Since I’ve been trying in some small way to be on retreat here at the hermitage (though with innumerable distractions), I’ve been letting readers suggest posts for the blog, at least by way of comments, etc. Some of my recent entries have been pretty intense. I guess that was spurred on by a particularly vicious troll who had gone into total attack mode. Today, something very wonderful. A wonderful supporter of the hermitage and of this hermit send in the words “sub tuum praesidium” with no further comment. I love it! Let me explain…
“Sub tuum praesidium” (Under your protection) is the title of the most ancient hymn to the glorious, Immaculate Virgin Mother of God. In the video above, we hear the monks of Silos and see the words and chant notation in the Liber Usualis. Freak alert: This hymn, at least in its notation, is hated by chant purists. Whatever. I love it do death. I had this chant introduced to the Fathers of Mercy “tradition” when I was but a lowly novice back in the day. The Fathers of Mercy had always recited an English version of the Sub tuum after all liturgical actions. I fought for decades about the translation they used — We fly to your patronage… — saying that this hymn is not about the fatherliness of the Theotokos, but rather and very specifically her maternal protection. Just the other year, they updated their translation to read — We fly to your protection — taking a hint from the Latin version of this hymn.
I’d like to go one step further. Let’s take a look at the Greek version!
Ὑπὸ τὴν σὴν εὐσπλαγχνίαν – Under your good-heartedness… — which needs to be explained as to why this would be used with the Virgin Mother of God way, way, way back in the day, when Greek was much closer to Koine, New Testament Greek, and understood for what it was.
In the Gospels, there is a word used for our Lord’s mercy for us, which is only used with Him, no one else; only He has a particular kind of mercy, that of sacrificing His Heart for us. This is found, for instance, upon the return of the prodigal son, when the father, it is translated poorly, has compassion for his son, or that he is moved with mercy for his son. The mercy bit is misericordia, which is getting closer, for that misericordia refers to the misery of heart that one suffers as one takes on the need of the other as one’s own need so as to fulfill that need as if it were one’s own need. There is no idiot “transference” here. In the mystical body of Christ, we all carry each other’s burderns by way of our Lord’s mercy. Back to His unique mercy…
In the Gospels, the word used for the Lord’s mercy is a passive verb — ἐσπλαγχνίσθη — His Heart was sacrificed… Yikes! Yes, Jesus’ Heart was uniquely sacrificed for us. And… and… the Immaculate Heart of His Mother was also pierced with a sword of sorrow as none of our hearts could ever be, for she had a clear vision in her immaculateness of the goodness of her Son, and therefore also saw all the hell vomited upon Him with incisive clarity. What sorrow! What intercession for us! What mercy! What a sacrificing of her heart for us… The Greek used for “protection” refers instead to a goodheartedness which in turn refers to just how good a Heart our Lord had, sacrificed for us, and therefore just how good a heart His Mother had, also sacrificed for us.
I love this hymn to the Mother of God even more!
The usual image that is used with this hymn is that of the Virgin spreading out her mantel to protect those who fly to her for protection. I’ve used the image of our Lady of Guadalupe here, since under her mantel, her extended veil, her cloak, she protects the unborn Jesus in her womb as a sign of her protection for the untold numbers of children who were being sacrificed in Mexico at the time. And are we not her children as well?