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Grace at Meals

Early formula dates to the fourth century

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Grace at Meals. — In Apostolic times St. Paul counsels the faithful: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor., x, 31). This precept did not cease to be observed. “Before taking nourishment”, says Clement of Alexandria, “it is fitting to praise the Creator of all things, and it is fitting also to sing His praises when we take as nourishment the things created by Him” (Pied., II, iv). Tertullian, a contemporary of Clement, shows us the Christians of the beginning of the third century making the sign of the cross on taking their places at table (De cor. milit., iii). “Our repasts”, says he, referring to the Agape, “are in nothing vile or immodest. We do not recline until we have prayed to God. In like manner prayer concludes the feast” (Apol., xxxi). Christian archaeology has collected a large number of cup-bases on which may be read a short prayer, e.g. “Drink in Christ”, “Drink piously”, “To the worthiest of friends, drink and live with all thine and in thy turn make a toast.”

One of the most ancient formulae of prayer at meals is found in a treatise of the fourth century, attributed without foundation to Saint Athanasius. Having made the sign of the cross, the prayer followed: “We give Thee thanks, our Father, for the holy Resurrection which Thou hast manifested to us through Jesus, Thy Son; and even as this bread which is here on this table was formerly scattered abroad and has been made compact and one, so may Thy Church be reunited from the ends of the earth for Thy Kingdom, for Thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Apart from its intrinsic interest this formula possesses a certain importance because it reproduces in part the formula of the “Didache“. The prayer said on rising from table is a little longer: “The merciful and compassionate Lord has given nourishment to those who fear Him. Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, now and forever and throughout the ages. Almighty God and Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose name is above all names, we give Thee thanks and praise Thee because Thou hast deigned to give us a portion of Thy goods and nourishment for our body. We pray and beseech Thee to give us in like manner heavenly nourishment. Make us fear and reverence Thy terrible and glorious name, and grant that we may never disobey Thy precepts. Write in our hearts Thy law and Thy justice. Sanctify our mind, our soul, and our body through Thy clear Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord. To Whom with Thee belongs glory, dominion, honor, and adoration For ever and ever. Amen.”

It is not difficult to find examples in the writings of the Fathers of the Church, in the collections of canons, and in the liturgical books, notably in the Gelasian Sacramentary and the Bobbio Sacramentary (Muratori, “Liturgia Romana vetus”, I, col. 745; II, col. 949). In the Roman Liturgy the Benedicite and the Graces are compositions in which Psalms cxliv and xxxiii are utilized, several versicles being omitted. From the most ancient times Psalm xxxiii has been preeminently the Communion psalm. At the midday meal Ps. 1 is recited, in the evening Ps. cxvi. The origin of these formulae is monastic, hence the pious commemoration of benefactors.

On the chief liturgical feasts: Easter, Pentecost, etc., a selection of verses recalling the solemnity of the day is substituted for the formulae in use at ordinary times. See also Thanksgiving.

H. LECLERCQ


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