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Friday, July 7, 2017

SongStories 50: (I Myself Am the) Bread of Life (Mystery, 1987; Change Our Hearts, 2000, OCP)

(I Myself Am the) Bread of Life is dedicated to the people of St. Jerome Parish, Phoenix, Arizona. When I was writing this song, it must have been a Mark (B) year in the lectionary, probably mid-1985. I remember sitting with the leaders (late high school, college age and some adults) of the youth group, talking with them about the Eucharist, and what an expansive theology of real presence was available to us in our tradition, and that we ourselves are the bread of life for other people, not because of anything we did, but because in baptism it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us, by the presence of the Holy Spirit. They told me to write a song about that, so I did.

We were still in the midst of a kind of liturgical renaissance in Phoenix at that time. We had been blessed with some kind and enlightened liturgical leadership over the years in Phoenix, notably by people like the late Sr. Anthony Poerio, IBVM, who headed the Office of Worship for many years, and also (Fr.) Michael Martinez, who oversaw liturgy at the Cathedral of Ss. Simon and Jude, where I had directed the choir for a time. Daniel (now Rev. Cyprian) Consiglio and Fr. Dale Fushek had done fine work at St. Jerome's in the early 1980s, as had Fr. Bob Voss and others. The Franciscans at the Casa de Paz y Bien, or the Franciscan Renewal Center (FRC), as well as many of the local clergy were trying to do imaginative things with the liturgy. But what really reconnected Phoenix liturgy with the heart of the tradition as well as with the art community in the city was the arrival of John Gallen, SJ, as liturgy director at the FRC, and his subsequent hiring of Gary Daigle as music director, followed very quickly by his establishment of a "liturgical center" in a downtown Phoenix mall that he called "The Corpus Christi Center for Advanced Liturgical Study." Gallen, in collaboration with the diocese, offered there a two-year certification in liturgy, and brought in some of the real lights of the renewal to teach classes: Virgil Funk, Kevin Irwin, Robert Taft, SJ, Austin Fleming, Fr. Ronald Pachence, John Baldovin, SJ, and Robert Rambusch among many others. John's classes opened up my heart, already full of delight with the liturgy and liturgical music, to new insights and an even deeper theological grounding. It was from this matrix that the songs from Mystery arose, and everything that I've written since.

Since I've written more about this song than probably any other song, I don't see any reason to change my mind about it! Early in the life of this blog, I wrote a couple of posts called "Theological Tempests in Musical Teapots," one of which was devoted to "Bread of Life." I won't rehash what's in that article here, but if you  want a survey of the kinds of things written to and about me regarding this song, and my response, you can click the link. The purpose of the "Tempests" post wasn't to talk about the origin and use of the song, but to answer some of the angry and divisive polemic leveled against it over the years. As I said there, if your pastor or a vocal group of well-meaning parishioners has an issue with the song and are not persuaded by our appeal to scripture, the liturgy, Saints Paul and Augustine, there's no use causing a rift in the community or losing sleep yourself over a dumb song. Just sing something else. I'm grateful beyond words to both NALR for publishing it originally and OCP for continuing to include it in their worship aids up to the present day, under the watchful eye of the BCDW.

Since the song was published, I have written verses that use language and imagery from the "Bread of Life" Sundays in Year B, but of course they may be useful to you at any time, if your communion processions take longer than the original three verses provide for. If you'd like to see those verses, there is a graphic available for download here for assembly, and a PDF of the choral parts here. I think I might have altered the choral parts a little accidentally: just fix them up the way to which you're accustomed.

Bread of Life page at OCP

(I Myself Am the) Bread of Life 
by Rory Cooney 

I myself am the bread of life.
You and I are the bread of life,
Taken and blessed,
Broken and shared by Christ
That the world might live.

This bread is spirit, gift of the Maker's love,
And we who share it know that we can be one,
A living sign of God in Christ.

Here is God's kingdom given to us as food.
This is our body, this our blood,
A living sign of God in Christ.

Lives broken open, stories shared aloud,
Become a banquet, a shelter for the world,
A living sign of God in Christ.

Supplemental verses written in 2012

Full cup of blessing, free as the rain and sun,
Is passed among us, gathering all to one,
A living sign of God in Christ.

We, like Elijah, hunted, afraid, alone,
Receive in slumber food for the path unknown,
A living sign of God in Christ.

Taste Wisdom's table, spread with the richest fare.
The poor and simple dine at her calling there,
A living sign of God in Christ.

Sent from this banquet, strength in our hearts restored,
We go together, summoned to serve the Lord,
A living sign of God in Christ.

Copyright © 1987, 2009 by NALR, published by OCP, Portland, Oregon. All rights reserved.