He only shuts up when he is writing!
From the Pastor: My Confession About Confession
I confess that every once in a while I discover something that every Catholic ought to know but that somehow I didn’t know. That seems a bit odd, doesn’t it, coming from a priest? But it is true. I have told the story many times that I never knew that there was a Catholic prayer after meals as well as before until I had been a priest for half a dozen years or so. I had been taught growing up that grace before meals was, as every Catholic knows (!), “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.” But according to my fourth book of the Baltimore Catechism, that is the “Blessing before Meals” rather than “grace.” “Grace,” it explains, “means thanks.” “We should thank Him also after we have eaten it and found it good, pleasing, and refreshing. When God provides us with food He thereby makes a kind of promise that He will allow us to live a while longer and give us strength to serve Him.” It then gives examples of how hurt God must be for our ingratitude when we fail to thank Him after He has given us this nourishment. Yet, until an old Jesuit priest recited this after every meal during one of my many priestly assignments, I never knew it existed. Though the English translations vary a bit in different prayer books (yes, once you look for it, you can find it in other prayer books!), this is the one that Fr. Frank taught and which I have since passed on to many parishioners. “We give Thee thanks, Almighty God, for all Thy benefits, Who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”
Once I started celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass, someone gave me a 3 book set called the “Roman Ritual.” This official book of Catholic prayers, blessings, exorcisms, sacraments, etc., has something even more to say about the mealtime blessings. In Volume 3, The Blessings, there are listed “Blessings at Meals.” Under that heading fall “Before the Noonday Meal,” “After the Noonday Meal,” “Before the Evening Meal,” and “After the Evening Meal.” But notice that there is no blessing or grace before or after the Morning Meal or Snacks! Plus, the “Bless us O Lord...” and the “We give Thee thanks...” are only a small part of the prayers before some Noonday and Evening meals. Taking it a bit further, it includes a note, “If only one meal is taken, the prayers are those of the evening meal. The preceding method of blessing and rendering thanks is observed at all times of the year, except the days noted below, when only the versicles and psalms differ.” Did you catch the part about “If only one meal a day is taken”? I don’t know if that is an indication of extreme poverty so that only one meal a day is available or if it was speaking rather about Lent, when all 40 days were days of fast, so that only one meal was taken. Remember, there is no blessing for snacks, and during Lent there was only one meal and two snacks (which would not together equal a meal) allowed at the time this Ritual was promulgated. Either way, we are (or at least seem to be) blessed to have so much food available to us. Did you also notice that special days had different meal prayers? These included Christmas through Epiphany, Epiphany and its octave, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and its octave, the Ascension through Pentecost vigil, and Pentecost and its octave. No wonder the United States Bishops shortened it to the simple prayers above. Otherwise, a book and a calendar would be needed just to say the right prayers throughout the year!
But, like so many other times, I have gotten sidetracked. This article started with the odd statement that I, a Catholic priest, occasionally learn something each Catholic ought to already know. I wasn’t going to write specifically about the meal prayers, so let me move on. The real topic of this article, as you know if you read the title, is not meals but, rather, Confession. What is the most important aspect of making a good Confession? It is not knowing where the Confessional is. It is not knowing how to make the sign of the cross and say, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been X number of days/weeks/months/decades since my last Confession and these are my sins...” It is not having memorized the Act of Contrition. No, according to the Baltimore Catechism, the new Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Roman Ritual it is...
Oops! I am out of space. I will have given a talk about this very thing to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Tampa Homeschool Conference by the time you read this. Hopefully, it is recorded and online so that, if you really want the answer, you can listen to it on our parish website. (I think I may have to go to Confession for doing this to you!)
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka