“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.”
That was the mealtime prayer I grew up with in my God-filled Lutheran home. Other mealtime prayers were offered on occasion, such as my preschool favorite about the Lord’s goodness in the sun, the rain, and the apple tree. Do you remember that catchy tune and the round of “Amens” at its conclusion?
When I met my future husband, he introduced me to the prayer he grew up with in his Catholic home.
Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Now, although our family periodically has “open mic” prayer before meals where we speak spontaneously from the heart, we most often pray the traditional Catholic mealtime prayer of my husband’s youth.
Why Mealtime Prayer?
Prayer before meals could possibly be the most widely practiced prayer. Its deep meaning is often overlooked because of its familiarity and repetition. Not to mention the distraction of the food that we could eat if we could just get through the prayer. I’ve prayed tens of thousands of mealtime prayers. I know I’ve missed their deep truths more times than I’d like to count. Considering that such prayer offers an opportunity to give praise and thanks to God, the Provider of everything, and to make space for Him and all others at the table, I believe it’s worth reflecting on its beauty.
Mealtime Prayer in Scripture
Whoever observes the day, observes it for the Lord. Also whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; while whoever abstains, abstains for the Lord and gives thanks to God. -Romans 14:6
In Scripture, Jesus teaches us many forms of prayer. He showed us how to bless and give thanks for our food.
[Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. -Matthew 14:19
What Mealtime Prayer Produces in Our Souls
Mealtime prayer is one of the most accessible and brief forms of prayer. As such, its beauty can seem inferior to what we might consider deeper forms for prayer. If we allow it, however, it can carry us far beyond gratitude for food.
In giving thanks for a meal, we may consider the natural resources that nurtured the food, the people who grew it, those who designed and operated the machines that harvested and transported it, the vendors who sold it, our gifts that enable us to earn resources to pay for it, those who prepared it, those who served it, the time to eat it, the body to enjoy and be fueled by it, the presence of all others at the table or the peaceful solitude of eating alone, and the gifts of every person involved in all those things who collaborated with God to bring about the food on the table in front of us. And in our gratitude, we hold close to us those who hunger.
The Last Supper + Communion
If we’re willing to go further, it is an opportunity to recall the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples before he died for us. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body” (Matthew 26:26).
Our meals are not a participation the Eucharist. But when we break bread together and share a blessing, we can spiritually commune with God for a quiet moment before we commune together at the table. It’s a most beautiful place: around the table with Jesus, the Holy Spirit, our Father and the others with us. Beyond our place of food and drink, we withdraw to the depths of our hearts to sit with our living God, the Provider of it all. It is a taste of the eternal celebration to come.
Mealtime Prayer as Evangelization
Mealtime prayer need not be confined to our homes. Our family has not always been committed to praying together before meals at restaurants. However, the same God provides the food, no matter where we’re sitting when we eat it. He’s teaching us courage to pray in new places. Prayer in public should not be about the piety of the one praying. It is all about the One providing. If it is seen by others, perhaps the Lord might grow fruit from it.
In some workspaces and other secular settings, a prayer might not be spoken before a meal. But a prayer in your heart is always heard by God. In circumstances when I am uncertain about whether to offer a spoken prayer, I pray for the courage to invite others to pray with me and the wisdom to know when it might not be God’s time to do so. I have prayed for forgiveness for the opportunities I have missed to share God’s love through prayer.
Prayer and Endless Grace
All prayer is a precious gift. A grace. An eternally open and accessible lifeline to our Lord. Trying to grasp it can be like trying to shovel smoke. And like the smoke that rises in wild patterns from the incense we burn at Mass, our mealtime prayers rise to God and He gathers into His arms every single thought, word, and detail.
May the mealtime prayer that your family shares take you to a place of gratitude and unity with Our Lord and each other. Perhaps you or someone you know hasn’t made a commitment to pray at mealtimes. Today is a good time to start.The Importance of Mealtime Prayer #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Nikki Frerker is a wife and mother of four who lives in Leawood, Kansas. She spends a portion of her time practicing estate planning law and enjoys serving as a catechist for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at her parish. You may find her running before the sun rises, driving her children around at all hours, or singing praise music just loud enough to embarrass anyone willing to listen.