My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The month of May is traditionally associated with honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, September celebrates her birthday, October has the feast of the Holy Rosary, and December venerates the patroness of our country, our diocese and our cathedral, the Immaculate Conception, but August also has some several beautiful celebrations devoted to the Blessed Mother.
On Aug. 5 we celebrated the feast of Our Lady of the Snows. This feast commemorates the dedication of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (in English, Saint Mary Major) on the Esquiline Hill in Rome. So where does the part about the snow come into the picture? The legend runs thus: During the pontificate of Pope Liberius, who reigned from 352-366, a Roman patrician named John and his wife, who were without heirs, made a vow to donate their possessions to Our Lady. They prayed to her that she might make known to them in what manner they were to dispose of their property in her honor. On the fifth of August, during the night, in the height of the Roman summer, snow fell on the summit of the Esquiline Hill and, in obedience to a vision which they had the same night, they built a basilica in honor of Our Lady on the spot that was covered with snow.
Now August in Rome is known for being unbearably hot. In fact, to this day, most Romans try to get out of town and go up to the hills where it is cooler. Even the pope goes to his summer home known as Castel Gandolpho at Lake Albano in the hills of Lazio. So a snowfall on Aug. 5 would certainly catch your attention as an indication of a sign from heaven!
Aug. 15 is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Catholic Church teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." This doctrine was defined as an infallible teaching by Pope Pius XII on Nov. 1, 1950. In his Aug. 15, 2004, homily given at Lourdes, France, Blessed Pope John Paul II quoted John 14:3 as one of the scriptural bases for understanding the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. In this verse, Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also." According to Catholic theology, Mary is the pledge of the fulfillment of Christ's promise.
Aug. 22 is the Feast of the Queenship of Mary. Pope Pius XII established this feast in 1954. Mary's queenship also has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary's Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary "mother of my Lord." As in all the mysteries of Mary's life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus: Her queenship is a share in Jesus' kingship. We can also recall that in the Old Testament the mother of the king has great influence in court. In the fourth century St. Ephrem called Mary "Lady" and "Queen." Later church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries address Mary as queen: "Hail, Holy Queen," "Hail, Queen of Heaven," "Queen of Heaven." The Dominican rosary and the Franciscan crown as well as numerous invocations in Mary's litany celebrate her queenship. The feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. In his encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus' redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.
The people of Poland celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Cz?stochowa on Aug. 26. The image of Our Lady in Cz?stochowa has been kept and displayed in Poland at the monastery of Jasna G?ra (Bright Mountain) for six centuries. Legend attributes the creation of this icon to St. Luke, the evangelist, who "painted a portrait of the Virgin on the cedar wood table at which she had taken her meals." St. Helena, the Queen-Mother of Emperor Constantine is said to have located the portrait during her visit to the Holy Land and to have brought it to Constantinople in the fourth century. After remaining there for five centuries, it allegedly was transferred in royal dowries until it made its way to Poland, and the possession of St. Ladislaus in the 15th century. During Ladislaus' time, the image was damaged during a siege, by a Tartar arrow, "inflicting a scar on the throat of the Blessed Virgin." In 1430, Hussites stole and vandalized the precious image, breaking it into three pieces. Adding insult to injury, one of the robbers drew his sword, struck the image and inflicted two deep gashes. While preparing to inflict a third gash, he fell to the ground and writhed in agony until his death. The two slashes on the cheek of the Blessed Virgin, together with the previous injury to the throat, have always reappeared — despite repeated attempts to repair them. The miracles attributed to Our Lady of Cz?stochowa are numerous and spectacular.
As we honor Our Lady on these various Marian feasts this month, we recognize her continuing role in the miracles worked by her Son Jesus, starting with his changing water into wine at her request at the wedding of Cana. Jesus continues to work miracles in our lives, the greatest of which is his changing bread and wine into his Body and Blood, by which he invites us to share in his bountiful love and eternal life.
May God give us this grace. Amen.