History of Hymns: “For the Bread Which You Have Broken”

by Darrell St. Romain
Louis F. Benson

Louis F. Benson

For the Bread Which You Have Broken
by Louis F. Benson;
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 614, 615

For the bread which you have broken,
For the wine which you have poured,
For the words which you have spoken,
Now we give you thanks, O Lord.

Louis F. Benson, who wrote the lyrics of “For the Bread Which You Have Broken,” was born on July 22, 1855, in Philadelphia, PA, and died on October 10, 1930.  He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and practiced law for seven years before pursuing theological studies at Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1886, he was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Benson served as pastor for six years at Christ the Redeemer in Germantown, PA, before stepping down to devote himself to literary work in the service of the church.

Benson did extensive work as an editor for several hymnals authorized for use by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA. These hymnals include The Hymnal 1895, The Chapel Hymnal 1898, and The School Hymnal 1899. In 1905, he also edited the Book of Common Worship of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America with Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933), who was the author of the well-known hymn, "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee." Benson’s seminal publication The English Hymn: Its Development and Use in Worship 1915 is regarded as a definitive work on the subject and secured him a place among American hymnological scholars.

“For the Bread Which You Have Broken” is a post-Communion hymn that first appeared in Louis F. Benson’s private collection, Hymns Original and Translated (Philadelphia, 1925). The first three stanzas were written on November 21, 1924. A fourth stanza was suggested by Henry Sloane Coffin (1877-1954), who, at the time, was pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, that shows a relationship between the sacrament of Communion and going into the world to serve (Young, 1993, 342-343).

In the first stanza, Benson recalls Christ’s actions at the Last Supper in which the Eucharist was instituted. However, instead of Christ giving thanks, the church gives thanks for the gift of the Eucharist as reflected in the phrase: “now we give you thanks, O Lord." Because of the sacrifice Christ made for the church, it proves his love for his people. This truth is reflected in the second stanza and is also reminiscent of the Apostle Paul’s reflection on love in Romans 12:9-21. “With our sainted ones in glory” begins the third stanza and recalls the “great a cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1-2. In the second half of the third stanza, Benson makes a request for the church to keep the love of Christ until the second coming.  The call to service in the fourth stanza ends with the hope expressed in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:10, “your kingdom come.”

I-to Loh set the music and made the phonetic transcription from the Taiwanese for the setting found in The United Methodist Hymnal, 615. Rev. Loh was born in Taiwan in 1936.  He was educated at Tainan Theological College and Seminary (M.Div.), Union Theological Seminary in New York (SMM in Composition), and the University of California at Los Angeles (Ph.D. in ethnomusicology).

According to Raymond Glover, editor of The Hymnal 1982 Companion, BENG-LI was composed in 1961 when I-to Loh, who at the time was a student at Tainan Theological College and Seminary, was asked by his professor, Isabel Taylor, to translate a passion play that was written and performed by residents of Harlem in New York City in order that it might be presented at the college. The play used about a dozen African-American spirituals. I-to Loh realized that for the play to have an impact on his classmates, tunes in a Taiwanese folk style had to be substituted for the spirituals. Therefore, I-to Loh translated the play into Taiwanese and composed new tunes in Taiwanese folk styles, calling these tunes “Yellow Spirituals” (Glover, 1994, vol. 3A, 635-636); (Young, 1993, 343).

The melody BENG-LI was set to a Communion hymn similar to “Let Us Break Bread Together.” Due to I-to Loh’s translation and compositions, the play was well received by Tainan Theological College and local churches in southern Taiwan. In 1970, I-to Loh harmonized the melody of BENG-LI; and in 1983, it was paired with Benson’s text “For the Bread Which You Have Broken” in Hymns from the Four Winds, 1983, a United Methodist collection of Asian-American hymns edited by I-to Loh. BENG-LI is the Taiwanese name for Isabel Taylor, I-to Loh’s church music professor at Tainan Theological College.

I-to Loh has taught Asian and Global Music, Liturgy and Worship at Tainan Theological College and Seminary and Asian Institute for Liturgy and Music in Manila. He has collected and compiled over twenty collections of hymns, including Sound the Bamboo: CCA Hymnal, 2000. I-to Loh was named a Fellow of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada in 1995. Having recently celebrated his 80th birthday, Dr. Loh and his wife, Hui-chin, reside in Tainan, Taiwan, where he continues to offer occasional church music courses at Tainan Theological Seminary and is preparing the hymnal companion for Sèng-si (2009), the hymnal for the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan.

 

For Further Reading:

Books

Glover, Raymond F. The Hymnal 1982 Companion. Vol. 3a. New York, NY: Church Hymnal Corp., 1994.

Young, Carlton R. Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press., 1993.

Website

http://hymnary.org/person/Loh_I

 

About this week's writer:

Darrell St. Romain currently serves as Director of Music and Liturgy at St. James and St. Philip Catholic Churches in St. James and Vacherie, LA respectively. He also serves as the assistant director for the Diocesan Gospel Choir for the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, LA.

 

This article is provided as a collaboration between Discipleship Ministries and The Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada. For more information about The Hymn Society, visit thehymnsociety.org.

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Categories: History of Hymns, Hymnals By Name, The United Methodist Hymnal, Worship

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