'Panis Angelicus' Lyrics and Translation

Panis Angelicus
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"Panis Angelicus" is the second-to-last section of the hymn "Sacris solemniis," which was written by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. "Panis Angelicus" is Latin for "Bread of Angels" or "Angelic Bread." The song was originally written for the Feast of Corpus Christi, a celebration of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This holiday provided a time of feast and prayers for the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours, which included various psalms, hymns, readings, and prayers. In 1872, composer César Franck set "Panis Angelicus" to music as part of a sacred composition.

Musical Arrangements

Sacred Latin texts like Aquinas's "Sacris solemniis" have been set to music by numerous composers. One of the earliest arrangements of "Panis Angelicus" was written by João Lourenço Rebelo, a Portuguese composer who lived during the 17th century. The text was later to set to music by Romantic composers André Caplet and Camille Saint-Saëns.

Franck's 1872 arrangement is the most famous. Like many of the composer's other works, it was a piece of sacred music used for liturgical purposes. Originally arranged for tenor, organ, harp, and cello, the music was later incorporated into Franck's "Messe à trois voix" (Mass for Three Voices). The melody of Franck's "Panis Angelicus" exaggerates and accentuates some of the words in the text such as "pauper, servus et humilis" (poor humble servant).

Franck was one of the main leaders in French music in the late 1800s, and he was known for creating work with the emotional engagement, technical density, and thematic significance usually associated with German songwriters. He studied at the Conservatory of Liege under Antonin Reicha—a professor of Berlioz, Liszt, and Gounod—and later worked as an organist at the Basilica of Saint Clotilde in Paris. Although he composed in variety of musical areas such as orchestral, sacred, chamber, and piano, Franck is best known today for his organ pieces, including "Panis Angelicus" and "Grande Pièce Symphonique." He died in 1890 at the age of 67.

Latin Text

Panis Angelicus fit panis hominum
Dat panis coelicus figuris terminum
O res mirabilis! Manducat Dominum
Pauper, pauper, servus et humilis
Pauper, pauper, servus et humilis

English Translation

The angel's bread becomes the bread of men
The heavenly bread ends all symbols
Oh, miraculous thing! The body of the Lord will nourish
The poor, poor, and humble servant
The poor, poor, and humble servant

The Feast of Corpus Christi focuses on the transubstantiation, or the miraculous process by which the body and blood of Christ become the bread and wine of communion. This is alluded to in the first line of "Panis Angelicus": "The angel's bread becomes the bread of men."

Notable Performances

"Panis Angelicus" has been recorded by both male and female artists, including such stars as Andrea Bocelli, an Italian classical tenor and singer-songwriter, and Renee Fleming, an American soprano and opera singer who has won several Grammy Awards for her classical performances. The hymn has also been recorded by Irish tenor John McCormack, who is known for performing opera and popular songs with a focus on diction and breath control. Chloe Agnew, an Irish singer-songwriter who gained fame as part of the music group Celtic Woman, has recorded her own modern interpretation, available on the album "Walking in the Air."