What’s with the common table prayer?

Luther’s SMALL CATECHISM also includes prayers for mealtime:
 

PRAYER BEFORE EATING
The eyes of all wait upon You, O Lord, and You give them their food in due season; You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
 
PRAYER AFTER EATING
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for His mercy endures forever.
We thank You, Lord God, heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, for all Your benefits, You who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

Notice that the old practice was to pray TWICE at a meal. Before you start eating (the blessing) AND after you finish eating (giving thanks).
 
These are really good prayers, each of which begins with a specific text from the Word of God. So why don’t Lutherans use these prayers, sanctioned in the catechism, no less, instead of the prayer they actually use:

Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,
And let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.

Why is this a good prayer? I have never understood why Lutherans, usually so insistent on solid content, always say this prayer in unison before a meal. It seems, well, childish, and, with its sing-song rhyme, more like a nursery rhyme. Can someone give a good reason for praying that particular prayer? Instead of the Catechism prayers, or a personal ex corde prayer? I mean, we use the prayer ourselves sometimes, so I’d really like a good defense of the Common Table Prayer.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.masonmurch.wordpress.com Mason Murch

    Re: Com, Lord Jesus, be our guest,…
    We have a 3 year old grandchild and a 1.5 year old grandchild who are learning to pray at meal times with just such a prayer. I would imagine teaching the young was the initial purpose for the simple prayer at meals. It appears to working for our family.

    I have no clue why adults would continue to pray such a prayer other than laziness.

  • http://www.masonmurch.wordpress.com Mason Murch

    Re: Com, Lord Jesus, be our guest,…
    We have a 3 year old grandchild and a 1.5 year old grandchild who are learning to pray at meal times with just such a prayer. I would imagine teaching the young was the initial purpose for the simple prayer at meals. It appears to working for our family.

    I have no clue why adults would continue to pray such a prayer other than laziness.

  • http://www.roundunvarnishedtale.blogspot.com Cheryl

    I can't answer your question. We use Luther's prayers at the beginning and end of meals. I prefer the older wording of the prayer before meals: "thou givest them their meat in due season."

  • http://www.roundunvarnishedtale.blogspot.com Cheryl

    I can't answer your question. We use Luther's prayers at the beginning and end of meals. I prefer the older wording of the prayer before meals: "thou givest them their meat in due season."

  • MHB

    The strength of the prayer is its acknowledgment that these are gifts from God on our table. In our family, we remember that the ability and opportunity to work is daily bread, too.

    And, we conclude this pre-meal prayer with Psalm 118:1 "…His mercy endures forever." Mercy. Forever.

  • MHB

    The strength of the prayer is its acknowledgment that these are gifts from God on our table. In our family, we remember that the ability and opportunity to work is daily bread, too.

    And, we conclude this pre-meal prayer with Psalm 118:1 "…His mercy endures forever." Mercy. Forever.

  • Joe

    Upon joining our current congregation I was introduced to the following ending for the Come, Lord Jesus prayer:

    And may their be a goodly share on every table everywhere.

    I think its draw is in the easy with which you can teach it to a small child.

  • Joe

    Upon joining our current congregation I was introduced to the following ending for the Come, Lord Jesus prayer:

    And may their be a goodly share on every table everywhere.

    I think its draw is in the easy with which you can teach it to a small child.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    OK, MHB, thanks. The prayer does describe our food as God’s gifts. I see too that it is somewhat liturgical, the way everyone recites it in unison. Just last night I was reading John Kleinig’s “Grace upon Grace” (an EXCELLENT book on daily spirituality, one of the best I’ve ever read, which I’ll need to write about later), and, in a completely different context, says that at our meals God is our host. I was thinking, “rather than our guest.”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    OK, MHB, thanks. The prayer does describe our food as God’s gifts. I see too that it is somewhat liturgical, the way everyone recites it in unison. Just last night I was reading John Kleinig’s “Grace upon Grace” (an EXCELLENT book on daily spirituality, one of the best I’ve ever read, which I’ll need to write about later), and, in a completely different context, says that at our meals God is our host. I was thinking, “rather than our guest.”

