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 " ( 1 Corinthians 10:31 ). 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" (Paed., 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, refering 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 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 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 raising 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 things, 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 usfear and reverence Thylaw and Thy terrible andglorious name, and grant that we may never disobey Thy precepts. Write in our hearts Thylaw and Thy justice. Sanctify our mind, our soul, and our body through Thy dear Son,Jesus Christ Our Lord. To Whom with Thee belongs glory, dominion, honour, andadoration 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 149 and 33 are utilized, several versicles being omitted. From the most ancient times Psalm 33 has been pre-eminently the communion psalm. At the midday meal Psalm 1 is recited, in the evening Psalm 116 . The origin of these formulæ is monastic, hence the pious commemorations of benefactors.
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