Wednesday of Week I of Lent
The Basilica of St. Mary Major (official website) is one of the four major basilicas in Rome, and so houses a holy door (which is only open in Jubilee Years) and a papal altar (only the Pope or his delegates can celebrate Mass there). Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló is currently the Archpriest of the basilica, as well as the Vice-Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church. It was previously known as a patriarchal basilica, but since 2006, Pope Benedict XVI changed the title to papal basilica, as the seven patriarchal basilicas (the four major basilicas, St. Lawrence Outside the Walls in Rome, St. Francis and St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi) were longer connected to the patriarchates.
According to a legend, snow fell on the top of the Esquiline Hill on August 5, a summer day. Pope Liberius followed a vision and and built a church at the spot covered with snow. This led to the former name of Basilica of St. Mary of the Snows. Historically, it was Pope Sixtus III who built the basilica around 440 AD, following the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (431) which declared that Mary is the Theotokos, the Mother (Bearer) of God, because Christ was truly and totally both human and God. In any case, it was one of the first churches in the world dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the largest one among more than 150 churches in Rome dedicated to the Mother of God.
Every year on August 5, churches around the world celebrate the (optional) Memorial of the Dedication of St. Mary Major as prescribed by the General Roman Calendar. If you are in Rome on that day, do not miss the Eucharistic celebration in the basilica, for you will be amazed by rose petals that are dropped from the dome at the intonation of the Gloria, commemorating the snow that fell on the hill.
We will revisit the papal basilica on Wednesday of Holy Week and Easter Sunday.