Under your protection We take refuge, Holy mother of God. When we are in need Do not reject our petitions But deliver us From every danger O glorious and blessed virgin.
The original text of this prayer is preserved in the John Rylands Library, Manchester. The papyrus dates from the third century but the prayer was probably in use before then. This is the oldest known prayer to Our Lady. We came across this translation in St David’s Cathedral, unless I misremember, and we have a family link with the Rylands. A post about Mary on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, but with an image from Spain.
It’s worth a little look at the theology of this prayer. It depends upon the doctrine of ‘the communion of saints’ by which the saints who have died and are no longer physically with us are still members of the Body of Christ – and that in ways we can hardly begin to understand. But just as we can pray for each other, so the saints in heaven can pray for us.
‘Holy Mother of God’ asserts that Jesus was ‘conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary’, as we profess in the Creed, and truly God and truly human. He indeed went through the Passion, Mary witnessing and supporting him. She could not protect him from that, or from other dangers in his public life though every mother will protect her child from many dangers s/he might wander into all unawares.
We can pray for deliverance from danger. Do we recognise when our prayers are answered? Vaccines against the Covid – 19 virus are ‘the work of human hands’ and minds, but they are a new arrangement and presentation of God’s gifts of life. And the greatest danger is not to our earthly life: that will come to an end in a relatively short time, but to our eternal life. And although that too is a gift from God, it’s a gift we can decline or refuse.
The image of taking refuse under Mary’s protection reminds me of the statue of Mary in Valencia Cathedral. Jesus is confidently sitting on her lap, under her cloak, and mothers have slid little photos of their children between the folds of her garments, as concrete prayers. It may not be your way of praying, but it is visual and physical, and remains when the woman has left the church, as a burning candle does – only the photo is longer lasting.
Our younger grandson has the endearing habit of kissing photographs of family members: he clearly wishes them well and expresses it in this concrete fashion. Perhaps catching sight of a loved one’s picture is an occasion to offer a silent prayer on their behalf.