Learn the "Agnus Dei" in Latin With English Translation

An Important Part of Catholic Mass and Many Chorale Compositions

stone carving of Lamb of God
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The liturgical prayer known as the Agnus Dei is written in Latin. The words "Agnus Dei" translate into English as "Lamb of God" and it is a chant addressed to Christ. It is commonly used during Mass in the Roman Catholic Church and has been adapted into choral pieces by a number of history's best-known composers.

The History of Agnus Dei

The Agnus Dei was introduced in the Mass by Pope Sergius (687–701). This move may have been a defiant act against the Byzantine Empire (Constantinople), who ruled that Christ shall not be depicted as an animal, in this case, a lamb. The Agnus Dei, like the Credo, was one of the last things to be added to the Mass Ordinary. 

The fifth item in the Mass, Agnus Dei comes from John 1:29 and is often used during communion. Along with the Kyrie, Credo, Gloria, and Sanctus, this chant remains an integral part of the church service.

Translation of the Agnus Dei

The simplicity of Agnus Dei makes it an easy one to remember, even if you know little or no Latin. It begins with a repeating invocation and ends with a different request. During the Middle Ages, it was set to a great variety of melodies and included more acclamations than these two, which are most common.

Latin English
Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
miserere nobis. have mercy on us.
Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi, Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,
dona nobis pacem. grant us peace.

Compositions With Agnus Dei

The Agnus Dei has been incorporated into countless choral and orchestral pieces of music over the years. Many well-known composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Verdi have added it to their mass and requiem compositions. If you listen to classical music enough, you will surely encounter Agnus Dei quite often.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) used it as the final movement in his monumental work, "Mass in B Minor" (1724). It is believed that this was among the last pieces he added and one of his final vocal compositions as well.

One of the better known contemporary composers to use the Agnus Dei is Samuel Barber (1910–1981). In 1967, the American composer arranged the Latin words to his most famous work, "Adagio for Strings" (1938). It was written for an eight-part chorus and retains that mournful, spiritual character of the orchestral work. As with Bach's composition, it is a very moving piece of music.


  • Randel (Editor), Don Michael. “The Harvard Dictionary of Music." Harvard University Press. 2003.
  • Wolff, Christoph. "Bach: Essays on His Life and Music." Harvard University Press. 1991.