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    When I was a kid, we started every meal with "Come Lord Jesus," and ended with a different rhyming prayer:
    "Thank Thee, Lord, for this, our food;
    For life and health and every good.
    Let Jesus to our souls be given;
    The Bread of Life sent down from Heaven. Amen."

    I have no idea where either one came from.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    When I was a kid, we started every meal with "Come Lord Jesus," and ended with a different rhyming prayer:
    "Thank Thee, Lord, for this, our food;
    For life and health and every good.
    Let Jesus to our souls be given;
    The Bread of Life sent down from Heaven. Amen."

    I have no idea where either one came from.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    A further question: Do ALL Lutherans use this prayer? Do ELS and WELS? How about ELCA? And do all Lutherans around theworld use it? (I know they do in Australia.) I’m a convert to Lutheranism, so this prayer isn’t part of the fiber of my being. Its universal use itself commends it. I don’t mean to denigrate a part of people’s daily piety.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    A further question: Do ALL Lutherans use this prayer? Do ELS and WELS? How about ELCA? And do all Lutherans around theworld use it? (I know they do in Australia.) I’m a convert to Lutheranism, so this prayer isn’t part of the fiber of my being. Its universal use itself commends it. I don’t mean to denigrate a part of people’s daily piety.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    A good one! That prayer deserves to still be used. So a lot of you DO pray both before and after meals?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    A good one! That prayer deserves to still be used. So a lot of you DO pray both before and after meals?

  • tammy

    I grew up Catholic remembering my Catholic Grandparents saying "Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."

  • tammy

    I grew up Catholic remembering my Catholic Grandparents saying "Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these Your gifts which we receive from Your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen."

  • Katy

    I live in a house with five kids and we all learned the Common Table Prayer. I have a three year old sister and we still use it.

  • Katy

    I live in a house with five kids and we all learned the Common Table Prayer. I have a three year old sister and we still use it.

  • LAJ

    We used the common table prayer at home, but when we were at a church gathering, my pastor dad would say "The eyes of all…"

  • LAJ

    We used the common table prayer at home, but when we were at a church gathering, my pastor dad would say "The eyes of all…"

  • kerner

    Tammy beat me to it, but I, too, remember my Roman Catholic grandmother using something close to the second paragraph of the prayer before eating. She used to say:

    "Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive through Thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

  • kerner

    Tammy beat me to it, but I, too, remember my Roman Catholic grandmother using something close to the second paragraph of the prayer before eating. She used to say:

    "Bless us O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive through Thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

  • Brenda

    AS an exchange Student in Japan I attended a WELS mission church in the suburbs of Tokyo (only one bus stop away from host family!). They used Luther's format for their Table prayers. I had never heard it before.

    We also use the Come,Lord Jesus prayer for most family gatherings and at our own table.

    An elderly lady, of Russian German parents, told about her family's practice. She said that each child had their own prayer to recite at table. The babie's first prayer was Abba Father, Amen. And then each child would then recite their current prayer

  • Brenda

    AS an exchange Student in Japan I attended a WELS mission church in the suburbs of Tokyo (only one bus stop away from host family!). They used Luther's format for their Table prayers. I had never heard it before.

    We also use the Come,Lord Jesus prayer for most family gatherings and at our own table.

    An elderly lady, of Russian German parents, told about her family's practice. She said that each child had their own prayer to recite at table. The babie's first prayer was Abba Father, Amen. And then each child would then recite their current prayer

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ubivoli ubivoli

    I think laziness counts for a lot. But the lengthening of the Common Table Prayer (I've seen various versions) perhaps bespeaks some guilt and a desire for more "meat" (ha ha).

