A Prayer to the Virgin in the Time of Contagion

Mary, Star of the Sea, deliver us.

Jan van Eyck, “The Madonna in the Church”, c. 1440
Jan van Eyck, “The Madonna in the Church”, c. 1440 (photo: https://www.youtube.com/embed/PsU22t-AhLM)

I’ve written in the past about sacred music and the important role it has played in my own spiritual life.  No doubt there are countless numbers of people brought closer to Our Lord by the singing of hymns and chants, and by hearing magnificent organ music played well.  The Church recognizes the importance of music in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1156): “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art.”

The power and beauty of sacred music were crystallized for me again very recently in one simple but stunning chant that we sang at the end of our Solemn High (Latin) Mass (at what may be our last Mass for the near future).  In lieu of the traditional Marian antiphon, we were asked to sing an ancient chant called “A Prayer to the Virgin in the Time of Contagion.”

Here is a translation from the Latin (courtesy of our parish Director of Music):

The star of heaven, who nursed the Lord,

has uprooted the pestilence of death, which mankind’s first parent planted.

May that star now deign to rein in the constellations,

whose conflicts strike down the people with the grievous wound of death.

O most holy Star of the Sea, save us from the pestilence.

Hear us, O Lady, for thy Son honors thee, denying thee nothing.

Save us, O Jesus, for whom thy virgin mother begs Thee.


Here is what the chant looks like, courtesy of my parish website:

Here is what the chant sounds like, courtesy of a recording on YouTube.

While its exact origin may be uncertain, musicologist Christopher Macklin writes that the chant “is representative of the beliefs and skills shared by a broad spectrum of late medieval society in the shadow of the plague” and likely shares some links with the Franciscan order. Some writings trace the origins of this beautiful prayer to the Sisters of the Monastery of Santa Clara in Coimbra, Portugal, during the plague in 1317.

What a timely prayer for us now.

Mary, Star of the Sea, deliver us.