Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Our Lady of the Snows

In August of A.D. 352, just 15 years after the death of Constantine the Great whose Edict of Milan allowed Christianity to be publicly expressed, a wealthy but childless man name John, and his wife were unsure what to do with their wealth after their deaths. They prayed to the Mother of God, asking for a sign that would let them know what actions they should take. That night, John had a dream which he understood to be reflective of Our Lady's desire to have a church built on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. The newly-coronated Pope Liberius is said to have had the same dream that night. The next day, August 5, at the height of summer, snow was found to have fallen on Esquiline Hill, its shape and size on the ground indicative of the shape and size of a church. And, so, John and his wife donated to have a church built on the spot. That church we know as Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major), one only four Major Basilicas in the entire world. St. Mary Major was consecrated to the Blessed Virgin by Pope Sixtus III on August 5, 434.

The basilica is splendiferous inside, full of beautiful 5th century mosaics that glorify Our Lady as the mother of God, and that reveal how the Old Testamant foreshadows and is fulfilled by the New Testament. Separating the apse from the nave is the "Triumphal Arch" that depicts the Annuciation, the annunciation to St. Joseph, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Slaughter of the Innocents.

Most wonderfully, under the high altar is a crypt that contains a crystal reliquary that holds wood from Baby Jesus's crib. Nearby is the tomb of St. Jerome, and underneath is the Chapel of the Nativity, where St. Ignatius of Loyola offered his first Mass.

Near the Sistine Chapel (not "the Sistine Chapel" with the painted ceiling, which is part of the Pope's apostolic palace) is the tomb of the shockingly talented sculptor, Bernini.

And inside the Borghese Chapel is one of the most famous icons in the world -- a Hodegetria style icon called Salus Populi Romani (Health of the Roman People) -- said to have been painted from life by St. Luke, on wood that was once part of a table built by Christ Himself in St. Joseph's workshop. St. Helen, Constantine's mother, brought it from the Holy Land to Byzantium, and from there it was sent to Rome. In A.D. 590, during a time of great pestilence, Pope St. Gregory the Great held a procession and prayed litanies for the pandemic to end, and placed the icon in its present place. The Archangel St. Michael appeared above Hadrian's tomb, sheathing his sword, and the disease ended (thereafter, Hadrian's Tomb became known as the Castel Sant'Angelo).

Salus Populi Romani

St. Mary Major is one of the seven pilgrim churches to which Roman Catholics travel on Maundy Thursday in Holy Week. St. Philip Neri also had the customs of visiting those seven churches all throughout the year, which many Catholics emulate to this day if they're ever blessed to visit Rome. St. Mary Major is the station church for Ember Wednesdays, Rogation Monday, Spy Wednesday, Easter Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and the Feast of St. John the Evangelist.

"SanctŠ MariŠ ad Nives" -- Our Lady of the Snow -- was originally a feast localized to St. Mary Major, but spread to all the Roman churches in the 14th century, and was then unversalized.


Some may prepare for this feast by praying the Novena to Our Lady of the Snows starting on July 27 and ending on August 4. As to prayer for the day, the Gradual from today's Mass is perfect:

Blessed and venerable art thou, O Virgin Mary, who without loss of purity wert found to be the Mother of our Savior. Virgin Mother of God, He whom the whole world cannot hold enclosed Himself in thy womb, and became man. Alleluia, alleluia!

After His birth a Virgin entire thou didst remain, O Mother of God, intercede for us. Alleluia!

If you're blessed to attend Mass at St. Mary Major in Rome today, you'll be showered with white rose petals meant to mimic the snow that fell way back on August 5, 352. In the same sort of way, red rose petals shower down from the roof at the Pantheon in Rome on Whitsunday in order to bring to mind the tongues of flame that fell on Our Lady and the Apostles at the Pentecost.

Something that your kids might enjoy today is making paper snowflakes. I link to instructions on how to do this on the Christmas page, and do so here: How to Make Paper Snowflakes (only Catholics would be making paper snowflakes in August!). Perhaps the snowflakes could be made out of smaller pieces of paper and then saved to be used to decorate your Christmas tree this December...How lovely to tie together the feast of the Nativity with the feast of Our Lady of the Snows on which St. Mary Major was dedicated -- the church that holds part of Baby Jesus's crib, the church at which the Pope offers Christmas Mass!

Or, for something edible, try making snowflakes by folding large, thin tortillas in the same way you'd fold paper to make paper snowflakes. Then make your cuts, spread the tortillas out on a baking sheet, brush with melted butter, top with sanding sugar, and bake at 400F for 7-10 minutes or so until crisped.

The little town of Torre Annunziata sits at the bottom of Mt. Vesuvius, just outside of Naples. Its location has given it a tumultuous past; it was destroyed by the eruption that took out Pompeii and Herculaneium in A.D. 69. Then came the Saracens -- the Muslim pirates who, for hundreds of years, invaded European coasts and enslaved Christians, causing the people of Torre Annunziata to build great towers so they could look out to the sea and prepare if they saw them coming (these towers give the town its name).  But something wonderful happened to the place on the Feast of Our Lady of Snows in 1354: fishermen found a trunk floating in the sea, near "the Rock of Rovigliano" -- a very tiny rocky island where, over the years, a temple to Hercules and then a Cistercian monastery once stood. When they opened it, they found a beautiful icon of Our Lady holding Christ in her left arm. They took the icon to their local church and named it after Our Lady of the Snows (Madonna delle Nevi). Then, in 1794, Mt. Vesuvius got angry again. The people swarmed to the church and prayed. As they did, a great explosion was heard, and the glass that covered the icon was shattered. But the people saw the Virgin's eyes move toward her Son. They began to yell out "Grace! Grace!" -- and the eruption stopped. Their town was spared. In October 22, 1822, Vesuvius once again awoke, and the people quickly organized a procession in the spirit of penance. The priest in charge asked the people to invoke Our Lady, and just as they did, a ray of sunlight fell on the icon's face, and the eruption stopped. Now, every year on that date, the people of Torre Annunziata celebrate Our Lady of the Snows.

In Borgo Casamale, at the center of Somma Vesuviana, a comune of Naples, Campania, Italy, the Festa delle Lucerne dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows takes place at this time of year, every four years. The city is darkened but for the thousands of oil candles that are lit and maintained through the night only by women. The lights are affixed to structures that form geometric shapes and adorn the streets along with garlands of chestnuts branches, ferns, and red peppers. Clay and copper pots are used to decorate as well. As the candles burn, a procession is made. It stops at the churchyard, and women sing a melancholy song to Our Lady of the Snow -- la Madonna della Neve -- from the darkness of the balconies overhead.

In Adro, Brescia, Lombardy, Italy is a little oratory built in honor of Our Lady of the Snows after the Blessed Virgin appeared to a deaf-mute on July 8, 1519. As she almost always does, she preached repentance, telling him to tell the people of Adro to mend their ways, stop blaspheming God, and to sanctify the feasts. Then, by the power of God, she cured the boy, allowing him to hear and speak. She gave him a stone and told him it will change colors from time to time, thereby giving credence to his warnings. I want to know more about this rock, but am having trouble finding information, alas.

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