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Playing with prayers, again

I’m one of those people who tends to take things to extremes at times.  (For those that know me, the faux-shocked expression is unnecessary.)  With that understood it should come as no surprise to say that when I first decided that saying Grace before a meal was a good idea I also extended that to pretty much any time I eat.  Anything.  Even a glass of water, before my first sip I repeat the classic thanksgiving prayer.  Some have said I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive; I’m not entirely ready to disagree on that point.

That all said, however, it also provided me an opportunity the other night.  It struck me as I was sitting there about to pray before my pre-bedtime drink how we can all too easily repeat these prayers without ever thinking of what we’re saying.  Now for this particular purpose there must be a million variants as every so often my kids will come home from school with a new one they just learned.  For my part, though, I prefer the classic for its density of word and meaning and for not trying to include everyone and everything but staying solely within the context of thanksgiving before a meal.

There are more ways than one to make this particular prayer.  Some that came to mind:

Bless us O Lord

and these Thy gifts

which we are about to receive

from Thy Bounty.

Through Christ Our Lord.  Amen.

That’s pretty standard for the way I’ve heard the prayer recited.  The accent here is on asking God to bless the food we are about to eat which, given that it’s said directly before a meal, only makes sense.  Something else to notice is that the “Through…” is a separate sentence, meaning we’re asking for “all of the above”, if you will, through Him.  Again, very well and very good.  My pea brain, however, thought of something else:

Bless us O Lord

and these Thy gifts

which we are about to receive

from Thy Bounty

through Christ Our Lord.  Amen.

The accent here is changed slightly, at least in my mind.  In this way we’re asking a blessing both for ourselves and the food in equal yet distinct ways.  This isn’t just the typical way thanksgiving is presented in America these days, one of “thanks Lord for the food, let’s eat!” but acknowledging both our need for His blessing and that indeed the food we consume is simultaneously itself a blessing and in need of His blessing.  The other difference is that instead of breaking the “through…” into a separate sentence it is contained within the first.  Here we reflect on the fact that all these gifts we receive come to us only through Christ Himself, that it is not something we did or made autonomously which we present before Him looking for His approval but rather the very gifts He gave us we present before Him again seeking His blessing.

Which is better?  I don’t think either is per se “better” than the other, but rather that they both teach us something different and offer us the opportunity to reflect on the immense generosity God has for us and the unearned gift that is everything we have and own.  As Pope Benedict has said in other circumstances, it is not a case of “either-or” but rather “both-and”.

If I have anything to say in closing it is this:  think about your prayers.  Turn them over and around.  God has given us great graces through His Church, including Her treasure of prayers.  From these prayers were taught saints before there were books to be read – let us always reflect on this warehouse of knowledge, ever ancient, ever new.

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