It’s appropriate for the Easter season to have a solid post-conciliar favorite, possibly the most well-known setting of the Bread of Life discourse ever penned. By the “luck” of the draw, Sr Suzanne Toolan’s Eucharistic song is paired against what seems to be the third- or fourth-favorite Christmas song in the English-speaking world. And that’s curious, because the melody is French and the refrain is in Latin.
Suzanne Toolan is not a one-hit wonder. Other tunes of hers deserve wider notice than they get, I would say. Some of her published compositions have shifted to the Taizé style.
Personally, I feel I’ve come full circle on her setting of John 6. Perhaps like the Lord, it gets under one’s skin, and undoubtedly, no Catholic can escape the words, in whichever p/Person they are placed. The song, tune and text especially, reflect deep faith. What I used to dislike mildly as being a tired old chestnut, I now gladly embrace. If a song like this gets tired and old, my thought these days is to blame lame accompaniment, not the sense of the faithful. Unlike some church musicians. The usual CMAA suspects are particularly snarky about it–no idea why that sad discussion thread came up number ten on my google search.
As for the Christmas song, a British web site gives this brief history:
The English translation of this carol was originally by James Chadwick, the Roman Catholic bishop of Hexham and Newcastle. It was first published, alongside the English tune, in The Holy Family Hymns in 1860. It became popular in the West Country, with R.R. Chope describing it as ‘Cornish’ and the carol appearing in Pickard-Cambridge’s Collection of Dorset Carols.
Although some early descriptions such as by J.P. Migne in 1867 stated that the original French carol was an ‘old noel from Lorraine’, many contend that it in fact dates from either the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. The first printed appearance was in Abbe Lambillottee’s Choix de cantigues sur des airs nouveaux in 1842, and interviews with elderly French-Canadian singers for a 1907 book by Ernest Myrand found that non remember the carol from their childhood, but remember it becoming popular only in the 1840s.