Today, August 6 is the feast of the Transfiguration and on this day in 1978, Pope Paul VI died at the summer papal residence of Castelgandolfo. In what was to known as the Year of Three Popes, Paul VI’s successor, Cardinal Albino Luciani of Venice was elected August 26 and took the name of John Paul. Known as the “smiling Pope,” Luciani was the first Pope to be born in the 20th century. He died sometime during the night of September 28 and 29, 1978 after a very brief pontificate.

In the second conclave of that year, Luciani’s successor, Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow was elected to the papacy on October 16, 1978. Only when he took the name of John Paul II did his predecessor Luciani become John Paul I. Just as today, it is Pope Francis. He would become Pope Francis I if someday there were to be a Pope Francis II.


The year was 358 A.D. John, a Roman patrician, and his wife, unable to have children, had been praying faithfully to the Virgin, asking her to give them a sign as to whom they should leave their enormous patrimony. The night of August 4-5, one of the hottest of the year, Mary appeared to the couple in a dream and requested that they build a church in her honor where snow would fall that night.

John and his wife went to tell Pope Liberius of their dream and to their amazement discovered that the pontiff had had the same dream. The next morning, August 5, the highest of Rome’s seven fabled hills, the Esquiline, was covered in snow, as witnessed by John, his wife, the Pope and his entourage, and a throng of Romans. Pope Liberius took a stick and traced a design of the future basilica in the snow, a basilica that would be forever known as Our Lady of the Snows, in addition to the name it bears today, St. Mary Major, the greatest – and the oldest – Marian church.

The feast of Our Lady of the Snows was introduced that year and has been commemorated ever since on August 5. Each year, during a solemn high Mass, thousands of white flower petals, symbolizing the miraculous snowfall, are released from the basilica’s rooftop, both inside and outside, showering the faithful who have gathered to commemorate that event.

Here’s a video I did on one of several occasions I’ve been to the August 5 “snowfall”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9LTZk-k2k8  .

St. Mary Major, one of the seven major basilicas of Rome, is also one of the four papal basilicas that must be visited by pilgrims in a Holy Year to obtain an indulgence. You will recall that there are five papal basilicas in Rome: visits to four of them – St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls – are obligatory to obtain an indulgence.

August 5 traditionally marks the feast of the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, also known as Our Lady of the Snows. Pope Francis, who has a special dedication to Rome’s celebrated Salus Populi Romani icon, housed here in a chapel, paid a visit yesterday, August 5. The Pope usually prays here briefly at the start of an apostolic trip and he again visits on his arrival back in Rome at the end of a trip. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2020-08/pope-visits-basilica-of-saint-mary-major-on-feast-of-dedication.html


(Following is a Doctrinal Note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about valid and invalid baptisms. I have left it in its lengthy form especially for pastors who will want to know and understand the doctrinal reasons behind this congregation document.)

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) affirms that Baptisms administered with modified formulas are invalid, including: “We baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

By Vatican News

The Sacrament of Baptism administered with an arbitrarily modified formula is not valid, and those for whom “baptism” was celebrated in this way must be baptized “in forma absoluta” — that is unconditionally — by repeating the rite according to the liturgical norms stipulated by the Church.

That is what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirmed in response to two questions regarding the validity of Baptism conferred with the formula, “In the name of the father and of the mother, of the godfather and of the godmother, of the grandparents, of the family members, of the friends, in the name of the community we baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The responses from the CDF were confirmed by Pope Francis at the end of June and published on Thursday.

It is Christ who baptises
In an explanatory Doctrinal Note accompanying the responses, the CDF says that “the deliberate modification of the sacramental formula was introduced to emphasize the communitarian significance of Baptism, in order to express the participation of the family and of those present, and to avoid the idea of the concentration of a sacred power in the priest to the detriment of the parents and the community that the formula in the Rituale Romano might seem to imply”.

On the contrary, the note says, quoting Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, “when one baptizes it is really Christ himself who baptizes… the Lord has the principal role in the event being celebrated.”

The Doctrinal Note recognizes that “the parents, godparents and the entire community are called to play an active role, a true liturgical office” — but this, according to the conciliar text, requires that “each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 28).

A wound inflicted on the ecclesial communion
“With debatable pastoral motives,” the note continues, “here resurfaces the ancient temptation to substitute for the formula handed down by Tradition with other texts judged more suitable.” However, “the recourse to pastoral motivation, even unconsciously, masks a subjective deviation and a manipulative will,” the note affirms.

The Second Vatican Council, in continuity with the teaching of the Council of Trent, declared it did not have “the authority to subject the seven sacraments to the action of the Church,” and declared definitively that no one “even if he be a priest may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.”

In fact, the Congregation asserts, “modifying on one’s own initiative the form of the celebration of a Sacrament does not constitute simply a liturgical abuse, like the transgression of a positive norm, but a vulnus [wound] inflicted upon the ecclesial communion and the identifiability of Christ’s action, and in the most grave cases rendering invalid the Sacrament itself, because the nature of the ministerial action requires the transmission with fidelity of that which has been received”.

The nature of ecclesial ministry
In the celebration of the Sacraments – explains the Doctrinal Note – the assembly does not act “collegially” but “ministerially”; and the minister, when pronouncing the sacramental formula, “does not speak as a functionary who carries out a role entrusted to him, but he enacts ministerially the sign-presence of Christ, who acts in His Body to give His grace.”

The note continues, “In this light must be understood the tridentine injunction concerning the necessity of the minister to at least have the intention to do that which the Church does.” That intention, it goes on to say, cannot remain “only at the interior level”, with the risk of subjectivism, but must also be expressed in an “exterior action” carried out not in one’s own name, “but in the person of Christ.”

The note concludes by saying that modifying “the sacramental formula implies a lack of an understanding of the very nature of the ecclesial ministry that is always at the service of God and His people and not the exercise of a power that goes so far as to manipulate what has been entrusted to the Church in an act that pertains to the Tradition.” Therefore, it says, “in every minister of Baptism, there must not only be a deeply rooted knowledge of the obligation to act in ecclesial communion, but also the same conviction that Saint Augustine attributes to the Precursor, which ‘was to be a certain peculiarity in Christ, such that, although many ministers, be they righteous or unrighteous, should baptize, the virtue of Baptism would be attributed to Him alone on whom the dove descended, and of Whom it was said: It is He Who baptizes with the Holy Spirit’” (Jn 1:33).

Earlier responses
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has previously answered questions about the validity of Baptisms confirmed with the formulas: “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier” and “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer”.

The answer then was the same as the answer given on Thursday: Such “baptisms” are not valid, and those who undergo a ceremony using those formulas must be unconditionally baptized.