What is the earliest recorded instance of a prayer made to the Blessed Virgin? (Or to another saint, if earlier)
The earliest recorded prayer to the Virgin Mary can be found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter1, verse 28: “And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’”. And the second is also in Luke, Chapter 1, verses 41-42: “…and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “”Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!’”.
Actually, one can find earlier examples of intercessory prayer. Here is an example involving prayer from an angel (Tobit 12:12). The Archangel Raphael tells Tobit: “When you and Sarah were at prayer, it was I who offered your supplications before the glory of the Lord and who read them…”
In his first letter to Timothy St. Paul asks for prayers of supplication, intercession and thanksgiving. He does not see this as contradicting the fact that Jesus is the perfect Mediator between God and man: “First of all then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men…” (1 Tim 2). Read the whole chapter.
Other than what is found in Scripture, the earliest written prayer we have addressed to our Lady is the “Sub tuum” from the 3rd century:
We fly to thy patronage, O holy Mother of God;
Despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.
Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.