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Sermon on the Feast of the Dedication of the Church of St. Mary of the Snow

Feast of the Dedication of the Church of St. Mary of the Snow

Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

La Crosse, Wisconsin

5 August 2023

Sir 24, 14-16

Lk 11, 27-28

Sermon

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today, we join with the Church in Rome and throughout the world in celebrating the historic dedication of the principal church in Rome built to honor Our Savior and His Virgin Mother in the very mystery of her Divine Maternity defined at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431. The first church was erected by Pope Liberius (May 17, 352 to September 24, 366) on the Esquiline Hill in the Fourth Century. It was rebuilt and dedicated by Pope Sixtus III (July 31, 432 to August 19, 440) in 432, the year after the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus. As Dom Prosper Guéranger comments: “The basilica raised by Liberius, the beloved of our Lady, on the Esquiline, was not, then, the most ancient monument dedicated by the Christians of Rome to the Mother of God; but it at once took, and has always kept, the first place among our Lady’s churches in the city, and indeed in the world, on account of the solemn and miraculous circumstances of its origin.”[1]

According to popular tradition, the patrician John and his wife, who lived during the pontificate of Pope Liberius, having no children, had decided to leave their entire estate to the Mother of God. They prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary to know how they should honor her. In response, a miraculous snow fell upon the Esquiline Hill during the intense heat of August in Rome, and Our Lady appeared to the patrician John and his wife, and to Pope Liberius, indicating that the snow fall marked the place in which she desired the church to be built in honor of the mystery of God’s grace at work in her for the salvation of the world.

The Divine Office promulgated by Pope Saint Pius V in the 16th century recounts the action of Pope Liberius:

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 Pope 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 also 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.[2]

The wonderful legend stirs up in our hearts profound joy and peace at the mystery of the Divine Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the related mysteries of her Immaculate Conception, her Perpetual Virginity, her Assumption, and her Maternity of Divine Grace. By God’s will and grace, the Blessed Virgin Mary cooperates fully in the saving work of her Divine Son. We are so immeasurably blessed to have her as our Mother, the Mother of Divine Grace, who never fails in doing God’s will and is ever ready to assist us in doing what God asks us, especially in times of trial and temptation.

The celebration in the Shrine Church here is filled with special joy and peace because the Shrine Church, since May of 2011, enjoys a particular public spiritual bond with the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, so that the faithful who come on pilgrimage to the Shrine Church today, the Feast of the Dedication of Our Lady of the Snows, can obtain a plenary indulgence. From the very construction of the Shrine Church, its affinity with the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major has been beautifully expressed by the high altar with its baldacchino, modelled after the high altar and baldacchino of Saint Mary Major.

In today’s Gospel, Our Lord teaches us the nature of the extraordinary holiness of His Virgin Mother, of “the womb that bore [Him],”[3] that is, her hearing of the Word of God and her keeping it.[4] Her extraordinary holiness is reflected in the purity of her heart, perfectly united to the Divine Heart from the moment of her Immaculate Conception. It is manifested in an extraordinary way at the Foot of the Cross, when, standing faithfully by her Divine Son in His cruel Passion and ignominious Death, her Immaculate Heart was mystically pierced at the moment that the Roman soldier pierced the Heart of her Divine Son with a spear.[5]

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of the Savior. Through the mediation of the Mother of God, the blood and water of divine grace never ceases to flow from the glorious-pierced Heart of Jesus into our hearts. It is she who takes us to the source of divine grace with the maternal instruction: “Do whatever he tells you.”[6] The Virgin Mother of God, Our Lady of Guadalupe, draws us to her Immaculate Heart, so that she may manifest to us the Divine Mercy incarnate in God the Son, her Son, so that she may lead us to place our hearts totally and forever in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The snow associated with the building of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major is a symbol of the purity of her Immaculate Heart and an inspiration for us to seek in the Sacred Heart of Jesus the purification of our hearts from all sin and the fortification of our hearts to follow Christ faithfully in all that we think and say and do. In His Heart, we are one with the Immaculate Heart of Mary in hearing the Word of God and in keeping it in our daily living with all our heart.

Today, in society and in the Church, we are witnesses to so much infidelity, to the practical abandonment of salvation in Christ and the pursuit of happiness in the things of the world, the pursuit of happiness where it can never be found. Such infidelity breeds division, error, and violence. It leads to alienation from God and from our neighbor, to the isolation and desolation of a heart disdainful of the spiritual maternity of Mary’s Immaculate Heart and rebellious before the glorious-pierced Heart of Jesus. But the Virgin Mary, in the words of the Book of Sirach, “took root in an honorable people.” Her abode “is in the full assembly of Saints.”[7] She will never cease to draw our hearts to her own Immaculate Heart, showing her Divine Son, our Savior, alive for us in the Church, so that we may know eternal life in the communion of our hearts with His Most Sacred Heart, the source of our eternal salvation. Rightly, we have prayed in the Collect, “by the glorious intercession of blessed Mary ever Virgin, to be delivered from present sorrows and to enjoy everlasting gladness.”[8]

May the Virgin Mother of God, Our Lady of the Snow, Our Lady of Guadalupe, now draw our hearts to her all-pure heart, her Immaculate Heart, leading us to place our hearts entirely in the glorious-pierced Heart of Jesus, opened for us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. By His Eucharistic Sacrifice, Our Lord makes sacramentally present His Sacrifice on Calvary and its incomparable fruit: His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity as Heavenly Bread. The Heavenly Bread, the Sacred Host, sustains us along life’s pilgrimage and brings us to the pilgrimage’s destiny, our lasting home with God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, in the company of the angels and of the Virgin Mother of God, together with all the saints. May Our Lady help us to understand her holiness and to imitate it, keeping always in our hearts the Word of Christ: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”[9]

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke

[1] Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year, Time after Pentecost, Book Four, tr. Laurence Shepherd (Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications, 2017), p. 265. [Guéranger].

[2] Guéranger, p. 268.

[3] Lk 11, 27.

[4] Cf. Lk 11, 28.

[5] Cf. Jn 19, 25. 34.

[6] Jn 2, 5.

[7] Sir 24, 12.

[8] “… et, gloriosa beatae Mariae semper Virginis intercessione, a praesenti liberare tristitia, et aeterna perfrui laetitia.” “Oratio,” In Dedicatione S. Mariae ad Nives, Missale Romanum. English translation: “Mass: Salve, Sancta Parens,” The Saint Andrew Daily Missal, ed. Gaspar Lefebvre (Great Falls, MT: St. Bonaventure Publications, 1999), p. 1591.

[9] Lk 11, 28.