Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: 'Eat This Bread'

History of Hymns: 'Eat This Bread'

By C. Michael Hawn

“Eat This Bread”
Robert Batastini and the Community of Taizé
The United Methodist Hymnal, 628

Eat this bread, drink this cup,
come to me and never be hungry.
Eat this bread, drink this cup,
trust in me and you will not thirst.

©1984 Ateliers et Presses de Taizé, Taizé Community, France; admin. GIA Publications, Inc.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Holy Communion or Eucharist is a part of daily worship in the Taizé Community in France. Situated in the Burgundian region of southeastern France, north of Geneva, Switzerland, the tiny hamlet called Taizé attracts thousands of pilgrims from around the world yearly. Taizé is a monastic community of approximately one hundred brothers whose daily life revolves around work, rest, and prayer.

Taize Chancel 72px

Common prayer—morning, midday, and evening—provides the structure for each day. Receiving the Communion elements in the ecumenical environment of the community requires openness to new liturgical forms, the nature of the Communion elements, and methods of reception. During the week, Communion bread is available during the morning prayer (before breakfast). The blessed bread is open to all who choose to receive it. The distribution of the bread (without wine) is not preceded by the Words of Institution or the fuller Great Thanksgiving rite. The singing of a simple mantra—a short, repeated song—provides the musical backdrop and ritual support for the liturgical action of receiving the elements. The absence of a spoken Communion rite alleviates the problem of communicating in the many languages of the gathered assembly, as each pilgrim may interpret the symbolism of the ritual action in any manner consistent with the theology and practice of his or her faith community. A more formal Eucharist with a Catholic rite occurs on Sunday morning in the community. Several smaller chapels beneath the main sanctuary and on the grounds offer opportunities to receive Communion in the manner of specific ecclesial traditions.

Little Chapel 72px

John 6:35, one of the “I AM” sayings of Jesus, provides the basis for the text of “Eat this bread”: “Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (NIV). The impetus for this song came from a collaboration between French organist Jacque Berthier (1923–1994) and United States publisher Robert J. Batastini (b. 1942). The Taizé Community approached Berthier in 1955 to compose music for their meditative common prayers. Over the following decades, Berthier became one of the most important composers in what became known as the “music of Taizé.” Robert J. Batastini, in the capacity of senior editor at GIA Publications, Inc., initiated discussions with the community that led to the Chicago-based publisher becoming the musical distributor of the community’s music in North America.

Carlton R. Young, editor of The United Methodist Hymnal, described the origins of this song in correspondence from Batastini in July 1992:

Batastini (representing GIA) and Berthier met at Taizé the week of October 2–7, 1983, to prepare the new American Edition of Music from Taizé Vol. 2. [At the end of the week] Taizé musician Brother Robert ask[ed] Batastini if he had any additional texts to propose. [Expressing the need] for easily memorized texts that communicants can sing as they approach the table, Batastini prepared this text from three English language Bibles. Since Berthier [did] not speak English, Batastini also chose the meter and wrote the rhythm above the text. Berthier wrote the music within the next several hours. Thus, in the course of one long afternoon, this incredibly popular piece was conceived and written. (Young, 1993, pp. 324–325)

This version, with Christ addressing the faithful in the first-person singular as given in John’s Gospel, appeared in the original collection accompanied by five scriptural quotations that may be sung alternately with the refrain. Some hymnals restate the text from the perspective of the church extending the invitation to the table on behalf of Christ in the third person:

Eat this bread; drink this cup; come to Christ and never be hungry.
Eat this bread; drink this cup; trust in Christ and you will not thirst.
© 1984, Les Presses de Taizé, GIA Publications, Inc., agent.

Another version begins with Christ:

Jesus Christ, bread of life, those who come to you will not hunger.
Jesus Christ, risen Lord, those who trust in you will not thirst.
© 1984, Les Presses de Taizé, GIA Publications, Inc., agent.

Instrumental descants enrich the ostinati (repeated refrain) as the assembly processes forward to receive the elements.

A Spanish-language translation was added later:

Coman de este pan, beban de este cáliz, vengan, y no tendrán hambre.
Coman de este pan, beban de este cáliz, crean, y no tendrán sed.
© 2005, Les Presses de Taizé, GIA Publications, Inc., agent.

Though I have used or heard “Eat this bread” in numerous congregations throughout the United States, I have never heard it used in the Taizé Community during multiple trips spanning three decades. I believe the community identifies this song as a particular expression of the English-language North American church context.


Photos were taken by Michael Hawn.

Michael Silhavy, “Robert Batastini, ”The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/r/robert-batastini (accessed August 4, 2022).

J. Richard Watson, “Jacques Berthier,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/j/jacques-berthier (accessed August 4, 2022).

Carlton R. Young, Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993).

Verses marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

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