Growing up, we called it “saying grace”. In my twenties, I started calling it “giving thanks”. Recently, I’m noticing that people here call it “blessing the food”. What these somewhat euphemistic terms refer to is the Christian practice of praying before one eats. And while preparing for the study on Philippians I’m teaching next month, I got thinking about this again.
The biblical idea is about saying a thankful prayer to God for His provision of food. The Greek work for such thanksgiving is “eucharisteo”: which is why Orthodox churches often refer to taking communion as the Eucharist – literally, a thanksgiving. Eucharisteo is a compound greek word combining “eu”, a prefix for “good” (like euphemism, or eulogy) with “charis” (the word for grace, gift or thanks).
In Latin, eucharisteo is translated gratia, from which we get the words grace and grateful. So “saying grace” is, I suppose, means the same thing – we are praying because we are recipients of God’s good grace.
The word “blessing” has Old English roots: about 1000 years ago the word ‘blesian’ meant ‘to make sacred or holy by a sacrificial custom’, often by sprinkling blood. Wikipedia tells me that the word was further “christianized” because it was used to translate the Latin word benedicere, meaning to speak well of.
So technically, I should be happy with the pre-feasting prayer being called grace, or giving thanks, or saying a blessing. But for some reason, I’m not happy with ‘saying grace’ or ‘blessing the food’. Call me silly – but for me, both these seem to have some kind of idea attached that the meal, without the prayer, would in some way be “unblessed”, or “less holy”. I think the terms can be confusing about why it is we pray. Sometimes Christians won’t eat unless they’ve prayed, almost as if the prayer changes the very nature of the food. Surely that can’t be right. James says all good things are given to us from our heavenly Father – no matter what the source.
So I vote for calling it “giving thanks”, since that’s just what it is. And, to be honest, I don’t mind praying before, during or after the meal. I, as a believer in Jesus, as just am blessed at every point of the meal – and the prayer is meant to acknowledge God’s favour, not create it.