Basilica of St. Mary Major

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2014/08/01 at 12:00 AM

High atop the Esquiline Hill in Rome sits the most important church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the whole world: the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

There is a delightful story that dates the founding of this church to the 4th century. As the story goes, a wealthy Roman and his wife were aging and had no heirs for their fortune.

So they prayed to the Virgin Mary to ask for her guidance as to how they should dispose of their wealth, and the Virgin appeared to the man in a dream on August 4th and told him to build a basilica on the site where he would find snow the following morning.

The man was confused by the dream, and so he went to Pope Liberius to tell him of his dream only to learn that Pope Liberius had had a dream in which he was told that he would find snow on the Esquiline Hill that morning.

When they visited the Esquiline Hill, they indeed found that snow had fallen in such a way as to outline the dimensions of the basilica they were to build. Thus, today is the feast day of the Dedication of St. Mary Major – a feast that used to be called Our Lady of the Snows.

While critics state that it is difficult to prove the historical veracity of this story, what we do know about this basilica is that its art and architecture, its sheer size and beauty all speak of the great dignity possessed by and the honor due to the virgin mother of our Lord.

She is indeed, without any doubt, the fairest honor of our race. Mary is indeed our life, our sweetness, and our hope. For in her virtues we can see the perfection of humanity, and in her maternal solicitude we find our most sure and certain advocate before her Son’s countenance.

By the Lord’s divine pleasure, it was Mary who produced for us a Savior who has redeemed us and made salvation possible. And it is Mary who, from her throne in Heaven, procures for us every grace we need to cooperate with the Lord’s gift of salvation.

To be sure, Mary is not extraneous to our Catholic faith. Marian devotion is not an option we can choose or not choose with no consequence. Mary is not optional at all! She is absolutely necessary to us!

Churches like St. Mary Major were built in part to remind us of the importance of Mary’s role in the life of the Church and to invite us to entrust ourselves completely to her care.

As the Mother of God we know that there would be no Savior without Mary’s consent, and as the Mediatrix of all Graces, we also believe that it is through her motherly hands that our Lord provides all the graces that we need to be saved.

Our readings today remind us of how our Lord provides for us. In particular, the Gospel today is taken from the Bread of Life Discourse found in the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John, and it speaks of our belief in the Eucharist.

Jesus says to the crowd gathered around Him in Capernaum: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Our Lord also reminds the crowd, whom He had fed through the miracle of the loaves and fish we heard about last Sunday, to work “for the food that endures for eternal life” rather than “the food that perishes.”

In saying this, our Lord is recognizing that, while it is necessary for us to have physical food to live, there is a food that is even more necessary to our well-being, a food that is a foretaste of Heaven.

Of course our Lord is speaking of the Eucharist, the true bread that comes down from Heaven. Just as Moses and the Israelites received the manna from Heaven above, when you come forward and kneel at this communion rail, you kneel at the very edge of Heaven to be fed.

But it is not manna that you receive here. It is our Lord Himself, who so graciously gives Himself to us: body, blood, soul and divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine.

By our worthy participation in this sacrificial meal, we unite ourselves to our Lord and to His Church, and we show our desire to be the Lord’s true children.

In speaking as He does to the crowd in this Gospel passage, Jesus is preparing His followers to believe in Him and to believe in the Eucharist. But when Jesus tells them to work for the food that endures for eternal life, our Lord is not simply counseling them to believe in the Eucharist and to receive it, but also to prepare themselves for Heaven itself.

This is the topic that St. Paul tackles in our reading from his letter to the Ephesians. As always, St. Paul is calling his readers to conversion, reminding them that their belief in Christ means that they must change their lives – living no longer as the Gentiles do.

When we come forward to receive Holy Communion at Mass, we are making a commitment to honor the covenant that our Lord formed with us through the Sacrament of Baptism.
Just as a married couple seals and renews their vows through the marital embrace, through the worthy reception of Holy Communion we consummate and renew the promise we made at baptism to live as Christ’s followers – in short, a promise to be converted.

By receiving Holy Communion, we publicly demonstrate our belief that the Eucharist truly is the body and blood of our Lord, and that we believe and agree to live by all that Holy Mother Church teaches and proposes for our belief.

But even more than that, our reception of Holy Communion signifies our desire to be united with our Lord and to go to Heaven, and it is – as well – our pledge that we will do all that is necessary to cooperate with our Lord’s grace so that we might be saved.

According to St. Paul this means putting away our old selves and former ways of life that were corrupted by sin. It means being renewed in the spirit of our minds and putting on a new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

And when we do this well, when we kneel down and receive Holy Communion with integrity – with these intentions – then grace floods our souls, and we are made ready for Heaven!

Alas, it is difficult, is it not, to receive Holy Communion worthily and with perfect integrity? Although we may know that our very salvation depends upon it, we all struggle to give ourselves fully to our Lord as He gives Himself fully to us in Holy Communion.

And when we struggle, it is then that we must turn to Our Lady. For when we give ourselves to her and beg for her help, Mary removes all of those obstacles that make it difficult for us to receive Holy Communion worthily and in perfect integrity.

If we struggle with our belief in the Eucharist, Mary strengthens our faith. If we have difficulty with a teaching of the Church, she enlightens our minds to the Truth. If we find ourselves falling habitually into mortal sin, she removes our despair and strengthens us in our battle against temptation. She is in all ways our perfect mother.

My brothers and sisters, our Lord gives us His very self in the Eucharist. When we partake worthily of His body and blood in Holy Communion, we are graced with the gift of salvation.

Let us turn, then, to our Lord’s virgin Mother and gives ourselves to her. Let us trust that through her maternal intercession, we will be able to receive her Son’s body and blood worthily and well, with perfect integrity, love, and devotion.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.
5 August 2012

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio .
To enable the audio, please go directly to Fr. Reid’s homily homilies and select the matching date.

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