Roberts even made a guess at reconstructing the prayer. This, however, proved to be incorrect. It wasn't until 1994 that the prayer on the papyrus was correctly identified. James Shiel, a professor at the University of Sussex, was flipping through the old Roberts volume when he came across a reproduction of the papyrus. He recognized in it a phrase that that occurs in the Latin prayer Sub tuum praesidium. The phrase appears in the Memorare as well.
Sub tuum praesidium:
We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God: despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us from all dangers, O ever glorious and blessed Virgin!
May the divine assistance remain always with us! Amen
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought they intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee do we come; before thee we kneel, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer them. Amen
These two prayers had always been considered the products of the medieval The earliest known copies date back to the fourteenth century. However, with a little more investigation, Shiel discovered that the prayer was contained in the Greek Orthodox Book of Hours, the cycle of daily prayers. In fact, it is still in use in the concluding prayers of evening services. This prayer supplied the missing pieces of the third century prayer perfectly.
Some believer, 1,750 years ago heard this prayer and copied it down to be able to carry it with him. We know only when it was written down that first time, not when it came into being. Such is one of the problems with oral tradition. It's hard to track down just when it starts.
The prayer starts with Mary's compassion. It does not speak of taking refuge under her power or her merits, but instead speaks of a very human motivation: she loves us. A person who sees one they love in trouble cannot help but do all that they can to help.
The prayer pleads with Mary from the midst of life's tribulations. It asks, 'deliver us from danger', using the same verb for deliver that is used in the Lord's Prayer. "It is sobering to recall that this prayer was first used by Christians who lived while their faith was still a capital crime, and for them 'deliver us from danger' might have been an urgent appeal."
Some might question the addressing of Mary within the prayer as 'only pure, only blessed one'. After all, wasn't Jesus pure? And aren't we all blessed? Keep in mind that prayers are like poetry. Hyperbole and metaphor abound and are part of what make the prayers so touching to our hearts, and so beautiful to say.
There is a shift in attitude toward Mary in this prayer. In the earlier text, The Gospel of Mary, she is a child, a tender figure. Someone to protect. In this later text she has become a champion of prayer, someone we turn to for protection.
Two expectations are inherent in this prayer. One, that Mary is alive to hear it. The way the prayer is addressed is as though to someone who is right there. Not someone absent, or dead, who we cannot expect to hear us. But someone there with us. Given the beliefs that we hold on the afterlife, there is no disconnect between addressing Mary as though she were right there with us, even though she is in heaven at this moment. The second assumption is that Mary's prayers are effective. The ancient Christians, as well as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox of today have no problem with the idea that the saints may intercede for us. In the catacombs, around the place where the bones of St. Peter and St. Paul were placed in AD 250, requests for the saints to pray for people were scratched into the walls over a hundred times.