History of Hymns: 'Take Our Bread'
By Daniel Kim, Guest Contributor
“Take Our Bread”
by Joe Wise
The United Methodist Hymnal, 640
Take our bread, we ask you;
take our hearts, we love you.
Take our lives, O Father,
we are yours, we are yours.
Yours as we stand at the table you set;
yours as we eat the bread our hearts can’t forget.
We are the sign of your life with us yet,
we are yours, we are yours.*
*© 1966 Joe Wise. Used by permission of GIA Publication, Inc. All rights reserved.
“Take Our Bread” (1966) was written as a song to prepare worshipers to receive the Eucharist. Joe Wise is one of the most widely performed composers of what has become known as the ‘folk Mass movement,’ following the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). ‘Take Our Bread’ was published in Wise’s folk mass, “Gonna Sing, My Lord” (1966), appearing as the offertory in the album, Gonna Sing My Lord: Music for Worship (1966). This folk mass and the song “Christ Has Died, Alleluia” (1971) are examples of this movement that dominated Roman Catholic music composition in the 1960s and 1970s.
Joseph Edward Wise is a writer, composer, and painter currently living in Arizona. Born on August 19, 1939, in Louisville, Kentucky, he pursued studies in religion, philosophy, and counseling and holds a bachelor’s (BA, 1961; STB, 1963) from Spalding College (now University) in Louisville, a Catholic institution, and a master’s (M.Ed., 1965; MA, 1969) from Spalding and the Catholic University of America (Washington, DC), respectively. In addition to his music, Wise is a published author. He has led worship, conducted workshops, and given concerts around the world.
The folk Mass movement grew from Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), which called for the complete and active liturgical participation of the people in their own language. This call resulted in new musical settings of the Mass using different instrumentation and texts in the vernacular, which had become acceptable in the liturgy. All of these changes contributed to new ways of worship in the Roman Catholic Church that continue today. Wise, along with other composers, including Ray Repp (1942–2020) and Sebastian Temple (1928–1997), composed folk mass settings, drawing on popular musical styles of the time, for this new genre of worship music. Over time, the popularity of these songs has led to their use and wider popularity in mainline Protestant congregations.
Similar to early Pentecostal praise choruses of the late 1960s and early 1970s, “Take Our Bread” differs from the strophic hymns of Protestant worship and the Latin hymns of the Pre-Vatican II Catholic Mass. Its irregular meter and refrain connected it to songs like Karen Lafferty’s “Seek Ye First” (1971) and Bob McGee’s “Emmanuel, Emmanuel” (1976) as a new style of congregational song. The simple language, rhyme structure, and acoustic instrumentation are characteristic of early songs in the contemporary worship movement.
“Take Our Bread,” like many texts from the contemporary worship movement, focuses on personal piety and experiences of the worshiping body. In this case, the song stresses the actions of the communicants offering their bread, hearts, and lives to the Triune God. Paul’s admonishment to the Romans, telling them to offer their lives to God in Romans 12:1, provides a basis for the refrain. The song’s contemporary language connects the biblical text and the everyday lives of the worshipers.
Stanza 1 references directly the “table you set”—a reference to Jesus’ presiding at table with his followers in the gospels and, by extension, the Eucharist today. Stanza 2 refers to God’s “people standing washed in your blood”—a complex metaphor throughout the Bible but alluded to in New Testament passages such as Colossians 1:20 and Hebrews 10:19. The song’s “hook” is the repeated phrase “we are yours,” which appears twelve times when sung completely.
This song was intended to be sung as the elements of the Eucharist were processed to the table. Rather than singing the entire song, as in most Protestant traditions, the congregation would sing the memorized refrain only, and a soloist would sing the stanzas.
The popularity of “Take Our Bread,” like other early contemporary worship songs, grew outside of the paths of the typical church hymnal through recordings and performances. It first appeared in the Catholic collection We Celebrate in Song (Chicago, 1976). However, its inclusion in The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) and the Chalice Hymnal (1995), among others, demonstrates the long-lasting and far-reaching impact of the folk Mass movement on congregational song in the ecumenical context as well.
“Take Our Bread” connects the liturgical action of worship with the lives of the worshiping body as they receive Holy Communion. This new focus on personal piety, combined with the popularity of this song, has made it an enduring one in the corpus of congregational songs and an example of the long-lasting and far-reaching impact of the Folk Mass movement on worship practices across denominational and generational lines.
C. Michael Hawn, editor, New Songs of Celebration Render: Congregational Song in the Twenty-First Century (GIA Publications, Inc., 2013).
Lim Swee-Hong and Lester Ruth. Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship (Abingdon Press, 2017).
Diana Sanchez, The Hymns of the United Methodist Hymnal: Introduction to the Hymns, Canticles, and Acts of Worship (Abingdon Press, 1989), p. 216.
Michael Silhavy, “Joe Wise,” The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/j/joe-wise (accessed April 29, 2023).
Daniel Kim is a regular organist at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Plano, TX, and an undergraduate student at the UNT College of Music majoring in organ performance. He studies sacred music with Drs. Michael Conrady and Joshua Taylor.