Despite a hearty appetite and hot food waiting on the table, many Long Islanders pause for a simple prayer or a blessing before they dig in. This week’s clergy discuss why it’s important to give thanks at mealtime.
Father Thomas A. Cardone
Chaplain, Kellenberg Memorial High School, Uniondale:
Why do we pray before meals, or why do we pray before anything for that matter? The simple answer is it is important for us to express gratitude. One of the most fundamental moral attitudes is that of gratitude. In fact, one of the things I have preached about at Kellenberg Memorial on a regular basis is “the attitude of gratitude.” Gratitude is essential because it helps us to become real and remain humble in the eyes of God. In an age of personal independence, the act of gratitude, the prayer of grace before meals makes us aware that we depend on a loving God who cares for us every step of the way for everything.
Saint Paul says, “Give thanks to God in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and “is not everything you have a gift from God?” (1 Corinthians 4:7) Second, gratitude is a reminder that we are always in relationship with God and with each other. We all must embrace the modern challenge to say yes to the journey from independence to interdependence. In grace before meals we acknowledge our interdependence on God and our brothers and sisters. We thank God for the food we receive, we thank those who have prepared our food and we pray that we be more mindful of the poor, the hungry and those who have died. Our relationship with God and others lasts forever. And so in the Catholic tradition we pray, “Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.”
The Very Rev. Christopher D. Hofer
Rector, The Church of St. Jude (Episcopal) Wantagh:
There were several nonnegotiable duties in my family growing up. They included things like washing hands, brushing teeth, making beds, saying “please” and “thank you,” and putting away toys. The biggest nonnegotiable was to always pray before any meal. This isn’t surprising since my father is a Lutheran pastor. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther’s “Small Catechism” specifically listed prayers to say before a meal and after a meal. As the prayers were a bit too long for my siblings and me, we simply prayed, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let these gifts, to us be blessed. Amen.”
It is the prayer I continue to pray every day. Praying before meals goes back to our Jewish roots, where specific prayers were offered before meals. Each prayer begins with “Baruch atah Adonai,” which means, “We praise you eternal God.” Throughout Jesus’ life, he prayed before eating, giving thanks for the bounties in life. Even at Jesus’ last supper, a Passover meal, we see Jesus praying; “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples” (Matthew 26:26a-b). Praying before any meal, no matter the length, offers to God thanksgiving for the food we are to eat, asks God to help nourish us with sustenance so that we may serve others, and finally, it reminds us to pray for those who have little or no food and seek out ways to do something about it.
Dr. Hafiz Rehman
Trustee of the board, Masjid Darul Quran: The Muslim Center of Long Island, Bay Shore:
The urge to glorify God — Allah — is natural to all creation, be it humans or birds or flora or mountains. The loving God who made us all and cherishes and sustains us all, has taught his creations how to praise Him and celebrate His glory. Man realizes the bounty of God that He has bestowed on you at each moment of your life and responds both spontaneously and in creative ways in thankfulness to his Lord. The sustenance of every creature is vouchsafed by Him alone from the moment of inception to the last breath. So why wouldn’t man be spontaneously thankful and praiseworthy of His Majesty when his sustenance appears on the plate. “Bismillah” — “In the name of Allah” — is taught to every single Muslim child as one of his first words. Muslims will utter this hundreds of times a day, not only before anything passing past their lips — be it a drink or a snack or a full meal — but before any act that they are going to perform all day long. The prayer before a meal can be individual or collective as a family sits on the meal table. This is the etiquette of the Muslim meal. God is praised again at the end of the meal in true thankfulness. God has provided you with food, lodging, love and friendship and good health to enjoy the bounty of so many different kinds of meals and foods and drinks — your provision dispensed in wise measure by Him alone. My palms are never empty, and I look upwards to the heavens in submission to your steady nurturing care.