The traditional concept of praying over a meal finds its roots in the pagan past and is carried on still in many forms of Christianity and Judaism. As I went to two different Church of England primary schools, saying grace before a meal was common practice. Usually this consisted of a sincere 'For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.', but occasionally some bright spark in the school's administration decided that saying grace should be more entertaining for the children, presumably in order to emphasise its meaning. This led to a lunchtime chorus of several hundred schoolchildren singing 'Tha-a-ank You, Lord, for food to eat...'. Usually, though, saying grace was simply a routine (and often condensed at family meals to a single muttered word, 'Grace') done without thought for the words at all. As with many such left-over religious traditions, the practice of saying grace has since died out in my family.
Nevertheless, the wording and concepts contained in this widespread and ancient practice intrigue me still. I was given a book entitled 'First Graces' when I was very young, which gave examples of mealtime prayers as well as those for other occasions. The wording of these prayers differs slightly through time or geographical location, but the meaning is constant. A selection:
For these and all his mercies, God's holy Name be blessed and praised; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord, bless this food to our bodies and our bodies to your service. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Bless us, O Lord, for these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.
Some graces are more poetic than others, some more direct. I leave you with one I have found (probably mistakenly) attributed to Oliver Cromwell:
Some have hunger, but no meat;
Some have meat, but no hunger;
I have both.
God be praised!