Andrzej Panufnik was not a particularly religious person. Brought up as a Catholic, in his later life he, by and large, distanced himself from the church, and his compositions, such as the Universal Prayer, a prayer for people of all religions and races to a God who is the father of everything, demonstrate his great tolerance towards faith, especially at a time when the ideas of ecumenical movement were not yet very widespread.
On the other hand, the Catholic religion inspired him primarily because of its direct bond with Poland. It is thus not surprising that works where the religious aspect is given voice are also those which are closely linked to events which were important for Poland.
Sinfonia Sacra was the composer’s homage to the history of Poland, torn by many wars. It was written on the occasion of the millenium of Poland’s statehood, an anniversary which is irrevocably linked to Poland’s acceptance of Christianity. This symphony integrates most fully the religious inspiration with Panufnik’s feeling of patriotism; this integration finds its expression in the inclusion in the musical material of the melody of Bogurodzica, a medieval religious song. It was also the first Polish anthem, accompanying the Polish army during many battles, including the historic battle of Grunwald which brought victory over the Teutonic Knights in 1410. Many years later, during the early 1980s, another of the composer’s symphonies, Sinfonia Votiva, also grew out of religious inspiration, or perhaps a need to entrust Poland to the Black Madonna from Częstochowa. In his commentary to the work Panufnik wrote:
It is a votive offering for the miraculous icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa in my native Poland.
And in his autobiography he added:
(...) my conscious intention was to create a kind of desperate supplication for Poland’s lasting freedom, built up out of the growing urgency of my ardent petition to the Black Madonna. (...) Deeply inbuilt into my symphony is my faith that, one day, all prayer and all the votive offerings to the Black Madonna will at last be fully answered and that Poland will become free.
Thus, once again, Panufnik’s deep attachment to his native land found expression in a composition which at the same time was a form of religious gesture.
On the other hand, an example of combining religious inspiration with a fascination with folk music is provided by Song to the Virgin Mary, a short, prayer-like composition, which has associations both with Gregorian chant and with folk melodics. Panufnik intended this as a reminiscence about ardent Polish peasants at worship in a country church, hence the combination of these two elements.
His faith constituted an important source of inspiration for the composer. It was not only an important element in emphasising the Polish character of his work, but also his way of communicating with God. He admitted this at the very last hours of his life, saying:
'My work is my prayer'.