Saying Grace to sanctify food at mealtime generally refers to Christian traditions. But other religions too have their prayers to offer gratitude and invoke God to bless the food to make it more nourishing.
Food is not only a part of every celebration as it brings families together, but it is also essential to life since it sustains our bodies and minds. Actually, even animals and plants need food. But it is only human beings belonging to different religions who from olden times bless their food before consuming it.
In medieval times, after the find or hunt, food was blessed before eating together with the family. Native Americans only killed what they needed for a meal. When they killed, dug the earth, or even plucked a fruit or vegetable from a plant or tree, they said grace. That is the origin of Thanksgiving, which is now a major holiday in the US.
In ancient Rome, it was common to leave a bit of food on the altar for the household deities. They often said a prayer:
This meal is the work of many hands,
and I offer you a share.
Holy ones, accept my gift,
and upon my hearth, leave your blessings.
In Europe, farmers used to ask for blessings before and after the harvest and they blessed their food too, says Werner Pfleger, an Austria-born TM instructor in the Washington metropolitan area. The bread was a staple in the first-century Greco-Roman world, complemented with some fruits and vegetables, oil, and salt. Bread in first-century Galilee was made with wheat or barley flour, adds Nick Fotinos, belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church in Falls Church, VA.
The practice of blessing the food continues to this day. Rufus Achyut Juskus, a Vedic astrologer who hosts weekly meditation and chanting sessions in Bethesda, MD, confirms, “We say a prayer thanking God, provider of the food before we have our meals. It nourishes us better.”
In our time, food comes to us conveniently through food marts, grocery stores, and even farmers’ markets. But once people had to travel miles to hunt or fish. People had to grind their grains as was the practice till a half-century ago. They had to – and many still do – collect firewood or coal to light the hearth to cook, while we just turn on the stove and start cooking.
Greek-origin New York-based author Maria Benardis writes in her book, Cooking and Eating Wisdom for Better Health, that the cooks once were versed in sacrificial rites and understood the spiritual connection of food to life and the gods, so they prayed for safety, health, and blessings for all as part of the cooking and eating process.
The practice of blessing food continues to be prevalent in many religions.
Pastor Harvey from Catholic Church in Falls Church, VA, confirms that the Bible mentions blessing one’s food.
In Catholic tradition, a common prayer runs like this: “O Christ God, bless the food and drink of Thy servants, for Holy Art Thou, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
The term ‘saying grace’ now in use comes from the Ecclesiastical Latin phrase gratiarum actio, “act of thanks.” Theologically, the act of saying grace is derived from the Bible, in which Jesus and Saint Paul pray before meals (Luke 24:30, Acts 27:35). The practice reflects the belief that humans should thank God who is the origin of everything.
Seventh-Day Adventist Church Pastor Daniel Royo says they do not have a set prayer for food. The person offering the prayer can say something like this: “Dear God, thank you for the bountiful blessings you provide, thank you for providing the food that is before us, may it achieve its intended purpose with your blessing. Amen.”
Seventh-Day Adventists are vegetarian, and believe Jesus Christ was one too. Jesus’ message was one of love and compassion, and nothing is loving or compassionate about slaughterhouses and meat factories where billions of animals live miserable lives and die violent, bloody deaths.
Protestants, Lutherans, Baptists and Mormons, and other denominations of Christianity all say grace in their own ways.
It is a misconception that only Christians ‘say grace’. Others have their own ways of giving thanks before consuming food and drink.
Jewish people bless their food, according to Rabbi Hannah Goldstein, of the Temple Sinai synagogue in Washington, DC. Although, in the early Hebrew scriptures there’s no reference to blessing the food, calling that food unclean would have been disrespectful to God. They believed that God created all things, so food was already holy and sacred simply by being one of God’s creations. Where then is the need for blessing it? Yet, it is a practice now to bless the food in most Jewish households.
Birkat Hamazon, or the Grace After Meals, is a set of Hebrew blessings that Jewish law prescribes following a meal that includes at least a kezayit (olive-sized) piece of bread.
Rabbi Hannah says that Shabbat is a time to relax and enjoy. Candle-lighting blessings on Shabbat Saturdays is an important ritual where families get together and bring a sense of spirituality into homes. These blessings are also given at synagogues and through events in the community, both before the Friday evening meal and at lunchtime on Saturday. Many welcome Shabbat with blessings over wine. This blessing called Kiddush in Hebrew reads: “Blessed is the Oneness that makes us holy. Blessed is the Creator of the fruit of the vine.” It combines the acknowledgment of God’s role in feeding people with a blessing for Shabbat and remembering creation:
A special braided loaf of egg-enriched bread, called challah, is customary at meals. The blessing over the challah or any bread is often called Ha’Motzi, meaning “who brings forth” because it acknowledges God bringing forth bread from the earth by giving us the gift of wheat. After the blessing, slices of bread are distributed to guests at the table. The blessing for the bread covers all the food in the meal.
Muslims say a blessing too. “When having a meal, Muslims are instructed to recognize that all of their blessings come from Allah, the source of everything. Throughout the world, Muslims say the same personal supplication (dua) before and after meals,” states Syed Ahmed, a member of the mosque in Falls Church, VA. The name of Allah is invoked – saying Bismillah at the beginning of a meal or any activity.
Prophet Muhammed wanted Muslims to “Give food to the hungry, pay a visit to the sick, and release (set free) the one in captivity (by paying his ransom),” as quoted by Sunnah.com.