Grace is a name for any of a number of short prayers said or an unvoiced intention held prior to or after eating, thanking God and/or the entities that have given of themselves to furnish nutrients to those partaking in the meal. Some traditions hold that grace and thanksgiving imparts a blessing which sanctifies the meal. In the English language tradition, reciting a prayer prior to eating is traditionally referred to as "saying grace".
A prayer of Grace is said to be an act of offering thanks to God for granting humans dominion over the earth, and the right and ability to sacrifice the lives of divine creations for sustenance; this thanks is the "saying of Grace" prior to and/or after eating of any meal.
However, in many indigenous cultures around the world, including North America, the saying of grace does not signify human dominion, but rather recognition of a plant or animal's giving their life and that some day the prayer giver, like every sentient being, will return to earth to give sustenance and life to others.
If one is not religious and the rest of the table is saying grace, it is considered polite and culturally appropriate to observe silently, or to bow one's head. It is often considered impolite or incorrect to start eating before grace has been said and completed.
The saying of grace entered into English language Judeo-Christian cultures with the Jewish mealtime prayer Birkat Hamazon, though any number of cultures may have informed the practice, or it may have arisen spontaneously by individuals and then perpetuated by family traditions and social institutions.
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The American tradition of Thanksgiving
In some American Christian families, either the head of the household or an honored guest often recites or improvises a special grace on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, while the others observe a moment of silence. In some households it is customary for all at the table to hold hands during the grace.
Typical Christian grace prayers
- Ecumenical. God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for our food. Amen.
- Catholic. (before eating) Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen. (Preceded and followed by the Sign of the Cross.)
- Catholic. (after eating) We give Thee/You thanks, Almighty God, for all Thy benefits, and for the poor souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, may they rest in peace. Amen. (Preceded and followed by the Sign of the Cross.)
- Eastern Orthodox. (before eating) 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 one saying the prayer may make the Sign of the Cross over the food with his right hand).
- Eastern Orthodox. (after eating) After the meal, all stand and sing: We thank Thee, O Christ our God, that Thou hast satisfied us with Thine earthly gifts; deprive us not of Thy Heavenly Kingdom, but as Thou camest among Thy disciples, O Saviour, and gavest them peace, come unto us and save us. There are also seasonal hymns which are sung during the various Great Feasts. At Easter, it is customary to sing the Paschal troparion.
- Anglican. Bless, O Father, Thy gifts to our use and us to Thy service; for Christ’s sake. Amen.
- Lutheran. (before eating) Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest, and let Thy/these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.
- Lutheran. (after eating) O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth/endures forever. Amen.
- Wesleyan. Be present at our table Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. These mercies bless and grant that we, may feast in fellowship with Thee. Amen
- Scots (The Selkirk Grace). Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, Sae let the Lord be thankit.
- Australian (any denomination). Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest, let this food of ours be blessed. Amen.
- Common in British and Australian religious schools. For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.
- Used at some YMCA summer camps. Our Father, for this day, for our friends, for this food, we thank Thee. Amen.
Note: Many Christian households or institutions (e.g. schools) ad lib grace at every meal, and it is not uncommon for events from the day to be mentioned in the prayer.
With the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, the offering of the prescribed sacrifices ceased in Judaism. Thereafter, the Rabbis prescribed the substitution of other ritual actions to fill this void in Jewish obedience to the Torah. The ritual washing of hands and eating of salted bread is considered to be a substitute for the sacrificial offerings of the kohanim (Jewish priests).
Though there are separate blessings for fruit, vegetables, non-bread grain products, and meat, fish, and dairy products, a meal is not considered to be a meal in the formal sense unless bread is eaten. The duty of saying grace after the meal is derived from Deuteronomy 8:10: "And thou shalt eat and be satisfied and shalt bless the Lord thy God for the goodly land which he has given thee." Verse 8 of the same chapter says: "The land of wheat and barley, of the vine, the fig and the pomegranate, the land of the oil olive and of [date] syrup." Hence only bread made of wheat (which embraces spelt) or of barley (which for this purpose includes rye and oats) is deemed worthy of the blessing commanded in verse 10.
After the meal, a series of four (originally three) benedictions are said, or a single benediction if bread was not eaten
- Before Eating:
- When meal is ready: "Allahumma barik lana fima razaqtana waqina athaban-nar. " (Translation: O Allah! Bless the food You have provided us and save us from the punishment of the hellfire.)
- While starting to eat: "Bismillahi wa 'ala baraka-tillah." (In the name of Allah and with the blessings of Allah.) , or simply "Bismillah" (In the name of Allah) .
