OUR LADY OF THE SNOW
OUR LADY OF THE SNOW
OME, delivered from slavery by Peter on the first of this month, offers to the world a wonderful spectacle. 0 Wisdom, who, since the glorious Pentecost, hast spread over the whole world, where could it be more true to sing of thee that thou hast trodden the proud heights under thy victorious feet? On seven hills had pagan Rome set up her pageantry and built temples to her false gods; seven churches now appear at the summits on which purified Rome rests her now truly eternal foundations. By their very site, the basilicas of St. Peter and St. Paul, of St. Laurence and St. Sebastian, placed at the four outer angles of the city of the Cresars, recall the long siege contmued for three centuries around the ancient Rome, while the new Rome was being founded. Helena and her son Constantine, recommencing the work of the foundations of the Holy City, carried the trenches further out; nevertheless, the churches which were their own peculiar work-viz., Holy Cross in Jerusalem, and St. Saviour's on the Lateran, are still at the very entrance of the pagan stronghold, close to the gates, and leaning against the ramparts; just as a soldier, setting foot within a tremendous fortress which has been long invested, advances cautiously, sunreying both the breach through which he has just passed, and the labyrinth of unknown paths opening before him. Who will plant the standard of Sion in the centre of Babylon? Who will force the enemy into his last retreat, and casting out the vain idols, set up his palace in their temples? 0 thou to whom was said this word of the Most High: Thou art My Son, I wilt give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance, thou mighty One with
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thy sharp arrows routing armies, listen to the cry reechoing from the whole redeemed world : With thy cometiness and thy beauty set out, proceed prosperously, and reign / But the Son of the Most High has a Mother on earth; the song of the Psalmist inviting Him to the triumph extols also the Queen standing at His right hand in a vesture of gold; if it is from His Father that He holds His power, it is from His Mother that He receives His crown, and He leaves her in return the spoils of the mighty. Go forth, then, ye daughters of the new Sion, and behold King Solomon in the diadem wherewith his Mother crowned him on the joyful day, when, taking possession through her of the capital of the world, he espoused the Gentile race. Truly that was a day of joy, when Mary, in the name of Jesus, claimed her right as sovereign and heiress of the Roman soil! To the East, at the highest point of the Eternal City, she appeared on that blessed morning literally like the rising dawn; beautiful as the moon shining by night; more powerful than the August sun, surprised to see her tempering his heat, and doubling the brightness of his light with her mantle of snow; more terrible than an army; for from that date, daring what neither apostles nor martyrs had attempted, and what Jesus Himself would not do without her, she dispossessed the deities of Olympus of their usurped thrones. As was fitting, the haughty Juno whose altar disgraced the Esquiline, the false queen of these lying gods, was the first to flee before Mary's face, leaving the splendid columns of her polluted sanctuary to the only true Queen of earth and heaven. Forty years had passed since the days of St. Sylvester, when the image of our Saviour, depicted on the walls of the Lateran, appeared for the first time to the Roman people. '1 Rome, still half pagan, beheld to-day the Mother of our Saviour; under the influence of the pure symbol, at which she gazed in surprise, she felt die down within her the evil ardour which made her once the
• Lectlones U. Noet. In Dedic. BasiUcaI Salvatori••
OUR LADY OF THE SNOW
scourge of nations, whereas now she was to become their mother; and in the joy of her renewed youth she beheld her once sullied hills covered with the white garment of the Bride. Even from the times of the apostolic preaching, the elect, who gathered in large numbers in Rome in spite of herself, knew Mary 'and paid to her in those days of martyrdom a homage such as no other creature could ever receive; witness in the catacombs those primitive frescoes of our Lady. either alone or holding her divine Child. but always seated. receiving from her place of honour the praise. messages. prayers, or gifts of prophets. archangels. and kings.1 In the Trastevere. where in the reign of Augustus a mysterious fountain of oil had sprung up, announcing the coming of the Anointed of the Lord,Callixtus in 222 had built a church in honour of her who is ever the true fons olei, the source whence sprang Christ, and together with him all unction and all grace. 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. Hast thou entered. said the Lord to Job, into the storehouses oj the snow. or hast thou beheld the treasures 0/ the hail .. which I have prepared for the time of the enemy. against the day of battle and war? I On August 5, then. at God's command, the treasures were opened and the snow was scattered like bJrds lighting upon the earth. and its coming was the signal for the lightnings of His judgments upon the gods of the nations. The Tower of David now dominates over all the towers of the earthly city; from her impregnable position our Lady will never cease her victorious sallies till she has taken the last hostile fort. How beautiful will thy steps be in these
Ceuieteries of Priscilla, of Nereus.and AchfUeus, etc.