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ubivoli ubivoli

    I think laziness counts for a lot. But the lengthening of the Common Table Prayer (I've seen various versions) perhaps bespeaks some guilt and a desire for more "meat" (ha ha).

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ubivoli ubivoli

    Amen

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ubivoli ubivoli

    Amen

  • Arfies

    I grew up with that common table prayer, and we still use it. But to me, "these gifts" is similar to Luther's view of "daily bread." I don't think just of the food but also of my wife, my children, my beautiful granddaughters, my brother and sister, my congregation—well, you get the picture. Food is essential, but without friends and family we would lack the greatest of God's blessings for this world.

  • Arfies

    I grew up with that common table prayer, and we still use it. But to me, "these gifts" is similar to Luther's view of "daily bread." I don't think just of the food but also of my wife, my children, my beautiful granddaughters, my brother and sister, my congregation—well, you get the picture. Food is essential, but without friends and family we would lack the greatest of God's blessings for this world.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    I am told that the "come lord jesus" prayer came from a communion prayer used by the moravians. if that is the case, then this is cool. there should be a link in one´s mind every time a meal is shared to the holy supper. I like that prayers are in the plural. even when prayed in solitude.____I use "come lord Jesus" to teach my non christian house guests some english and to cultivate in them the habit of prayer before a meal. they really seem to like it down here in brasil.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    I am told that the "come lord jesus" prayer came from a communion prayer used by the moravians. if that is the case, then this is cool. there should be a link in one´s mind every time a meal is shared to the holy supper. I like that prayers are in the plural. even when prayed in solitude.____I use "come lord Jesus" to teach my non christian house guests some english and to cultivate in them the habit of prayer before a meal. they really seem to like it down here in brasil.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    my understanding is that one would also pray the Our Father and confess the apostles´creed every meal… am i wrong here?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    my understanding is that one would also pray the Our Father and confess the apostles´creed every meal… am i wrong here?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    growing up in a WELS congregation in the dakota praries, there they still followed the lutheran custom of praying before and after a meal. even at church gatherings they would gather everyone to close the meal with prayer. amazing a different time. it would be "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever!"

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/fws fws

    growing up in a WELS congregation in the dakota praries, there they still followed the lutheran custom of praying before and after a meal. even at church gatherings they would gather everyone to close the meal with prayer. amazing a different time. it would be "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever!"

  • Booklover

    Love it.

  • Booklover

    Love it.

  • Sean

    We have a 4 year old and an 18 month old and we use the prayer from the Small Catechism "The eyes of all look to you, O Lord…" at the beginning of the meal. Our four year old has it memorized verbatim and often asks for the privilege to be the one to say the prayer. She has then been known to turn to her 18 month old brother after the prayer and begin to catechize him! She will say, "Benjamin, do you know where our food comes from? It comes from God. He sends the rain and the sunshine so the plants will grow." I've been working on teaching her about vocation, but I have not yet heard that come back in the form of lessons to her little brother.

    Young children are perfectly able to learn the prayers from the catechism. As an adult ho came to Lutheranism from a varied Protestant background, I appreciate the solid Biblical prayers Luther wrote for us to use. We also use the Evening Prayer before bed (with the 4 year old) and the Morning Prayer at the breakfast table. (I know it's supposed to be when I wake up, but I forget).

  • Sean

    We have a 4 year old and an 18 month old and we use the prayer from the Small Catechism "The eyes of all look to you, O Lord…" at the beginning of the meal. Our four year old has it memorized verbatim and often asks for the privilege to be the one to say the prayer. She has then been known to turn to her 18 month old brother after the prayer and begin to catechize him! She will say, "Benjamin, do you know where our food comes from? It comes from God. He sends the rain and the sunshine so the plants will grow." I've been working on teaching her about vocation, but I have not yet heard that come back in the form of lessons to her little brother.

