Under Your Protection

This ancient antiphon, indicated by the liturgy as a conclusion to Night Prayer, is certainly well suited to the request for protection made by those who seek repose after the work of the day, but it can also invite us to further reflection.

Indeed, while the word “protection,” referring to Mary, can immediately call forth the motherly sweetness of a gaze and the shelter offered by her cloak, as appears often in the iconography of the Blessed Virgin, we must not forget that praesidium is originally a military term, a place of defense and strength.

Every person fights his own battle, day after day. The Church knows this, and for this reason suggests words that express, in simple ways, the thoughts, feelings, and concerns that sometimes we do not know how to make explicit, and yet that we feel to be fully understandable and brought together in this or that prayer. An ancient formula like this one makes it easier for us to perceive our unity with all the people who throughout the centuries and all over the world have fought their battle and sought the support of the powerful Virgin. It is like going into an ancient church and feeling it to be filled with the prayer of so many to whom we owe our life and our faith.

Perhaps it is the repeated plurals (“configimus,” “nostras deprecationes,” “libera nos semper”) that make this prayer so affectionate. The choral refrain, shared with the invocation that concludes the most popular and beloved prayer, “Pray for us sinners,” is a form powerfully expressing communion, in which the “I” is itself and at the same time is with everybody else. Nothing perhaps makes us more united in personally invoking aid in the trials represented by every circumstance of life than the fact that these same words imply the trials and circumstances of all.

The communion of saints, as we have frequently read in recent months in Dante’s verses comprising the Hymn to the Virgin, is born out of the “warmth” of God’s love, with Mary at its center. Her gaze, falling on us from above, but without despising our difficulties (“ne despicias”), meets our gaze upturned toward her and makes us, to the extent possible on this earth, share in that divine warmth from which we all draw life.