Our Lady of Loreto was put back into the universal calendar by Pope Francis last December, 2019, which seems like aeons ago. Others have pointed out that, for all his more ‘liberal’ tendencies, the Holy Father seems to hold to a traditional piety – hence, this memorial, and yesterday’s announcement of the Year of Saint Joseph, a veritable ‘father emerging from the shadows’, like Aragorn saving the hobbits. I don’t think the legions of evil realize what they are up against.
Loreto is a lovely village on the coast of the Adriatic in Italy where, according to pious tradition, the Holy House of Nazareth, where the Christ was conceived in the Annunciation, ended up. I say ‘ended up’, for of course it was originally in the Holy Land, but was, by tradition, lifted away by angels in 1291, to save it from desecration by the Muslim hordes. The house was taken first to Dalmatia (now Croatia), then to several spots in Italy, before ending up where it now resides – within a marvelous marble sarcophagus by various Renaissance masters, which is in turn within the majestic Basilica della Santa Casa.
The Santa Casa itself is a small stone structure, with three sides (the fourth side, which matches perfectly, is still in Nazareth). Inside are a statue and icon of the Virgin, with the former at least purportedly by Saint Luke himself.
There is evidence that it this may well indeed be the very house of the Incarnation – the most earth-shattering event ever – but perhaps it was moved around stone by stone by a family named ‘Angelos’ or ‘Angeli’ rather than by immaterial angels (the stones have markings on them that may have signified to workers where they were to be placed). But one never knows. We should not limit the power and miracles of God (see above, for Saint Joseph).
There is another connection with Saint Joseph, in the strange and wonderful story in 1878 of the ‘Staircase of Loreto‘ in Santa Fe – The chapel named after the shrine had a choir loft, 22 feet up, but with no practical way to get there. The Sisters prayed a novena to Saint Joseph, at the end of which, a mysterious man showed up, built a spiral staircase to the loft, without nails, perfectly constructed in a way that still baffles experts. The carpenter left without a trace – well, with a trace of his marvelous carpentry skills:
It is after Loreto that we name the Litany dedicated to Our Lady, with her various titles – to which the Popes have added over time, including Pope Paul VI (Mother of the Church); John Paul II (Queen of the Family); and three new additions more recently Pope Francis (Mother of Mercy, Mother of Hope, Mother of Migrants).
The primary purpose is to increase our devotion to the Mother of God, to seek her maternal intercession in all our needs, and a fine way to this end is to recite the Litany and the Rosary devoutly. We know not what gifts we might receive from such a munificent benefactor, who seeks all our good, and then some. As Our Lady of Guadalupe, whom we celebrate two days hence, would say to Juan Diego, ‘Am I not your mother?’.