Some people might think that the oldest prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary would be the Hail Mary, but it’s not; the Sub Tuum Praesidium is an ancient Marian prayer of the early Church, the oldest known prayer to Our Lady. The oldest version of this prayer is in Greek on an Egyptian papyrus dating back to the 3rd century. The Latin translation dates from the 11th century and was likely made from the Greek.
About our Blessed Mother, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us (paragraphs 967 and 968, 970):
“By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a ‘preeminent and…wholly unique member of the Church’; indeed, she is the ‘exemplary realization’ (typus) of the Church.
“Her role in relation to the Church and to all humanity goes still further. ‘In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior’s work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.’
“‘Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men…flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it.’
“‘No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.’”
In the Sub Tuum Praesidium, we ask Our Lady to help us in our trials and tribulations. Let’s see what some of the saints have said about our dear Mother and her help:
St. Thomas Aquinas said of Our Lady: “As mariners are guided into port by the shining of a star, so Christians are guided to heaven by Mary.” The way to Heaven is fraught with diverse dangers and difficulties, but we can rely on the help of Our Lady, Star of the Sea!
“What a joy to remember that she is our mother. Since she loves us and knows our weakness, what have we to fear?” (St. Therese of Lisieux).
“If you invoke the Blessed Virgin when you are tempted, she will come at once to your help, and Satan will leave you” (St. John Vianney).
“In the evening when you go to sleep, hold your beads [Rosary beads], doze off reciting them; do like those babies who go to sleep mumbling, ‘Mamma! Mamma!’” (St. Bernadette).
“During little sufferings, pray by making the invocation, ‘Mary!’ and tell her you want it all to serve whatever intentions are most acceptable to her. Thus you put your sufferings like a chisel in the hands of a master sculptor” (St. Maximilan Kolbe).
“If you are in danger, if your hearts are confused, turn to Mary. She is our comfort, our help. Turn towards her and you will be saved” (St. Frances Xavier Cabrini).
“From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ her Son and the Son of God” (Pope St. John Paul II).
“Always stay close to this Heavenly Mother, because she is the sea to be crossed to reach the shores of Eternal Splendor” (St. Pio).
So when you are struggling, pray for Our Lady’s intercession and take heart, knowing that she loves you and wants to help you.
Ancient Prayer to Our Lady (Sub Tuum Praesidium)
We fly to thy protection,
O holy Mother of God.
Despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin.
Sub tuum praesidium confugimus,
Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus,
sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.