    Young children are perfectly able to learn the prayers from the catechism. As an adult ho came to Lutheranism from a varied Protestant background, I appreciate the solid Biblical prayers Luther wrote for us to use. We also use the Evening Prayer before bed (with the 4 year old) and the Morning Prayer at the breakfast table. (I know it's supposed to be when I wake up, but I forget).

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    When my Mom cooked…we prayed during the meal!

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    When my Mom cooked…we prayed during the meal!

  • http://scottishlutheran.blogspot.com Mike Keith

    This post and some of the comments made me think – and for that I am thankful. In our family we pray the common table prayer before each meal and return thanks by praying – "Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever." A shortened version of what is in the Catechism to be sure but still a good practice and not one that is found in many homes anymore and I am glad we try and keep it in our home.

    However, to be honest I had not given much thought to the content of the common table prayer other than to think it did not have much of any content. I also read a sermon by a friend of mine who basically argued that the prayer gets it all wrong – we are the guests of Jesus not the other way around (I need to think more on that anyway). So, last night, I discussed it with my family (I have three kids 6, 4, 2) and we will start using the meal prayers from the Catechism. Thanks for raising the questions Dr. Veith! Also, see you in April at our District convention.

  • http://scottishlutheran.blogspot.com Mike Keith

    This post and some of the comments made me think – and for that I am thankful. In our family we pray the common table prayer before each meal and return thanks by praying – "Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever." A shortened version of what is in the Catechism to be sure but still a good practice and not one that is found in many homes anymore and I am glad we try and keep it in our home.

    However, to be honest I had not given much thought to the content of the common table prayer other than to think it did not have much of any content. I also read a sermon by a friend of mine who basically argued that the prayer gets it all wrong – we are the guests of Jesus not the other way around (I need to think more on that anyway). So, last night, I discussed it with my family (I have three kids 6, 4, 2) and we will start using the meal prayers from the Catechism. Thanks for raising the questions Dr. Veith! Also, see you in April at our District convention.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    When called upon to do table prayer, I usually offer "For every good and perfect gift that comes down from above, we thank You, the Father of Lights, in whom there is no change nor shadow of a turn. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

    I like the Common Table prayer for large gatherings because you CAN use it in unison, and have everyone, including small children, participate.

  • http://www.oldsolar.com/currentblog.php Rick Ritchie

    When called upon to do table prayer, I usually offer "For every good and perfect gift that comes down from above, we thank You, the Father of Lights, in whom there is no change nor shadow of a turn. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

    I like the Common Table prayer for large gatherings because you CAN use it in unison, and have everyone, including small children, participate.

  • http://saxoniae.blogpot.com Timothy C. Schenks

    The origin of the Common Table Prayer "Come Lord Jesus" can be found on the LCMS website. http://lcms.org > FAQs > Doctrinal Issues > Prayer > Common Table Prayer

    It states that the earliest known printing of "Come Lord Jesus" was in a Moravian hymnal. I can't figure out why we all use it instead of the prayer listed in the Small Catechism.

    My family always used these:

    (Before) Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and let Thy gifts to us be blessed. Amen.____

    (After) We thank Thee Lord for all our food, for life and health and every good. Amen.

    The second prayer comes from a 1741 hymn "Be Present at Our Table, Lord" written by an Anglican-turned-Methodist-turned Moravian Brethren named John Cennick.

    What is the connection between the Saxon Lutherans and the Moravians? I'm guessing Martin Stephan.

  • http://saxoniae.blogpot.com Timothy C. Schenks

    The origin of the Common Table Prayer "Come Lord Jesus" can be found on the LCMS website. http://lcms.org > FAQs > Doctrinal Issues > Prayer > Common Table Prayer

    It states that the earliest known printing of "Come Lord Jesus" was in a Moravian hymnal. I can't figure out why we all use it instead of the prayer listed in the Small Catechism.

    My family always used these:

    (Before) Come Lord Jesus, be our guest and let Thy gifts to us be blessed. Amen.____

    (After) We thank Thee Lord for all our food, for life and health and every good. Amen.