• Job xxxviii.
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warlike expeditions, 0 daughter of the prince, 0 Queen, whose standard, by the will of thine adorable Son, must wave over the whole world rescued ':rom the power of the cursed serpent I The ignominious goddess, overthrown from her impure pedestal by one glance ,of thine, left Rome still dishonoured by the presence of many vain idols. But thou, all- conquering Lady, didst continue thy triumphal march. The Church of St. Mary in A,a cadi replaced, on the Capitol, the odious temple of Jupiter; the sanctuaries and groves dedicated to Vesta, Minerva, Ceres, and Proserpine hastened to take the title of one who had been shown in their fabulous history under disfigured and degraded forms. The deserted Pantheon awaited the day when it was to receive the noble and magnificent name of St. Mary ad Marty,es. What a preparation for thy glorious Assumption is the series of earthly triumphs which this day inaugurates! The basilica of St. Mary of the Snow, called also of Liberius, from its founder, and also of Sixtus, after Sixtus III, who restored it, owed to this last the honour of becoming the monument of the divine Maternity proclaimed at Ephesus; the name of St. Mary Mathe" which it received on that occasion, became, under Theodore I, who enriched it with the most precious relic, St. Ma,y of the Crib: all these noble titles were afterwards gathered into that of St. Mary Maior, which is amply justified by the facts we have related, by universal devotion, and by the pre-eminence always assigned to it by the sovereign pontiffs. Though the last in order of time of the seven churches upon which Christian Rome is founded, it nevertheless ranked in the middle ages next to that of St. Saviour " in the procession of the greater Litanies on April 25 the ancient Roman Ordo assigned to the Cross of St. Mary's its place between that of St. Peter's and that of the Lateran. 1 The important and numerous liturgical Stations appointed at the basilica on the Esquiline
I Museum Italicum: JOAN. DIAC. Lib. de Eccl., Lateran XVI. de Episcopil et Cardinal. per patriarchatus dispositis; Romani Ordin. xi.• xU.
OUR LADY OF THE SNOW
testify to the devotion of the Romans and of all Catholics towards it. It was honoured by having councils celebrated and Vicars of Christ elected within its walls; the pontiffs for a time made it their residence, and were accustomed on the Ember Wednesdays, when the Station is always held there, to publish the names of the Cardinal Deacons or Cardinal Priests whom they had resolved to create.1 As to the annual solemnity of its dedication, which is the object of the present feast, there can be no doubt that it was celebrated on the Esquiline at a very early date. It was, however, not yet kept by the whole Church in the thirteenth century; for Gregory IX, in the bull of canonization of St. Dominic, whose death occurred on August 6, anticipated his feast on the fifth of the month, as being at that time vacant, whereas the sixth was already occupied, as we shall see to-morrow, by another solemnity. It was Paul IV who in 1558 definitely fixed the feast of the holy founder on August 4; and the reason he gives is, that the feast of St. Mary of the Snow having since been made universal and taking precedence of the other, the honour due to the holy patriarch might be put in the shade if his feast continued to be kept on the same day. The breviary of St. Pius V soon after promulgated to the entire world the office, of which the following is the legend:
Liberio !Summo Pontifice, Joannes patricius Romanus, et uxor pari nobilitate, cum liberos non suscepissent. quos bonorum h:;eredes relinquerent. suam h:;ereditatem sanctissim:;e Virgini Dei Matti voverunt. ab ea summis precibus. assidue petentes. ut in quod pium opus eam pecuniam potissimum erogaTi vellet, aliquo modo significaret. Quorum preces et vota exanimo facta beata Virgo Maria benigne
Under the pontificate of Liberius. John. a Roman patrician, and his wife. who was of an equally noble race. having no children to whom they might leave their estates. vowed their whole fortune to the Blessed Virgin Mother of God. begging her most earnestly and continually to make known to them by some means in what pious work she wished them to employ the money. The Blessed Vlrgin Mary graciously
BaslliclIl S. MarIIII Maj., descriptio vi, v.
