Deep history, tradition surrounds miraculous Feast St. Mary Major Basilica

On August 4th and 5th, numerous Vatican prelates and throngs of faithful will be on hand at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome to commemorate the miraculous snowfall of the year 358, which led to the church’s construction.

The Basilica will hold its traditional triduum, or three days of preparation from August 1st to 3rd, with a daily recitation of the Rosary and meditation on its mysteries given by Fr. Gabriele Caranta, rector of the Shrine of St. Mary of the Gold in Terni, Italy.

According to tradition, the Basilica’s conception came following an appearance of the Virgin Mary to two faithful Roman Christians, the patrician John and his wife, in a dream. She also appeared to Pope Liberius (352-366), and asked that a church be built in her honor on the site where snow would fall on the night of August 4-5. Rome rarely sees snow at all--much less in the heat of August.

Pope Liberius traced the outlines of the church in the snow and the first basilica was built on that site. It was completed about a century later by Pope Sixtus III (432-440), after the Council of Ephesus in 431 which declared Mary to be the Mother of God.

Masses are scheduled to be held on each day of the triduum, celebrated by: Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani, president of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See, Archbishop Paolo Romeo, apostolic nuncio to Italy, and Cardinal Agostino Cacciavillan, president emeritus of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, respectively.

The feast itself will commence on August 4, beginning with the Rosary and followed by vespers, which will be presided at by Cardinal Bernard Law, archpriest of the basilica, and Mass celebrated by Bishop Domenico Sigalini of Palestrina, Italy.

On the morning of August 5th, the day will open with the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, followed by a pontifical Mass, presided at by Cardinal Law. Afternoon celebrations will continue with the Rosary and a second vespers service presided by Cardinal Law. A Mass celebrated by Bishop Lorenzo Chiarinelli of Viterbo, Italy will also follow.

As is tradition, a shower of flower petals will fall from the ceiling of the Basilica during the pontifical Mass and second vespers to commemorate the miraculous 358 snowfall.

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