Nov 15, 2002

Singing for the Supper or the Sacrifice?

Online Edition

– Vol. VIII, No. 8: November 2002

Singing for the Supper or the Sacrifice?

by Lucy E. Carroll

While actual numbers vary but little, most surveys today show that more than half of American Catholics either do not believe in the Real Presence, or do not understand the concept. Since the Real Presence is the primary difference between Catholicism and Protestantism (all other differences must pale in comparison), this is a serious issue. Causes are many: inadequate catechesis, incorrect catechesis, emphasis on the Liturgy of Word over the Liturgy of the Eucharist, removal of the Tabernacle, prohibitions on kneeling, bargain-counter lines to Communion, secularization of the Church’s art, architecture and music….

In Catholicism, the altar is an altar of sacrifice. Replacing it with a wooden table, as in Protestant churches, shifts the emphasis from the sacrifice to the meal. This becomes only a banquet, a memorial of Holy Thursday without the blood sacrifice of Good Friday. In some denominations, the Communion service is only held once or twice a year. In other Christian churches, it is once a month. Yet to Catholics, the very purpose of the service is the Eucharist; to miss that portion means to miss Mass. It is ironic that in churches that recognize only a "presence" (Episcopal, Lutheran), Communion is received reverently, while kneeling at the altar rail. In other denominations, bread and small cups of wine or juice are passed out to the seated congregants, who partake in silence and reverence. Yet Catholics, who are to receive the transubstantiated Body and Blood, the very soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, march up to the server while juggling a paper missal and singing about what exactly are Catholics singing about the Eucharist these days? Are we singing for a supper? Or for the sacrifice of Calvary?

One often-overlooked issue in the erosion of belief in the Real Presence is the text of Communion hymns. As we sing, so we believe. In the rush to provide vernacular hymnody in post-Conciliar days, many Protestant hymns were adapted. Some are beautiful, suitable; interestingly, some are even more appropriate textually than modern-day hymns in "Catholic" liturgy booklets.

Contemporary hymns lead us to believe that Christ becomes bread, rather than the reverse; that the bread is only a symbol of Christ, or, worse, of something else entirely; that it is our body and our blood; that this is a meal only; or that this is a call to social activism. The words sacrifice, Real Presence, and even Body and Blood of Christ are strangely absent.

To most of Protestant Christianity, the Eucharist is a symbol; while some believe that Christ becomes somehow present in the elements of bread and wine, only Catholicism (and Orthodoxy) believe that the elements actually become Body and Blood. But in this hymn, we have only a symbol:

Welcome the symbols
Feasting and telling;
Signs of thanksgiving,
Signs of indwelling
(James Hansen: "Bless the Feast". Text © 1988 Oregon Catholic Press [OCP] Publications).

Welcome the symbols? Surely this is more than a symbol. Yet in another hymn we find only a meal, and symbols yet again:

We bring the bread and wine to share a meal
Sign of grace and mercy
The presence of the Lord
(Marty Haugen: "We Remember". Text © 1980 GIA Publications).

A sign of the presence of the Lord. Is that all there is? Similarly, in "Bread, Blessed and Broken" we find no reference to Body, Blood, Presence, or sacrifice:

Bread, blessed and broken for us all
Symbol of your love, from the grain so tall
(Michael Lynch: "Bread, Blessed and Broken". Text © 1978, 1979 Raven Music; published in OCP Publications).

The aspect of symbolism is now enlarged upon in some current hymn texts. The bread is a sign not of Christ, but of something else entirely, as is the wine. For example:

Here we will take the wine and the water
Here we will take the bread of new birth
Give us to drink the wine of compassion
(Marty Haugen: "Gather Us In". Text © 1982 GIA Publications).

Bread is re-birth, wine is compassion? They may be something else again, as in this hymn:

You are the bread of peace
You are the wine of joy
(Bernadette Farrell: "Bread of Life". Text © 1982, 1987 Bernadette Farrell; published by OCP Publications).

Joyful wine? This extended symbolism continues in a text by Jerry Brubaker:

We eat the bread of teaching,
Drink wine of wisdom
(Jerry Brubaker: "Wisdom’s Feast". Text © 1998 World Library Publications [WLP]).

Wine of wisdom? What an interesting interpretation! Now, dramatic license is very well and good, but a steady diet of questionable interpretation can only serve to erase the true meaning of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

This extended interpretation is carried even farther in this Wisdom’s Feast: here we learn that it is not Christ giving His Body and Blood, but Wisdom – the gnostic concept of Sophia! – giving us bread and wine.

