1 Break now the bread of life, dear Lord, to me,
as once you broke the loaves beside the sea.
Beyond the sacred page I seek you, Lord;
my spirit waits for you, O living Word.
2 Bless your own word of truth, dear Lord, to me,
as when you blessed the bread by Galilee.
Then shall all bondage cease, all fetters fall;
and I shall find my peace, my All in all!
3 You are the bread of life, dear Lord, to me,
your holy word the truth that rescues me.
Give me to eat and live with you above;
teach me to love your truth, for you are love.
4 O send your Spirit now, dear Lord, to me,
that he may touch my eyes and make me see.
Show me the truth made plain within your Word,
for in your book revealed I see you, Lord.
Psalter Hymnal, 1987
|First Line:||Break thou the bread of life|
|Title:||Break Thou the Bread of Life|
|Author:||Mary A. Lathbury (1877)|
|Liturgical Uses:||Communion Songs, Songs of Illumination|
st. 1-2 = Matt. 14:13-21
st. 3 = John 6:33-35
st. 4 = Matt. 9:27-30, Matt. 20:30-34
Mary A. Lathbury (b. Manchester, NY, 1841; d. East Orange, 1913) is known primarily for two hymns: this one (originally "Break Thou the Bread of Life") and "Day Is Dying in the West." She wrote both at the request of Bishop John H. Vincent for use in the services of the Chautauqua Assembly, well-known in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a conference center that offered a rich fare of Bible study, Sunday school teaching methods, concerts, and plays. Vincent, the secretary of the Methodist Sunday School Union, founded the Chautauqua Institution on Chautauqua Lake in upper New York State in an effort to educate Sunday school teachers. An assistant to Vincent at the camp, Lathbury was also a well-known writer, editor, and illustrator of children's books. Her literary skills earned her the nickname "Poet Laureate of Chautauqua."
Lathbury wrote stanzas 1 and 2 in 1877; they were first published in Chautauqua Carols (1878). Alexander Groves (b. Newport, Isle of Wight, England, 1842; d. Henleyon-Thames, Oxfordshire, England, 1909) added stanzas 3 and 4 later, and they were first published in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine (London, Sept. 1913). Groves's career included being a grocer and accountant as well as a trustee, auditor, and actuary for the Henley Savings Bank. He served as organist of the Henley Wesleyan Chapel but later in life became a member of the Anglican Church in Henley.
Some expressions in "Break Now the Bread of Life" may not satisfy everyone in the Reformed community, but these verses were not written to define doctrine in sharp detail. They were intended to be used as a simple prayer for illumination for Bible study groups and in the meetings of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. Tradition also calls for the hymn's use during Sunday-evening vespers at the Lake Chautauqua' assembly grounds.
The hymn text draws on biblical images to depict Scripture's role in our lives. Stanzas 1 and 2 recall the breaking and the blessing of the bread at Jesus' feeding of the five thousand. Stanza 3 confesses Christ as the bread of life. Stanza 4 calls for the Spirit's presence and alludes to Christ's healings of various blind people.
A simple prayer for illumination; vespers. (Though it uses the "bread of life" image, this is not ordinarily a hymn for the Lord's Supper.)
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook
The words to this hymn were authored by Mary Lathbury, who often wrote hymns to accompany various parts of the Bible. Eventually known as the “Poet of Chautauqua,” Lathbury was seen as a kind and gentle Christian soul whose creativity was immense. “Break Now the Bread of Life,” is one of her two most widely known hymns. Many have been misled in thinking that this hymn is a reference to the Lord’s Supper, when it is actually centered upon studying God’s word. This hymn can be seen in reference to John 6:35 which reads, “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth in me shall never thirst.” In some hymnals, the third and fourth stanzas are omitted and the text is modernized.
The tune most commonly sung for this hymn is BREAD OF LIFE, specifically written for the text by William F. Sherwin in 1877. The notes are both gentle and reassuring, complimenting Mary Lathbury’s lyrics, and allowing the singer to focus on each word of the hymn. It is a slow, flowing tune, but uplifting nonetheless.
Suggested music for this hymn:
Luke Getz Hymnary.org