Bread of Life Hymn: Notes from its composer

Sister Suzanne Toolan, composer of the well-known hymn “I Am the Bread of Life,” celebrates her 80th birthday

Full article…

Happy Birthday Sister Toolan.

Unfortunately, the good Sister allowed the PC crowd to change the words of her song, from;

“unless the Father draws him,” to “unless the Father beckons,” which makes no sense.

I stopped using the song after the hymnals made the change.


I didn’t know about that. It certainly changes the theology.

With age, it becomes difficult to read the small print of hymnals. So I just sing the words as I remember them, before PC arrived. Also my hearing is poor so I may be a bit loud at times. :smiley:

Amen! My personal crusade regards the PC changes made to “We Are The Light of the World” hymn. Talk about changing theology, the new version is not Catholic IMO.

Actually, the article indicated that Sister herself decided that the inspired words of scripture were unacceptable. It also said that it was not well received after its premiere and headed for the trash can when someone took it to a seminary, and the rest is history (herstory?).

I have memories of being the cantor at First Communion Masses where the teachers stood behind me during this song waving their arms as if throwing beach balls into the air during the refrain, presumably raising someone up.

And I’ll never forget the day I discovered this miserable song in the Episcopal hymnal and nearly died of embarrassment. As the only Catholic in the choir, I was deeply ashamed that this song represented Catholicism in the hymnal.


I’m tempted to make a comment about active participation. :wink:

I no longer include this hymn when I’m asked to plan music for Masses precisely because of the translation debacle. She does have another nice one, which hasn’t been too mangled, “Leave All Things Behind”. Of course, the title lends itself to wanting to leave all 70s “liturgical” (and I use the word lightly) music behind.

How AWESOME!! That is my ALL TIME favorite hymn - thanks for posting this! :bounce: I don’t care what anyone says, I will always love this song, it brings tears to my eyes everytime I hear it. DH and I had this song played at our wedding.

A beautiful hymn, direct from scripture (it WAS better before the language change)
Another hymn that was just beautiful was “Cry of the Poor” which used to affirm that God hears the cry of the poor. But now the linguistic tricks to get around the masculine pronouns are so convoluted that it seems to ask “Who will hear the cry of the poor?”

I have memories of being the cantor at First Communion Masses where the teachers stood behind me during this song waving their arms as if throwing beach balls into the air during the refrain, presumably raising someone up.

They were probably raising their hands in prayer. It is an ancient gesture of prayer and praise.

I too believe this is a beautiful hymn and catch myself singing along - against my better judgement. This song puts us in the person of our Father. Is that really the way to sing hymns to the praise and glory of His name?

But in liturgy, when it’s not prescribed, you don’t do it. Feel free to do it in private.

I deeply regret the inclusive language changes to the hymn. Also, the fact that Sister is not wearing a habit in her picture is a problem for me.

But when sung, it isn’t always easy to distinguish a period from a question mark, especially when the phrase beginning with the relative pronoun is also the last phrase of the sentence.

Actually I didn’t like “I am the Bread of Life” because it is too demanding for singing. Not many people are blessed with the ability to reach such high notes.

The modernised version with all the “you” sounds silly to me. Who is the “you” refering to? I always sing the original texts loudly, cannot stand stupidities like that.

I’m not sure if I read this in the article, “The Hidden Hand behind Bad Church Music” by J.A. Tucker or the book, “Why Catholics Don’t Sing” (author escapes me at the moment), but “you” here should refer to us. The lyrics for “I am the Bread of Life” are taken from St. John’s Eucharistic discourse and the speaker is Jesus. However, the correct translation should be “He who comes to me shall not hunger and he who believes in me shall not thirst. No one can come to me, unless the Father draw him.” This is taken directly from scripture. When the new translation came out, it completely threw everything out.

Furthermore, the USCCB, in their powerpoint document on music, found many new translations of older hymns substantially deficient because they mangled the original meaning. While the powerpoint discussed “Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”, the same tone can be taken for “I am the Bread of Life” and “The Cry of the Poor.”

Indeed, the reference should be to faithful believers, but “you” doesn’t seem that inclusive.

Maybe somewhere out there, some “brillant” mind would have thought of this new variation:

"Jesus is the Bread of Life.
We who come to him (alternative: God) shall not hunger.
We who believe in him (alt: God) shall not thirst.
No one can go to him (alt: God), unless the Father (alt: Godself) draws us.

And he (alt: God) shall raise us up (x3) on the last day."

Doesn’t take a lot to mangle hymns up to produce those trite stuff that is published in the US. Why should we even be made to pay for those ****?

I do object to deleting any references to “Him” because this pronoun refers to Jesus. Furthermore, in another thread, I posted that the USCCB ran a poll on a random sample of hymns in use today and they found that a mere 10% refered to God as “Father”. The gist of their commentary regarding this was that if Jesus, Himself, referred to God as “Father”, then we should not be tinkering with His own words.

Other than that, I do agree with your comments. Besides, OCP owns the copyrights to 10,000 songs and they keep pushing new stuff each year. I dread what they will present us with come Advent.

I really don’t mind changing the pronouns when the pronouns refer to the faithful. For example, changing “I will raise him up” to “I will raise you up” is not that big of a deal. However, when people try to change the pronouns that refer to God, this becomes a problem.

As for the song itself, this is a beautiful song that I hate to sing because I am a tenor cantor. The only way I can get the lower notes out clearly is when I have a cold. And when I am healthy, I just keep “I am the bread of” at the same note. I can’t remember off hand, but I think that it goes down to a B-flat or an A. That’s just too low.

The best thing we could ever do for the state of Catholic music in this country is to break the stranglehold now enjoyed by OCP (“Obsolete Countercultural Pablum”).

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