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|We Fly To Thy Patronage|
by Ramon A. Pedrosa
WE fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God;
despise not our petitions in our necessities,
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.
Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix.
Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus nostris,
sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper,
Virgo gloriosa et benedicta. Amen.
And so we come to the prayer to the Holy Mother of God from times ancient. Here it is the proto oratio - the first prayer, as it were, the first entreaty, addressed to Her. It antedates the “Hail Mary” as prayer of the faithful, going as far back as the primitive underground Christian church when both the pagan worlds of the Roman empire, the intellectuals of Greece, and the sons of Abraham in Jerusalem, were intent on the extermination of this new thing.
The Sub Tuum Praesidium (trans: Under Your Protection), is first found in the Coptic Christmas Liturgy of the third century and dates approximately to 250 A.D. The oldest known version of it is found on a fragment of Egyptian papyrus from approximately AD 300 (now in the John Rylands Library in Manchester). It reads:
“Under your mercy, we take refuge, Mother of God do not reject our supplications in necessity but deliver us from danger you alone chaste you alone blessed.”
Or as we pray it today:
GREEK ≅ Υπο; τη;ν ση;ν ευϕσπλαγνιϖαν καταφευϖγομεν, Θεοτοϖκε: τα;∀ ηϑμω∍ν ιϑκεσιϖα∀ μη; παριϖδη/∀ εϕν περισταϖσει, αϕλλ ϕ εϕκ κινδυϖνου ρϑυ∍σαι ηϑμα∍∀, μοϖνη αϑγνηϖ, μοϖνη ευϕλογημεϖνη
LATIN Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancti Dei Genetrix. Nostra deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibu nostris, sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta. Amen. Divinum auxilium maneat semper nobiscum! Amen.
ENGLISH: We fly to your patronage, O Holy Mother of God, Despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all present dangers, O ever glorious and blessed Virgin Amen. May the divine assistance remain always with us! Amen.
This is the first instance of a prayer to Our Lady, expressing belief in her intercessory power, applying to her the word "rysai," (deliver) of the "Pater Noster," (Mt 6:13).
The Sub Tuum is a precious heritage of the Egyptian Church, which tradition tells us was founded by St Mark, the Evangelist. The text contains the word "Theotokos" in the vocative case (qv), the title which was to provoke so much controversy at Ephesus. The Greek term for "Mother of God," Theotokos - was already popular in the Egyptian Church long before St. Athanasius adopted the phrase. It is just another of the contributions of this Church that aided the formation of the Christian Faith and also assisted at the birth of the monastic movement. I think this is why the Blessed Mother keeps appearing to her predilect Egyptian children.
It is one of the few non-European prayers to gain popularity in the Latin Rite Church.
This prayer is used in Litanies to the Blessed Mother and as a concluding prayer to Compline. A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who recite it.
(From the Roman Breviary, Raccolta #333. (S. C. Ind., April 5, 1786; S. P., Dec. 12, 1935)