There is an expression amongst those who’ve eaten one too many cold meals thanks to long-winded pre-meal prayers. “There’s a time to pray and a time to eat.” While it is a funny expression, I do tend to agree with it. The problem is, many people only pray in fearful situations and before meals. So, they hear this as, “you don’t have to pray before a meal,” and only pray in the fearful situations. In reality, we should constantly pray throughout the day (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), but they don’t have to be long, eloquent, intercessory prayers.
In fact, Jewish tradition has about three lines of pre-meal prayer that have been around since before Jesus’ time. So, when you see it written that Jesus gave thanks before a meal (Matthew 14:19-20), He was likely saying one of these prayers.
The first prayer was a prayer for the washing of hands.
Blessed are You, O God, our Lord, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us about the washing of hands.
Considering the prayer says we’re “sanctified by His commands” (as opposed to no one being able to keep them), it’s interesting that Jesus and His disciples were called out by the Pharisees for not washing their hands before eating. (Luke 11:37-40, Mark 7:1-16)
The next couple prayers were right before eating and drinking. So, these are likely what was prayed at The Last Supper. (Matthew 26:26-29)
Blessed are You, O God, our Lord, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.
Blessed are you, O God, our Lord, King of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
Finally, the last prayer, which came after the meal. This one is the longer than the rest combined!
Blessed is The Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who sustains the entire world with goodness, kindness and mercy. God gives food to all creatures, for God’s mercy is everlasting. Through God’s abundant goodness we have not lacked sustenance, and may we not lack sustenance forever, for the sake of God’s great Name. God sustains all, does good to all, and provides food for all the creatures whom God has created. Blessed is The Lord, our God, who provides food for all.