Home History of Hymns: Eucharist hymn reflects black gospel tradition

History of Hymns: Eucharist hymn reflects black gospel tradition

“Taste and See”
James E. Moore
The Faith We Sing, No. 2267

Taste and see,
taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
I will bless the Lord at all times.
Praise shall always be on my lips;
my soul shall glory in the Lord
for God has been so good to me. *

Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Roman Catholic Church has been exploring ways to diversify its music culturally, especially music for congregational participation.

The major document of the Council was Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963) that, among many other things, recognized the gifts of cultures around the world and the need to express aspects of different cultures appropriately in the Mass. Thus today one can attend Mass celebrations in several languages and musical styles in the same weekend.

James Moore

Roman Catholic James E. Moore Jr. (b. 1951) brings the African-American gospel tradition to the Mass. He is a composer, conductor, pianist and master teacher who currently resides in Vienna, Austria, where he serves as a professional coach and teaches voice and conducting. A native of LaCrosse, Va., he holds undergraduate degrees in both piano and vocal music education and graduate degrees in piano and choral conducting.

Dr. Moore is known for his choral conducting and leadership of congregations. His most popular songs are “Taste and See,” “I Will Be with You” and “An Irish Blessing,” all of which have been sung, recorded and appear in hymnals throughout the world. Prior to his move to Vienna, he served as director of music at St. Agnes Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio, and as assistant professor of music and liturgy at the Athenaeum of Ohio Theological Seminary.

“Taste and See” is a song to be sung during the Eucharist as people come forward to receive the communion elements. The refrain quotes Psalm 38:8a: “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” (NIV) The words are quickly memorized and Dr. Moore’s musical setting may be sung in harmony easily.

The stanzas, to be sung by a soloist, reflect the gospel style even more. Stanza one quotes Psalm 34:1-2 (Psalm 33:2-3 in the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible, 1899 edition): “I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall be always in my mouth. In the Lord shall my soul be praised: let the meek hear and rejoice.”

Stanza two cites Psalm 34:3-4 (Psalm 33:4-5): “O magnify the Lord with me; and let us extol his name together. I sought the Lord, and he heard me; and he delivered me from all my troubles.” Stanza 3 is a reference to Psalm 34:10 (Psalm 33:10): “Fear the Lord, all ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him.”

The infusion of the African-American gospel style with this text adds a celebratory tone to communion. The refrain of the psalm invites not only a spiritual feeding of the soul, but also suggests that we can experience empirically the presence of God through the senses of tasting and seeing. Indeed, communion is a full-body encounter. Singing together suggests that hearing is also a part of receiving the elements as we come forward not just as individuals, but as members of the body of Christ to the table.

Written to be sung in procession, “Taste and See” allows us to join symbolically the procession of the saints—“the faithful of every time and place,” as some of the communion liturgies attest. Communion is not just a ritual of personal penitence, but a celebration with our local body of Christ, with the faithful around the world, and with the saints—a cosmic moment in the Christian experience.

* © 1983 GIA Publications. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

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