Sacred Giving and the Panis Angelicus


By Angela Shupe | Twitter: @labellaverita


Andrea Bocelli’s voice fills the room. Waves of notes swell and rescind like velvet billowing in the wind. I hold my phone closer to the wheelchair so my mother may hear the sacred aria she once sang.

The orchestral strains of the Panis Angelicus waken her from the depths of her mental sleep. Bocelli sings of the “Bread of Heaven” that will nourish the poor and humble, beseeching God, three and One:

“Do us Thou visit,
As Thee we worship.
By Thy ways,
lead us where we are heading,
to the light Thou inhabitest.”

My mother’s eyes open and her lips part slightly as she listens. She closes her eyes. The music has met her deep within, in that place of communion with the Divine, unreachable to the observer.

Christmas, as a child, was a time of wonder. Sacred. My mother would spend weeks preparing for the celebration in true Italian and Filipina style, with food overflowing to welcome family and friends who’d become family. She’d also spend weeks training her voice to blossom forth the rich and haunting strains of the Panis Angelicus and other sacred arias. Her voice was her instrument. Years of training honed it into a bold, rich soprano. She was a masterful player.

On Christmas Eve, after a night spent savoring the warmth and fellowship of good friends, we would walk out into the crisp night air. We entered the winter wonderland of our neighborhood to light luminaries, resting them upon snowdrifts. We left candles on tufts of snow, pricks of light in the dark winter night like the Star of Bethlehem, a path for wanderers to the sacred. Light lit the way to Midnight Mass.

My mother would leave us early to warm her voice. Then, dressed in our finest, we’d enter the hushed vestibule of the church glowing golden from candlelight within. The organ would begin piping. A single voice, clear as the night sky, would fill the sanctuary.

My mother presented her gift to the One who gave her breath to sing. A sacred moment—one I miss. Christmas, I learned as a child, is a time of wonder and presenting gifts, not just to loved ones, but to the Divine Giver born on Christmas Day.

Today, I watch my mother breathe in the strains of Franck’s music, Bocelli’s rich tenor bringing life to the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Bocelli’s voice quiets to a hush as the chorus melts away. A harpist strums the ending notes. Then, there is silence. My mother opens her eyes, now glistening with tears.

Her voice may no longer be audible to me. But deep within, she is presenting her gift to the Divine. I smile and rest my hand upon her shoulder and thank her for teaching me of reverence, sacred wonder, and the art of giving at Christmas.


About Angela:

AShupe Profile PicI live in the Midwest with my husband and two kids. After recently moving out of the woods and into town, I’m adjusting to the busy pace of small town life. When not juggling schedules, I bake blueberry crumble, love spending time at Lake Michigan, and write about life and faith at Bella Verita. Everyday I am awed by the never-ending abundant grace of God.