    The second prayer comes from a 1741 hymn "Be Present at Our Table, Lord" written by an Anglican-turned-Methodist-turned Moravian Brethren named John Cennick.

    What is the connection between the Saxon Lutherans and the Moravians? I'm guessing Martin Stephan.

  • Barbara Beck

    I have read all the comments and I (and my family) still use the common table prayer. We learned it as children. I don’t think that it is childish or that we are lazy because we use it. It relates to everyone no matter how old or their religious background. We are Jesus guest but we also invite him to our table as he was invited to the wedding feast. We say it with thankful hearts and open minds and it reminds us of His Glory in our lives.

  • Barbara Beck

    I have read all the comments and I (and my family) still use the common table prayer. We learned it as children. I don’t think that it is childish or that we are lazy because we use it. It relates to everyone no matter how old or their religious background. We are Jesus guest but we also invite him to our table as he was invited to the wedding feast. We say it with thankful hearts and open minds and it reminds us of His Glory in our lives.

  • Van

    Just a small comment.
    I noticed as I read the two different prayers aloud that although the “Come Lord Jesus” was easier to recite (and therefore possibly easier to memorize for young minds,) the scripture prayer made me think about it’s content. The meaning of the first was somewhat lost or overshadowed by the rhyming!

  • Van

    Just a small comment.
    I noticed as I read the two different prayers aloud that although the “Come Lord Jesus” was easier to recite (and therefore possibly easier to memorize for young minds,) the scripture prayer made me think about it’s content. The meaning of the first was somewhat lost or overshadowed by the rhyming!

  • Anonymous

    @Veith (Comment #7)

    I grew up WELS, and the Common Table Prayer was the prayer we used at church potlucks. It was also used at family gatherings most of the time (occasionally someone would use a different prayer). I’m not sure if it is used a lot in the ELS, but when I started attending Bethany Lutheran, we used it at a professor’s home before a meal. The only real variation on the prayer was whether or not to say Amen between the lines. (Come Lord Jesus … Amen. O give thanks … Amen.)

  • Anonymous

    @Veith (Comment #7)

    I grew up WELS, and the Common Table Prayer was the prayer we used at church potlucks. It was also used at family gatherings most of the time (occasionally someone would use a different prayer). I’m not sure if it is used a lot in the ELS, but when I started attending Bethany Lutheran, we used it at a professor’s home before a meal. The only real variation on the prayer was whether or not to say Amen between the lines. (Come Lord Jesus … Amen. O give thanks … Amen.)

  • http://www.lutheranchapelonthehill.com Pastor James Kyes

    I agree, it is childish and I have always wondered why everyone recites it, including myself, I must admit. I am going to stick to the catechismal prayer from now on; it is a much better prayer.

  • http://www.lutheranchapelonthehill.com Pastor James Kyes

    I agree, it is childish and I have always wondered why everyone recites it, including myself, I must admit. I am going to stick to the catechismal prayer from now on; it is a much better prayer.

  • Jennifer

    My family, members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, have always said the “Come Lord Jesus…” prayer before meals:

    Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.

    I don’t know why we use it instead of other prayers. We are asking Him to bless the food to the nourishment of our bodies, and for everything He has given us. My grandparents are devout Christians, raised all their lives in the Lutheran church. They are far from lazy. It has nothing to do with laziness. God knows what is in our hearts, and He knows what we need. There is no reason to go on and on.

  • Jennifer

    My family, members of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, have always said the “Come Lord Jesus…” prayer before meals:

    Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed. Amen.

    I don’t know why we use it instead of other prayers. We are asking Him to bless the food to the nourishment of our bodies, and for everything He has given us. My grandparents are devout Christians, raised all their lives in the Lutheran church. They are far from lazy. It has nothing to do with laziness. God knows what is in our hearts, and He knows what we need. There is no reason to go on and on.


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