Home History of Hymns: "You Satisfy the Hungry Heart"

History of Hymns: "You Satisfy the Hungry Heart"

"You Satisfy the Hungry Heart"
Omer Westendorf
The United Methodist Hymnal, No.629

You satisfy the hungry heart
with gift of finest wheat.
Come, give to us, O saving Lord,
the bread of life to eat.*


Following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the role of congregational song became much more prominent in Roman Catholic worship. The ecumenical worshipping community has been the beneficiary of some music composed for Catholic worship since that time, especially music for Communion.

We would not have some of our favorite Communion hymns in The United Methodist Hymnal and The Faith We Sing without the contribution of post-Vatican II Catholic composers. “One bread, one body” (UMH No. 620), “Sheaves of summer” (UMH No. 637), “Take our bread” (UMH No. 640), and “Taste and see” (TFWS No. 2267), are just a few of these.

Omer Westendorf (1916-1997) was one of the leading post-Vatican II composers and his hymn, “Gift of finest wheat,” is one of the best-known Communion hymns to come from the decades immediately following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Beginning at age 20, he received his master’s of music degree at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and for most of his professional musical career served as organist and choirmaster at St. Bonaventure Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Under his direction, the Bonaventure Choir sang concerts and recorded sacred music for several decades. One of his greatest achievements was the founding of the World Library of Sacred Music in 1950 and World Library Publications in 1957. These organizations have been primary distributors of music for the Mass in the U.S. and beyond.

Westendorf was also known for his lectures and seminars on sacred music, consultations on liturgical music, and as a hymn writer. UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young notes that Westendorf’s “People’s Mass Book, 1964, 1966, 1970, 1976, was the first vernacular hymn and service book to implement the Catholic liturgies decreed by Vatican Council II. He wrote Music Lessons for the Man in the Pew to teach the art of sight reading choral music.”

One of the prominent features of Catholic hymns from this era is a memorable and singable refrain. For example, think of how easily congregations learn the refrain by Catholic musician Daniel Schutte, “Here I Am, Lord.” “You satisfy the hungry heart” has an equally memorable refrain, though more reflective.

The refrain evokes the agrarian image of “finest wheat,” the source of bread, a primary staple that sustains life. The hymn writer first addresses Christ directly in the second person, implying an intimate relationship, and offers a petition to Christ to “give to us... the bread of life to eat.”

The hymn is replete with biblical references. The refrain echoes John 6:25-37, a passage where Christ develops the imagery of bread and says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger.”

Stanza one focuses on the metaphor of Christ as shepherd drawn from several passages, but especially from John 10. Stanza three is almost a direct quotation of I Corinthians 10:16-17: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ. The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

The final stanza sites the selfless and self-giving gift of Christ reminding us of Philippians 2:5-11, a creedal hymn of the early church.

Finally, this hymn integrates beautifully with the actual distribution of the sacrament. In the Catholic context, the assembly processes forward to receive the elements.

The refrain of the hymn is easily committed to memory so that people may sing as they walk forward. The stanzas are often sung by a cantor or the choir, allowing the individual communicant to process forward to receive the sacrament without carrying a hymnal.

*© 1977 Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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