Dedication of St Mary Major

Patriarchal Basilica in Rome (dedicated this day around 435)

Dear Mary,

Do you remember our visit to this magnificent building together a few years ago?  Ah, me, that was a lovely trip. We made it there just in time for the solemn Rosary and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament – we were both so moved that we had tears in our eyes… Well, that’s all history now; doesn’t look like I’ll be free to make a trip to Rome in the near future, or, perhaps, in any future.  But, to be honest, I really don’t mind. If my trials here can be turned into graces that will give young people like yourself the chance to experience the power of our Catholic heritage, they will be much better than any number of personal pilgrimages.

When Pope Sixtus III dedicated this Basilica, it was the first church building in all of Western Christendom erected to God in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The Council of Ephesus had just declared Mary the “Mother of God,” thus reaffirming the unity of Jesus Christ’s personhood (one divine person in two natures – human and divine) against those Nestorian heretics (they taught that Christ was two persons – a human guy “inhabited” by the Divine Person of the Son of God – like demonic possession, but with God instead of the devil).  I have always found it instructive that this greatest of all Marian churches is decorated with so few images of the Blessed Virgin. When you go in, you see a dazzling array of ancient mosaics, in which Mary certainly makes her appearance, but Christ is really the focus. And, of course, that is how our Marian devotion should go: we look at Mary as the first Christian, and the school of Christian virtue.  She is no goddess; she is our mother in the order of grace. Just as she put her life totally at the service of God’s plan of salvation (“Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your will”) and stayed faithful to Christ even through the grisly sufferings of his passion (imagine what it must have been like for her mother’s heart as she saw her son tortured and abused, unjustly repudiated and humiliated by the very people he came to save), so you and I are called to do the same.

Of course, you know this already, but it’s probably good to review it now and again.  In any case, you and I can unite ourselves spiritually to the beautiful liturgy that will be taking place in the Basilica today, and we can join our prayers to the millions of Christian pilgrims who have knelt before the altar there throughout the centuries, admiring not only the tangible beauty of the glittering and resplendent building, but also the intangible beauty of Mary’s soul, just as glittering and resplendent, but with love and generosity instead of silver and gold.

Count on my prayers, Uncle Eddy

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