Wisdom calls throughout the city
Knows our hunger and in pity
Gives her loving invitation
To the banquet of salvation

Simple ones whose hearts are yearning
Come and gain from Wisdom’s learning
Bread and wine she is preparing
Know her loving in the sharing
(Jerry Brubaker: "Wisdom’s Feast". Text © 1998 WLP).

Perhaps reading Gnosticism into this is unfair; perhaps this is only a feminine pronoun for God, inclusive language run amok? At any rate, the concept of Wisdom preparing bread and wine for a banquet is rather far removed from orthodoxy. The Eucharist, one must repeat, is the gift of bread and wine that become – through the act of consecration, through the sacrifice of Calvary prefigured in the Last Supper – the Body and Blood. But according to another current hymn, it is the reverse:

Here is a living sign:
That one man’s dying and rising
Becomes our bread and wine
(Jack Miffleton: "Give Thanks and Remember". Text and music © 1975 WLP).

Here we are told that death and resurrection become bread and wine. And is it Christ’s death and resurrection? The text only refers to Him as "one man". Regardless, actions cannot become elements: death does not become bread. Through Christ’s death the bread becomes His Body, but how are Catholics to know that, given the texts they are given to sing?

Indeed, according to David Haas, the reverse is true: Christ becomes bread.

(verse 3) He chose to give of Himself
Became our bread
(David Haas: "Now We Remain". Text © 1983 GIA Publications).

Moreover, we are to become bread and wine, as the hymn continues:

(verse 4) We are the presence of God
This is our call
Now to become bread and wine
Food for the hungry
Life for the weary
(David Haas: "Now We Remain". Text © 1983 GIA Publications).

Another popular hymn repeats that we become bread:

Bread for the world,
A world of hunger
Wine for all peoples:
People who thirst
May we who eat be bread for others
May we who drink pour out our love
(Bernadette Farrell: "Bread for the World". Text © Bernadette Farrell, 1990, published by OCP).

This confusion continues as some hymns now tell us that we are to become the bread of life:

I myself am the bread of life
You and I are the bread of life
Taken and blessed, broken and shared by Christ.
(verse 2) This is our body
This is our blood
Living sign of God in Christ
(Rory Cooney: "Bread of Life". Text © 1987 NALR, published by OCP Publications).

So, are we all involved in this act of consecration? This is our blood? Is it any wonder Catholics are confused? It is only Jesus Christ who is the Bread of Life! And that bread is His Body, that wine becomes His Blood.

More confusion occurs in this hymn:
When we eat this bread
And when we drink this cup
We share this love
We become the body of Jesus
(Scott Soper: "Gift of New Life". Text © Scott Soper 1993, 1997. Published by OCP Publications).

Yes, we are all part of the mystical Body of Christ. But in texts like this one, with no reference to the fact that bread becomes the Body of Christ, the impression is given that we are the ones involved in the act of transubstantiating.

Here it is once again:
Bread of Life and cup of promise
In this meal we all are one
In our dying and our rising
May your kingdom come
(David Haas: "Song of the Body of Christ". © 1989 GIA Publications).

 Just who, one must ask, is the Deity here? Are we all priests, are we all gods?

To be your bread now,
To be your wine now,
Lord come and change us
To be a sign of your love
(David Haas: "To be Your Bread". Text © 1981, 1982 David Haas. Published by Cooperative Ministries, Inc. Exclusive agent: OCP Publications).

So, we are changed into bread and wine by the Lord?

A constant diet of these symbolic and reversal texts, without explanations, without mention of sacrifice, Body, Blood, Eucharist, can only erode the understanding and belief in Catholic doctrine. Here is another:

This bread we do consume
It does no longer taste of bitter herbs
Nor of unleavened bread
It is the bread of a land promised us where we shall be set free
(Didier Rimuad, translated by Christopher Willcock: "In Remembrance of You". Text © 1988 Christopher Willcock, S.J., Published by OCP Publications).

 Ah, but the fact is, the host does still taste of unleavened bread. As Thomas Aquinas wrote, our senses deceive us here. And, no longer unleavened bread, is it now the Body of Christ? No, the song tells us: it is still bread: bread of a land of freedom. This is repeated about the wine in verse 2:

This wine we hold dear
It does no longer taste of bitter springs
Nor of dark, salty pools,
It is the wine of a promised land
Where we shall be made whole
(Didier Rimuad, translated by Christopher Willcock: "In Remembrance of You". Text © 1988 Christopher Willcock, S.J., Published by OCP Publications).

At this point, those of us who still believe in Transubstantiation should want to stand up and hurl those little paperback hymnals out the window.

