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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 text was set as a motet by several renaissance composers including João Lourenço Rebelo. Later romantic era settings include those by André Caplet, Saint-Saëns, and, best known of all, the setting by César Franck.
The 1932 performance of Franck's work by John McCormack in Dublin's Phoenix Park was the highlight of his career. Noteworthy renditions have also been performed by tenors Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, José Carreras, Plácido Domingo, Franco Corelli,and Roberto Alagna, as well as by the sopranos Charlotte Church, Herva Nelli, Jessye Norman, Magda Olivero, Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, and Renata Scotto, and the Italian operatic pop group Il Volo. The piece was performed by Richard Tucker at the funeral Mass for United States Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy on June 8, 1968, and by Plácido Domingo and Yo-Yo Ma at the funeral mass for Robert's brother, Senator Edward Kennedy on August 29, 2009 – an event televised nationally in the United States.
Text of Panis angelicus, with doxology
May the Bread of Angels
- Mass, Op. 12 (Franck): Scores at the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)
- Sacris Solemniis in the Catholic Encyclopedia discusses the merits of a number of translations.
- Full text of "Sacris Solemniis", with an English translation
- "Bread of Angels", Gregorian Chants
- Free scores for various settings of Panis angelicus in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Archival sheet music for "Panis Angelicus", Oliver Ditson Company, 1901.