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compro- heard their heartfelt prayers and vows. and answered them by a miracle. On the Nones of August. Nonis igitur augusti. quo usually the hottest time of the tempore in urbe maximi calores esse solent, noctu nix year in Rome. a part of the partem collis Exquilini con- Esquiline hill was covered with texit. Qua nocte Dei Mater snow during the night. That separatim Joannem et con- same night the Mother of God jugem in somnis admonuit, ut appeared in a dream to John quem locum nive conspersum and his wife separately. and told viderent, in eo ecclesiam a!di- them to build a church on the ficarent, qUa! Maria! Virginis spot they should find covered Domine dedicaretur: se enim with snow. and to dedicate it ita velIe ab ipsis ha!redem in- to the Virgin Mary; for it was stitui. Quod Joannes ad Li- in this manner that she wished berium pontificem detulit, qui to become their heiress. John idem per somnium sibi con- related this to Pope Liberius. tigisse affirmavit. who said he had dreamt the same thing. Quare solemni sacerdotum et He went. therefore. with a populi supplicatione ad coUem solemn procession of priests venit nive coopertum, et in eo and people to the snow-clad locum ecclesie designavit, qure hill. and chose the site of a Joannis et uxoris pecunia ex- church. which was built with structa est, postea a Xysto tl1e money of John and his wife. tertia restituta. Variis no- It was afterwards rebuilt by minibus primum est appellata, Sixtus III. At first it was basilica Liberii, sancta Maria called by different names. the ad Pr;esepe. Sed cum mult<e Liberian basilica. St. Mary at jam essent in urbe ecclesia! the Crib. But. since there are sub Domine sanct;e Maria! many churches in Rome dediVirginis: ut qUa! basilica novi- cated to the Blessed Virgin tate miraculi ac dignitate Mary, and as this one surpasses ceteris ejusdem nominis basi- all other basilicas in dignity licis pra!staret, vocabuli etiam and by its miraculous beginexcellentia sigoificaretur, eccle- ning. it is distinguished from sia sanct<e Maria! majoris them also by its title of St. dicta est. Cujus dedicationis Mary Major. On account of memoria ex nive, qUa! hac the miraculous fall of snow, die mirabiliter cecidit, anniver- the anniversary of the dedicasaria celebritate colitur. tion is celebrated by a yearly solemnity.
What recollections, 0 Mary, does this feast of thy greatest basilica awaken within us! And what worthier praise, what better prayer, could we offer thee to-day than to remind thee of the graces we have received
OUR LADY OF THE SNOW
within its precincts, and implore thee to renew them and confirm them for ever? United with our MotherChurch in spite of distance, have we not, under its shadow, tasted the sweetest and most triumphant emotions of the cycle now verging on to its term ? On the first Sunday of Advent it was here that we began the year, as in the place 'most suitable for saluting the approach of the Divine Birth, which was to gladden heaven and earth and manifest the sublime portent of a Virgin Mother.'l Our hearts were over1l0wing with desire on that holy Vigil, when from early morning we were invited to the bright basilica where the' mystical Rose was soon to bloom and fill the world with its fragrance. The grandest of all the churches which the people of Rome have erected in honour of the Mother of God, it stood before us rich in its marble and gold, but richer still in possessing, together with the portrait of our Lady painted by St. Luke, the humble yet glorious Crib of Jesus, of which the inscrutable designs of God have deprived Bethlehem. During that blessed night an immense concourse of people assembled in the basilica awaiting the happy moment when that monument of the love and the humiliation of a God was to be brought in, carried on the shoulders of the priests as an ark of the New Covenant, whose welcome sight gives the sinner confidence and makes the just man thrill with joy." Alas! a few months passed away, and we were again in the noble sanctuary, this time compassionating our 'holy Mother, whose heart was filled with poignant grief at the foresight of the sacrifice which was preparing." But soon the august basilica was filled once more with new joys, when Rome' justly associated with the Paschal solemnity the memory of her who, more than all other 'atures, had merited its joys, not only i>ecause of the exceptional share she had had in all the sufferings of Jesus, but also because of the unshaken faith wherewith, during those long and cruel hours of His lying in the tomb, she had awaited
, Advent, p. 1:13. • Christmas, Vol. I., PI'. 140, 141. • P.....ontlde, p. :176. Station of Wedneeday In Holy Week.
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His Resurrection.'1 Dazzling as the snow which fell from heaven to mark the place of thy predilection on earth, 0 Mary, a white-robed band of neophytes coming up from the waters formed thy graceful court and enhanced the triumph of that great day. Obtain for them and for us all, 0 Mother, affections as pure as the white marble columns of thy loved church, charity as bright as the gold glittering on its ceiling, works shining as the Paschal Candle, that symbol of Christ the conqueror of death, which offered thee the homage of its first flames.
Paschal TIme, Vol. I, p. IS7.