Marty Haugen and many others whose music appear in Catholic worship aids are not Catholic; their interpretation of the Eucharist cannot be ours. Yet even Catholic writers completely miss the point. The sacrifice, they write, is rather only a banquet in which we are fed, which in turns prompts us to feed the hungry, a call to social action:

Come to the banquet
Come, come to the feast
Here the hungry find plenty
(verse 3) In the thirst for justice we share
Christ is here in the breaking of the bread
(Bob Hurd: "Come to the Feast". Text © 1994, 1995 Bob Hurd and Pia Moriarity. Published by OCP Publications).

Observe the wording: Christ is here in the breaking of the bread. We have Jesus as a guest at dinner, not as priest and victim. One imagines Him paternally watching over us as we break bread, plain bread, as we gird ourselves to social activism.

The hymn commissioned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for the Eucharistic Congress of 1976 is so popular that it even appears in the current Presbyterian Hymnal. Yet the text speaks only of "gift of wheat", "bread of life". The true gift is not wheat, but the gift of Christ Himself. Finally, in verse 3 is found this reference:

Is not the cup we bless and share
The Blood of Christ outpoured?
Do not one cup, one loaf declare
Our oneness in the Lord?
(Omer Westendorf: "Gift of Finest Wheat". Text and music © Archdiocese of Philadelphia).

There is no reference to the Body of Christ, however. Vague as the text is, it is understandable that it could easily be adopted in Protestant hymnals.

Yet there are texts that come to us from Protestant churches that are most appropriate. For example:

Lord, sup with us in love divine
Your Body and Your Blood
That living bread, that heavenly wine
Be our immortal food.
(James Montgomery 1771-1854: "Shepherd of Souls").

And another, most appropriate hymn:
Draw near and take the Body of the Lord
And drink the Holy Blood for you outpoured
(John Mason Neale 1818-1866: "Coena Domino", 1851)

This is actually a translation and adaptation of an earlier Latin hymn, and the sentiment is unabashedly Catholic.

Of course, there is the exquisite, mystical text of "Adoro te devote" by Saint Thomas Aquinas:

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas
Godhead here in hiding whom I do adore
(verse 2) Visus, tactus gustus, in te fallitur
Seeing, touching, tasting, are in Thee deceived
(Saint Thomas Aquinas 1225-1275: "Adoro te devote". Translation by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. 1844-1889).

This mystical text tells us that the true God is hidden in the forms of bread and wine, deceiving the senses, and yet we believe, for God Himself has told us:

(verse 2) Credo quid quid dixit Dei Filius
Nil hoc verbo veritatis verius.
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true
(Saint Thomas Aquinas 1225-1275: "Adoro te devote". Translation by Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. 1844-1889).

If we are to teach orthodox belief in the Eucharist, we must sing texts that reflect that belief. Here is one, from a priest who converted to Catholicism from the Church of England:

(verse 4) For this is God, the very God
Who has both men and angels made
Sweet Sacrament, we thee adore
O make us love thee more and more!
(Father Frederick Faber 1814-1863: "Jesus my Lord, my God, my All").

The hymn Anima Christi gives us this reference:

Body of Jesus, be my saving guest
Blood of my Savior, bathe me in thy tide
("Anima Christi": attributed to Pope John XXII 1249-1334, translator unknown.)

"O Lord I am not Worthy" is based on a text present in the Mass, taken from Scripture, but this worthy hymn is banned in many places because it is deemed demeaning to the congregants. Yet the fact is, if this is truly the Body and Blood, none of us can be worthy to receive. This traditional hymn re-affirms the Catholic belief:

(verse 4) Increase my faith, dear Jesus
In thy Real Presence here
(text: "O Herr ich bin nicht werdig", translator unknown, Landshuter Gesängbuch of 1777; based on "Domine, non sum dignus" text.)

 Only by purging our churches of questionable texts and by insisting on hymns that correctly state the nature of the Eucharist can we hope to restore belief in the Real Presence. Only by emphasizing the Sacrifice rather than the supper can we bring to this sacrament the reverence it deserves.


Dr. Carroll is organist/choral director at the Carmelite Monastery, Philadelphia; associate professor at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, and Scholar in Residence, PHMC, Ephrata.



Lucy E. Carroll

Lucy Carroll, organist and choir director at the Carmelite monastery in Philadelphia, teaches at the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. She frequently contributes essays on Catholic music to AB, and is the creator of the “Churchmouse Squeaks” cartoons regularly featured in these pages. In Memoriam: Dr. Lucy E. Carroll, DMA