A four-minute foretaste of heaven.
Music video of Andrea Bocelli singing “Panis Angelicus” with the Choir of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia
fit panis hominum;
Dat panis coelicus
O res mirabilis!
Pauper, servus, et humilis.
Te trina Deitas
Sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
Per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
Ad lucem quam inhabitas.
Jesus, our living bread,
Great gift from heaven sent,
Fulfill the signs of old, and be our nourishment.
We humble people come
To eat your sacred food,
In peace, joy, love, and gratitude.
O blessed Trinity,
We praise and worship you;
Strengthen our unity,
Our faith and trust renew.
Lord, lead us all our days
To heavenly peace and light;
Grant us rest there, before your sight.
“ Panis Angelicus,” whose lyrics were written by St. Thomas Aquinas and whose music was composed by the Franco-Belgian organist César Franck, is much more than a poetic interpretation of a theological concept. It emerged from Aquinas’ immense intellectual creativity and from the lyrical creativity of the long-suffering composer.
No one who has heard it performed by Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Bocelli or even the child-soprano Jackie Evancho can deny that it rises to the sublime. It is truly a song that invites both performers and listeners to remain for moments motionless, to contemplate the inexpressible beauty that awaits us in knowing God.
“Panis Angelicus” resounds in the highest vaults of Gothic churches and off the acoustic tiles of modern Western and Eastern auditoriums. Wherever performed, it evokes the greatest and most supernatural mystery of Christianity: the transubstantiation of bread into the Real Presence of Jesus Christ.
One’s soul would have to be very dark and calloused to not be touched by its words and harmonies. Like the soft unfolding of rose petals, its notes and lovely Latin text transform the faces of listeners into expressions of both gravitas and delight. Stoic faces become thoughtful, as the persons behind them are lifted to landscapes beyond this world. It is enough to observe the faces of the audience in any place where “Panis Angelicus” is sung to confirm that the eternal exists and that man longs for it. The invisible, unscented, colorless incense of song rises for only a few minutes, as if it were but a foretaste of heaven made to be experienced only in a state of grace.
“Panis Angelicus” is one of five Eucharistic hymns that St. Thomas composed, like five soft cotton dressings to stanch the blood flowing from Jesus’ five wounds. It is an act of reparation. Although insufficient, it is at least offered with good intentions from a humanity ever in debt to that great act of love that was our redemption.
Perhaps, if Franck had not composed the melody and harmonies of this beautiful composition, we might not have been able to understand so poignantly that Christ is indeed the bread of angels, bread from heaven that becomes bread to nourish the souls of men and women as only God can.
The music was composed around 1872, while France was suffering from defeat by the Prussians and from the abuses of the Paris Commune. It is amazing that such a song arose from the smoldering rubble in such a painful time for the eldest daughter of the Church.
“Panis Angelicus” was composed for solo tenor, organ, cello, bass and harp–vocal and musical instruments of a civilization unlike any other preceding it on earth. That it came into being through the faith and piety of two Christians, a holy theologian and a simple lay church organist, living more than five centuries apart, shows the timeless, perpetual outpouring of love from the Holy Trinity that continues to be poured out on God’s cherished, yet undeserving, children even to this day.
Article published by Gaudium Press
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