In view of the stress and confusion many are feeling at the moment, I thought this week's Latin prayer might appropriately be the ancient hymn to Our Lady, Sub Tuum Praesidium. It is timely in any case, as this prayer is especially used during Lent in the Eastern churches.
Here is the text and English translation as given in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Sub tuum præsídium confúgimus,
sancta Dei Génetrix;
nostras deprecatiónes ne despícias
sed a perículis cunctis
líbera nos semper,
Virgo gloriósa et benedícta.
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.
And here is the Greek:
Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν,
Τὰς ἡμῶν ἱκεσίας,
μὴ παρίδῃς ἐν περιστάσει,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ κινδύνων λύτρωσαι ἡμᾶς,
μόνη Ἁγνή, μόνη εὐλογημένη.
The ancient tradition of devotion to Our Lady
Protestants often seem to think that devotion to Our Lady, and seeking her intercession is a late invention. This hymn gives the lie to that claim, for it can be traced back to as early as the year 250, in a Greek version used in the Coptic liturgy.
There is a nice article on the history and theology of the hymn by Henri de Villiers written a year or two back over at New Liturgical Movement which is well worth a read. Among the points he makes is that the hymn points to three key theological truths, namely:
"1. The special election of Mary by God ("only blessed").
2. The perpetual Virginity of Mary ("only pure").
3. The Divine Motherhood ("Mother of God"; "Mother" may be considered as a poor translation of Genitrix)."
Looking at the text
The Latin, it has to be said, is more a poetic rendition than a literal translation of the Greek. Mr Villiers gives a more literal version of the Latin; a more literal English translation might be:
Beneath your compassion/mercy,
We take refuge, O Mother of God:
do not despise/do not disdain our petitions in time of trouble/distress:
but rescue us from dangers/perils,
only pure, only blessed one.
Here is a word by word look at the Latin text.
Sub (Under) tuum (your) præsídium (protection/guard) confúgimus (we take refuge/fly/have recourse to),
sancta (holy) Dei (of God) Génetrix (mother/one who brings forth);
nostras (our) deprecatiónes (prayers/entreaties) ne (do not) despícias (despise)
in (in) necessitátibus (necessities);
sed (but) a (from) perículis (dangers) cunctis (all)
líbera (free) nos (us) semper (always),
Virgo (virgin) gloriósa (glorious) et (and) benedícta (blessed).
And for the Gregorian chant version used, among other places, in the Little Office of Our Lady: