by a yearly solemnity.”
In marvelous prose, Abbot Guéranger describes the miraculous event as the final victory of Christianity over the Pagan religion.
“Truly that was a day of joy, when Mary, in the name of Jesus, claimed her right as sovereign and heiress of the Roman soil! To the East, at the highest point of the Eternal City, she appeared on that blessed morning literally like the rising dawn; beautiful as the moon shining by night; more powerful than the August sun, surprised to see her tempering his heat, and doubling the brightness of his light with her mantle of snow; more terrible than an army; for from that date, daring what neither apostles nor martyrs had attempted, and what Jesus Himself would not do without her, she dispossessed the deities of Olympus of their usurped thrones. As was fitting the haughty Juno whose altar disgraced the Esquiline, the false queen of these lying gods, was the first to flee before Mary’s face, leaving the splendid columns of her polluted sanctuary to the only true Queen of earth and heaven.”
Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us!