“Let them thank the Lord for his mercy, such wondrous deeds for the children of Adam. For he satisfied the thirsty, filled the hungry with good things. —Psalm 107:8-9
Got ten seconds? Then you have time to say one of the most familiar prayers in the world: grace before meals. Seriously. You can do this in about ten seconds—and even that humble act can serve to connect you, however briefly, with the Creator of all you are about to receive.
At every meal, take a moment to quietly pray the words that most of us learned before we were out of our high chairs:
Bless us, O Lord,
and these, thy gifts,
which we are about to receive through thy bounty,
through Christ, our Lord, Amen.
It’s one of the most familiar prayers we Catholics utter—right up there with the Our Father and Hail Mary. But most of us don’t give it more than a passing thought. (Did someone say “passing”? Pass the potatoes! Let’s eat!) But if you are looking for a way to add prayer to your busy life, make those words the first course of every meal.
Before you slice the ham, carve the turkey, ladle the soup, or sprinkle the salt, take a moment to serve up a helping of grace. It’s fallen out of fashion. You rarely see people doing this at a restaurant or at dinner anymore. But try making the saying of grace part of your mealtime ritual. Trust and believe that there is grace in this. Amazing grace. It is the grace that comes from stopping everything you are doing for yourself in order to do something for the Lord: thank him. As you ask him to bless what you are about to eat, consider where this food came from—who it came from—and think for a moment about all that went into the steaming gravy, succulent meat, and buttery vegetables.
Thinking—really think—about what you are saying. Listen to those words as they escape your lips.
“Bless us, O Lord . . .” Father, confer on us your blessing, a generous act of love that we really do not deserve. (Except the pie, of course. Everyone deserves pie.)
“And these, thy gifts . . .” While you’re at it, could you also bless the food sitting before us? (Especially the pie . . . but if broccoli is involved, okay, you can bless that too.) Seeing this food on our table when we know others are going hungry, we realize that this is all part of a harvest you have graciously provided. It is truly a gift.
“Which we are about to receive . . .” The gift has been given, and we are about to accept it into our hearts, and into our bodies. (That sound you hear, Lord, is our stomachs rumbling. Don’t be alarmed. But dinner smells so good.)
“Through thy bounty . . .” But we cannot forget that this meal is here because of your ever-generous creation, your bounty. The food before us is the fruit of the earth you made, the soil you enriched, the seeds you allowed to bud from ripening plants, the creatures you placed on this earth to roam the fields, feed at the rivers, and nest in the trees. It’s all yours. And it is also, in some way, ours (especially the pie).
“Through Christ, our Lord . . .” We ask all this through your beloved Son, our savior and brother, Jesus Christ. (If he were here, we’d be happy to share the pie with him.)
“Amen.” To all that we have asked, and all that we have offered, we can add only one word: Amen. The punctuation at the end of every prayer, the affirmation at the end of every hope. Yes. We seal this with our hearts, and with our assent (and maybe with whipped cream).
Want to vary your prayer life? Other religious traditions have beautiful prayers before meals that share similar sentiments:
• Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen. (Lutheran)
• Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These mercies bless and grant that we may feast in fellowship with thee. Amen. (Methodist)
• O Christ our God, bless the food and drink of your servants, for you are holy, always, now and ever, and forever. Amen. (Byzantine Catholic)
Don’t Just Say It; Pray It
Some families like to improvise the prayer before a meal, or even make an exercise out of it, asking different children to offer the prayer each night. The important thing isn’t who prays, but the sentiment behind it—that those present at the table lift up their hearts in gratitude and charity.
Saying grace is the most effortless prayer we can offer. And we usually forget it before the first forkful leaves the table. But every now and then, it is good to take a moment, take a deep breath, and make every word matter. (It doesn’t hurt, of course, to practice this prayerful self-awareness and thoughtfulness with all forms of prayer that can easily, by repetition, become rote and routine.)
Our lives and our meals are enriched when we don’t just say grace but pray it. Gratitude is itself a kind of prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving (with a small “t”). And what better place to pray in thanksgiving than when gathered around the table?
The German mystic and philosopher Meister Eckhart once wrote, “If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Say “thank you” to God—and not only for the food.
Our gratitude doesn’t end when the prayer stops and we pass around the bread basket. Every beat of your heart affirms an unmistakable mystery: God has given you life. Extravagant, beautiful, painful, challenging life. What a wonder that is!
Let’s embrace God’s blessings wherever we find them, however they come to us. And let’s give thanks for them, every day, in every moment.
Pray not only for what we have, but pray also for those who don’t have. Pray for those who prepared the food—everyone from the farmers who grew it, to the store clerks who stocked it, to whoever prepared and served it.
So try grace before meals. No life can ever be too busy to give, even briefly, a word of thanks to almighty God for something as simple and satisfying as a warm meal and a full stomach—especially in our troubled world where so many are going without.
Take a moment to think about what all these blessings mean. Take a moment to reflect, remember, and pray. You just might find yourself going back for seconds.
Our lives and our meals are enriched when we don’t just say grace, but pray it. Consider the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
Our prayer opens the door to God who teaches us to come out of ourselves constantly, to make us capable of being close to others to bring them comfort, hope and light, especially at moments of trial. May the Lord grant us to be capable of increasingly more intense prayer, in order to strengthen our personal relationship with God the Father, to open our heart to the needs of those beside us.
What matters most when we pray is the quality of even a few prayers, prayed with an awareness of God’s presence, with both understanding and feeling, and with the mind and the heart. If you find yourself struggling to make time for prayer and make a habit of it, here’s a good way to start: grace.
Make a point of saying grace before every meal, wherever you are—at the kitchen table, at McDonald’s, at a fancy French restaurant celebrating a special occasion, anywhere. Take a moment; close your eyes. At a fast-food restaurant? Picture others who have sat at that same plastic table, picking up a burger or fries. Whisper a prayer for those anonymous strangers, whoever they are, wherever they might be. Thank God for that!
Remember this: Jesus’s first miracle took place with wine; later he multiplied loaves and fishes, and he capped his earthly life with the greatest meal of all the night before he died. God clearly saw beauty and something sacred in what people do when gathered around a table. So should we.
You feed me and those I love.
Give me the grace to always thank you.
And help me to remember at this moment others who are hungry.
Those who hunger for food,
but also those who hunger for other things,
like love or friendship or security or dignity.
May your grace help me to remember
those I can so easily forget.
Bless all that I receive
and all those whose work puts food on the table—
the farmers, the cooks, and the servers.
May all of us treasure the bounty you bring us,
including the greatest bounty of all:
Your amazing grace.
This is a selection from The Busy Person’s Guide to Prayer by Deacon Greg Kandra, from The Word Among Us Press (2019). Available at www.wau.org/books