History of Hymns: 'Let Us Be Bread'
By David Anderson
“Let Us Be Bread”
by Thomas Porter
The Faith We Sing, 2260
Let us be bread, blessed by the Lord,
broken and shared, life for the world.
Let us be wine, love freely poured.
Let us be one in the Lord.*
*© 1990 GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For Roman Catholic Christians since Vatican II (1962–65), the Communion procession has been an organic ritual action embodied each week, combining ritual movement and common song. Composers have contributed a substantial repertoire of mostly refrain-style songs for this procession to the Eucharistic table, highlighting that the liturgical assembly journeys together as one to the Holy Table. “One Bread, One Body” (1978) by John Foley, S.J. (b. 1939) and “You Satisfy the Hungry Heart” (1977) by Omer Westendorf (1916–1997) are examples that the broader Christian community embraces.
Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (STL), a key liturgical music document for the church in the United States prepared by the Catholic Conference of Bishops, reminds us:
In selecting a Communion song suitable for the Eucharistic banquet in which God’s blessings are bestowed so abundantly, one should look for texts and themes of joy, wonder, unity, gratitude, and praise. Following ancient Roman liturgical tradition, the communion song might reflect themes of the Gospel reading of the day. It is also appropriate to select a Communion processional song that reflects the liturgical action, i.e., eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ. (STL, 2007, p. 191)
Sing to the Lord continues: “In order to foster participation of the faithful with ‘unity of voices,’ it is recommended that psalms sung in the responsorial style, or songs with easily memorized refrains, be used” (STL, p. 192). Pastoral musicians work diligently to introduce and cultivate a repertoire of Communion songs that are easily sung and eventually memorized. The typical Communion procession in Roman Catholic worship is often realized through the singing of memorized refrains. It is a rare sight to see an assembly member carrying a hymnal in the Communion procession.
The theology of song reflected in this post-Vatican II practice provides a genesis for “Let Us Be Bread” by Thomas Porter (b. 1958). This refrain-style liturgical song weaves together themes of Eucharist, Paschal Mystery, and mission. The four stanzas draw from the feeding narratives, and the Bread of Life and Last Supper discourses in the Gospel of John.
The refrain invites the believer to become bread, broken and shared, and wine poured out for the life of the world. Believers are called to give freely of themselves and to come to unity in the one Lord. Christ calls Christians to be his body in the world. “Let Us Be Bread” is a Communion hymn that connects Eucharist to our mission in the world—being life for the world.
The four stanzas, sung by either cantor or choir, are stated in the first-person singular, paraphrasing words of Jesus found in the gospels of John (6:35, 15:14, 15:9) and Matthew (14:16). The composer joins the themes of the feeding narratives with themes of friendship and service. In stanza one, Jesus’ voice proclaims that he is the bread of life, broken for all (John 6:35). In stanza two, Christ’s voice calls us to be not only his servants, but also friends (John 15:14–15). In stanza three, Jesus’ voice, expressing compassion for the poor and hungry, calls us to recognize and feed the hungry of our world (John 6:5, Matthew 14:16). In stanza four, Jesus Christ, the source of sacrificial love, calls us to go out to the world, to live and share his love (John 15: 9, 16). The Faith We Sing includes stanzas one and three in its Singer’s Edition.
Members of the assembly can easily memorize the singable refrain as they move in procession to the Holy Table for the sharing and receiving of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. Assigning the first-person singular stanzas to a cantor or small group frees the assembly to approach the altar with hands free to receive the sacrament while singing the refrain. While composed for use as a Communion processional in Catholic liturgy, this text is ecumenical and theologically appropriate for use in other Christian traditions.
Composer Thomas Porter received his Doctor of Music Arts in Choral Conducting from the University of Missouri, Kansas City (2000), and he currently serves as Music Department Chair at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, where he teaches theory and directs the university choirs. Porter’s choral compositions are published by Chorister’s Guild, Heritage Press, and Hal Leonard. “Let Us Be Bread” is one of his several liturgical songs published by GIA Publications, Inc.
First composed for Porter’s wedding in 1987, “Let Us Be Bread” was a Communion song for the closing liturgy of the 1988 Regional Convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians held in Bismarck. GIA Publications, Inc. published the song in 1990 and has included it in several editions of its hymnals, most recently in Gather, Third Edition (no. 946). Porter reminisces that over the years, “Let Us Be Bread” has been sung at three of his children’s weddings. Connecting faith to life, the song has become a family “heart song” of sorts!
Porter wanted to connect the assembly’s celebration of the Eucharist to its mission as Christ’s disciples in the world. As we receive Eucharist, we become Eucharist for others and go forth from the liturgical assembly, taking Christ to the world. The refrain of “Let Us Be Bread” focuses on the baptized believer as one who becomes bread and becomes wine. We are members of Christ’s body, and we are one in the Lord. This echoes Saint Augustine in his sermon on the Eucharist:
If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s Table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ,” you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true! . . . Be what you see; receive what you are. . . . And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how, at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated. (Augustine, Sermon 272)
“Let Us Be Bread” may be sung throughout the liturgical year, and it is particularly appropriate for use during the Easter season. The preferred instrumentation is for piano and guitar, but it can also be successfully played on organ. The Singer’s Edition of The Faith We Sing includes a descant for the refrain. The strength of this Communion song lies in the richness of themes highlighting the primary call of the Christian Eucharist: a call to unity, to be one in Christ, and to be bread broken and wine poured out for the life of the world.
The following YouTube link incorporates all the stanzas and the descant on the refrain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgoIWAyC3iw
Augustine. Sermon 272, “Augustine and the Nature of the Sacrament of the Eucharist,” https://earlychurchtexts.com/public/augustine_sermon_272_eucharist.htm (accessed January 30, 2021).
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship. (Washington DC: USCCB, 2007.)
David Anderson serves as Director of Music at Ascension Catholic Church, Oak Park, Illinois as the principal organist and director of four parish choirs. He is also Editor-at-Large for GIA Publications, Inc., where he has worked on various hymnal projects. David is a Doctor of Pastoral Music candidate at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, where he studied hymnology with C. Michael Hawn.