I’ve never been very good at saying grace.
Scrap that, I’ve always been dreadful at praying grace before meals, particularly with my family. They aren’t practicing Christians so we never did it.
When I fell head over heels in love with Christ, a lot of things changed — but saying grace before meals wasn’t one of them.
I thought about it… But it just felt way too weird. I was afraid of weirding out my family. I was afraid of feeling like an idiot. For the past few months though, I’ve been saying grace. Before meal. With my family. So far, no one has died, nothing has fallen apart, the Anti-Christ hasn’t descended… yet. I’m not sure what my younger brother (aka My Favourite Atheist) thinks. Sure, he said something like, “#%&* ARE YOU SERIOUS? NO. %*#. NO. NO PLEASE DON’T DO THAT. WE ARE NOT ALL PRAYING.”
But really, that could mean anything! ;)
It All Began with Chocolate
It all started when I was talking to two amazing Catholic Christians I’d just met. Mid-conversation, one of them stopped, made the Sign of the Cross, silently prayed grace, and made the Sign of the Cross again.
Wait a minute, thought I, he just said grace…
It wasn’t dinner. I mean, it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It wasn’t even afternoon tea. There was no cake, no scones, no biscuits. There certainly weren’t any cucumber sandwiches or anything you’d expect at a proper afternoon tea.
No, it was three or four — maybe five at a stretch — M&Ms.
I think I burst out laughing.
There was just something so incongruous about saying grace over M&Ms. The reverence of grace and the gifts in question: a tiny handful of brightly coloured chocolates.
The more I thought about it, though, the more beautiful it became. As Christians, we should thank God for everything we receive. St Paul said, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Th 5:18) All things. Plus, M&Ms are pretty great.
Saying Grace is a Eucharist
Then it hit me: praying grace at meals is basically a little eucharist.
Our supreme act of worship is the Eucharist, which is a thanksgiving.
This sacrament… is called Eucharist, because it is an action of thanksgiving to God. The Greek words eucharistein and eulogein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God’s works: creation, redemption, and sanctification. (CCC #1328)
The Jewish blessings referred to is the Berakah. Before the meal began, the father or presider would pray a blessing, break bread and share it among those present. After the meal was over, he’d pray another (longer) blessing, take a cup of wine and again share it with those present.
This is what Christ did at the Last Supper and our Eucharistic liturgy still reflects this reality. As the Roman Canon has it,
On the day before he was to suffer, he took bread in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying…
In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took this precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands, and once more giving you thanks, he said the blessing and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying…
When we pray over our food then, giving thanks to God for all we have received, we are echoing the Eucharist, the most precious meal we can ever have and the one without which we cannot live. (Jn 6:53-57)
Every time we say grace over food, we are eating eucharistically. We are making a little eucharist that points to the true Eucharist. Whenever St Margaret Mary (I think it was her!) would eat, she would unite each mouthful to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
Something to Chew Over
All this got me thinking.
If this guy can say grace over four or five measly M&Ms, shouldn’t I be able to summon up the courage to say grace at dinner with my family?
That night, I told my parents that I would say grace from now on. I’d do it silently but I was going to do it.
To my shock, they liked the idea and always wondered why I never did so before. They felt bad for “stopping” me. I couldn’t believe it. All this time, I’d been guiltily avoiding saying grace, telling myself that my family wouldn’t like it and using that as an excuse because I was too embarrassed and lazy to get into good habits. And the whole time, they’d been wondering why I didn’t want to pray grace.
So now we say grace before dinner.
Sometimes silently, sometimes out loud. I love it. They like it. And all because some guy I’d just met said grace over a couple of M&Ms.
The moral of this story? Say grace.
Pray it boldly, pray it joyously, pray it reverently. Pray it aloud and pray it silently. Pray it at the “right” moments and at the “wrong” moments. Pray it over roast dinners and m&ms and porridge and cupcakes and cucumbers. Pray it giving thanks to Christ, the Bread of Life and the True Vine, for “unless we eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, we have no life.” (Jn 6:53)
And pray it because you never know who might be giving thanks for your giving thanks.