- On forgetting to say grace :
Since each person says their grace individually, if someone forgets to say grace at the beginning, this supplication is made- "Bismillahi fee awalihi wa akhirihi." (In the name of Allah, in the beginning and the end.)
- After Eating: "Alhamdulillah il-lathi at'amana wasaqana waja'alana Muslimeen. (Praise be to Allah Who has fed us and given us drink, and made us Muslims.) or simply "Alhamdulillah." (Praise be to Allah.)
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The Baha'i Faith has these two prayers:
"He is God! Thou seest us, O my God, gathered around this table, praising Thy bounty, with our gaze set upon Thy Kingdom. O Lord! Send down upon us Thy heavenly food and confer upon us Thy blessing. Thou art verily the Bestower, the Merciful, the Compassionate."
"He is God! How can we render Thee thanks, O Lord? Thy bounties are endless and our gratitude cannot equal them. How can the finite utter praise of the Infinite? Unable are we to voice our thanks for Thy favors and in utter powerlessness we turn wholly to Thy Kingdom beseeching the increase of Thy bestowals and bounties. Thou art the Giver, the Bestower, the Almighty."
Brahmaarpanam Brahma Havir
Brahmaagnau Brahmanaa Hutam
Brahmaiva Tena Gantavyam
Brahma Karma Samaadhinah
Which translates as 'The act of offering is God (Brahma), the oblation is God, By God it is offered into the fire of God, God is That which is to be attained by him who sees God in all.'
Sometimes, the 14th verse from the 15th chapter of Bhagavad Gita is used:
Aham Vaishvaanaro Bhutva
Praanaapaana Samaa Yuktaha
Pachaamyannam Chatur Vidam
This translates as 'Becoming the life-fire in the bodies of living beings, mingling with the upward and downward breaths, I digest the four kinds of food.'
Traditional Maharashtrian grace invokes the Lord through the shloka of Sant Ramdas namely:
vadani kaval gheta naam ghya shri-hariche l sahaj havan hote naam gheta phukache l jivan kari jivitva anna he purn-brahma l udar-bharan nohe janije yadnya-karma ll 1 ll
jani bhojani naam vache vadave l ati aadare gadya-ghoshe mhanave l harichintane anna sevit jaave l tari srihari pavijeto swabhave ll 2 ll
This translates as: Take the name of the Lord when putting a morsel into your mouth.
Other pre-meal sayings
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In Japan it is customary to put one's hands together and say "Itadakimasu" (いただきます?) ("I humbly receive") before eating a meal. "Itadakimasu" is said to express gratitude for all people who played a role in preparing, cultivating or hunting the food.
In Korea, it is customary to say "Jal meokgesseumnida" (잘 먹겠습니다) ("I will eat well'). The saying is not religious in nature, and usually only occurs when eating with someone else.
In humanist and secular gatherings, someone may give thanks to all the people responsible for them being together and having food.
In certain Boy Scout circles, especially in Missouri, the "S-F" grace (named after the S-F Scout Ranch in Knob Lick, Missouri) is often said, especially when people at the table are of mixed religions. The S-F grace gives thanks to a "great Spirit", but is not affiliated with any one religion.
Another common Boy Scout grace is the "Philmont Grace" (named after the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico) or the "Wilderness Grace". It can be found in use wherever a troop has gone to Philmont, but is most common in the Western half of the United States. It goes: " For food, for raiment, / For life, for opportunities, / For friendship and fellowship, / We thank thee, O Lord."
In households where religion is not taken seriously, children may say parodies of grace, such as: "Two, four, six, eight, bog in, don't wait. Nine, ten, amen," "Good food, good meat, good God, let's eat," or "Rub-a-dub dub, thanks for the grub, yay God!"
- Brother Lawrence, ed. (1996), Prayer Book (Fourth Edition - Revised), Jordanville, NY: Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, Holy Trinity Monastery, p. 38
- [dead link]
- Jewish Dining Etiquette, About Dishes, retrieved 2007-09-01
- Schechter, Solomon and Dembitz, Lewis N. (1901), "Grace at Meals", The Jewish Encyclopedia, Funk and Wagnalls, p. 61, retrieved 2007-09-01
- Butash, Adrian (1993) Bless This Food: Ancient and Contemporary Graces from Around the World p.14, Delacorte Press
- Prayer before eating International Sai Organisation
- "S-F Scout Ranch Grace". Boyscouttrail.com. Retrieved 2012-11-03.
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