When you hear the word church, what do you think of? Do you think of the priests and people of your own parish? Do you think of a Sunday morning when families of the parish gather to celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy? Do you picture a stately building with a round dome, pointed towers, and stained glass windows? The word church has a variety of meanings.
Today’s feast focuses our attention on a church building, a basilica called St. Mary Major. Tradition says that in August 352 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a wealthy nobleman in Rome. She asked that a church be built on the spot where he would find snow. On that summer day, snow did mysteriously appear and a church was built on the spot and dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows.
Apart from the story, however, we know that a church was built on that spot in the fourth century and was rebuilt in 434. The church was also rededicated to Mary, the Mother of God. This title of Mary was protected by the ecumenical council of Ephesus. Today St. Mary Major is the largest church in the world dedicated to Our Lady. This church is called a patriarchal church, one where the pope officiates on certain occasions. There is a special altar in this church used by the Holy Father and by others with special permission. On a deeper level, this feast reminds us that Mary has been reverenced throughout the history of the Church as our Mother. As she foretold in her prayer, the Magnificat, “All generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).
from Saints and Feast Days, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio