Aleteia

Hymn of the Week: ‘Panis Angelicus’

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There are a couple well-known versions of this great Eucharistic hymn. This one is our communion meditation hymn this weekend—the beautiful rendition in the video is from the choir at the cathedral in Phoenix, Arizona—and it was composed by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina:

He was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work has often been seen as the culmination of Renaissance polyphony.

Palestrina left hundreds of compositions, including 105 masses, 68 offertories, at least 140 madrigals and more than 300 motets. In addition, there are at least 72 hymns, 35 magnificats, 11 litanies, and four or five sets of lamentations. The Gloria melody from a Palestrina’s Magnificat Tertii Toni (1591) is widely used today in the resurrection hymn tune, Victory (The Strife Is O’er).

Of the hymn itself:

Panis angelicus (Latin for “Bread of Angels” or “Angelic Bread”) is the penultimate strophe of the hymn “Sacris solemniis” written by Saint Thomas Aquinas for the Feast of Corpus Christi as part of a complete liturgy of the feast, including prayers for the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours.

The strophe of “Sacris solemniis” that begins with the words “Panis angelicus” (bread of angels) has often been set to music separately from the rest of the hymn. Most famously, in 1872 César Franck set this strophe for tenor voice, harp, cello, and organ, and incorporated it into his Messe à trois voix, Op. 12.

Other hymns for Corpus Christi by Saint Thomas where sections have been separately set to music are “Verbum supernum prodiens” (the last two strophes begin with “O salutaris Hostia“) and “Pange lingua gloriosi” (the last two strophes begin with “Tantum ergo“).

The words:

Panis angelicus
fit panis hominum;
Dat panis cœlicus
figuris terminum:
O res mirabilis!
Manducat Dominum
Pauper, servus et humilis.

Te trina Deitas
unaque poscimus:
Sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
Per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
Ad lucem quam inhabitas.
Amen.

May the Bread of Angels
Become bread for mankind;
The Bread of Heaven puts
All foreshadowings to an end;
Oh, thing miraculous!
The body of the Lord will nourish
the poor, the servile, and the humble.

You God, Three
In One, we beseech;
That You visit us,
As we worship You.
By Your ways,
lead us where we are heading,
to the light that You inhabitest.
Amen.