On August 5 the Roman basilica of St. Mary Major will mark the feast of Our Lady of the Snows as well as the anniversary of the dedication of the basilica which was founded on that date in 358 by Pope Liberius.
Liberius was inspired to build the basilica when the Virgin Mary appeared to him, and to his friends, the Roman patrician John and his wife, in a dream and asked that a church be built in her honor on the site on the Esquiline hill where snow would fall on August 5, a hot midsummer night.
In the presence of many Romans, the Pope traced the outline of the church in the snow, and the first basilica built on that spot was called Our Lady of the Snows. The current basilica, better known today as St. Mary Major, is the result of centuries of rebuilding on the original site.
The celebrations this year take place in the presence of the new archpriest of St. Mary Major, Cardinal Bernard Law. They commence on Sunday, August 1 with a triduum of Masses, the first of which will be presided over by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. Archbishop Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, apostolic nuncio, will celebrate Mass on Monday, August 2, and Cardinal Virgilio Noe, archpriest emeritus of St. Peter's Basilica, will preside at the final mass of the triduum on Tuesday, August 3.
The feast itself will start on Wednesday, August 4 with first Vespers. On Thursday, August 5, there will be a solemn pontifical Mass of the morning and second Vespers, presided over by Cardinal Law. Bishops and priests are invited to concelebrate at this Mass. During Mass and vespers, there is the traditional "rain of flowers," symbolizing the miraculous August snowfall of 358, when thousands of flower petals are released both within the basilica and outside, from its rooftop, for the faithful who have gathered to commemorate this event.