If Julia Child is not a saint, she is at least a “blessed” in my book. She changed how Americans understand meal sharing, and meal sharing is central to our lives as Catholics.
What Julia Child and the TV chefs she inspired taught, of course, was not cooking. What they taught us was the spirituality of dining. We can learn some important principles from these chefs about the importance of family dining and how dining teaches us about Eucharist.
Julia Child was famous for stressing the basics. The basics of the Eucharist include four actions:
If the family meal is also centered on those basic actions, it will teach us about Eucharist.
The first thing we take is time. Part of the spirituality of meal sharing is taking the time to be present to one another. Sometimes that looks task-oriented, for example, taking time to plan the meal, to prepare the meal and to eat the meal.
But underneath the task is a spirit of presence. What we are essentially taking is ourselves, bringing our lives to the table. Simply taking the time to be with one another reflects the way in which Jesus always took time with those he loved.Underneath the task of meal preparation is a spirit of presence. What we are essentially taking is ourselves, bringing our lives to the table. Click To Tweet
However, for many households, taking time to dine will be difficult. Nevertheless, if Eucharist is going to be central in the lives of Catholics, we need to make dining a central part of family life.
As parish leaders, we can help by encouraging families to spend at least two nights a week (including Sunday) during which they take time to have a significant dining experience. You might even consider writing up a short contract for families to sign. To start, make the contract for a limited duration. For example:
During the season of Advent [insert dates], the _________ family will take time to dine on Sunday evening and one other evening each week.
[Signature and date.]
The second thing we take is care. Even in hurried, microwaved or fast-food-in-the-car meals, we can become more conscious of taking care of one another. Give parishioners, especially the children, a take-home list of simple ways to take care of each other at every meal.
- No one begins eating until everyone is ready
- No one begins eating until the meal is blessed, even if eating in a public place
- Everyone is especially conscious during meal times of using good manners (for example, saying please and thank you, using napkins, not reaching, not interrupting)
- No one leaves the table (or car) until everyone is finished eating or until excused by an adult
What does it mean to bless a meal? Most of us do it, and most of us use the hurried, half-mumbled, “Bless us, O Lord” prayer we learned as children. According to the Book of Blessings (1987, USCCB), blessings traditionally do one of three things:
- glorify God
- ask God for favors
- restrain the power of evil in the world (see no. 11).
The authors go on to say:
At times the church also invokes blessings on objects and places connected with human occupations or activities and those related to the liturgy or to piety and popular devotions. But such blessings are invoked always with a view to the people who use the objects to be blessed….” (12)
So when we bless our meals, we always remember the reason for the blessing is centered on the people who will be doing the eating, not primarily the food.
Even when we pray the usual “Bless us, O Lord,” “us” comes before “these your gifts.” As a parish leaders, we can challenge households to be creative in their meal blessing. A simple (and ancient) formula for blessing is You-Who-Do-Through. An example of a blessing prayer using this formula might be:
[You] Father in heaven
[Who] who creates and feeds our family,
[Do 1] bless us and this meal we are about to share
[Do 2] and keep us always safe.
[Through] We ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ
who lives in glory with you and the Holy Spirit
one God forever and ever.
Try writing a couple of your own, and then see if you can get both adults and children to create some You-Who-Do-Through’s for their family tables.
“Breaking bread,” a common expression for meal sharing, is at once a very basic and very spiritual activity. To break bread together is to break open ourselves. When we “break bread,” we are breaking through our crusty exteriors to open up to our soft, warm hearts, which we usually keep protected.
It is essential for catechists to help the rest of the community understand this core meaning of both family meals and the Sunday Eucharist. Dinner is not just about physical nutrition, nor is Mass just about intense private time with Jesus. Both meals, the meal of the domestic church and the meal of the parish church, are sacred moments during which we reveal the heart of God to each other by being willing to be broken ourselves.
Perhaps you might either provide some fresh-baked hard rolls for folks to break open at their next meal or encourage them to buy an uncut loaf of bread for their next family dinner. After praying the blessing, someone at the table could break apart the rolls or the loaf (instead of slicing it) for everyone to share. As families break the bread, they might also break open God’s word, reflecting on a simple question that flows from the Sunday readings.
Write your own questions, or go to lifelongcatechesis.osv.com and click on “Questions of the Week” for an example.
Encourage the family members to see in the broken bread the brokenness of the world, the nourishment of faith and the commitment to share our lives with each other just as we share bread with each other.
Sharing, of course, is the whole point of both the family meal and the Sunday Eucharist. Julia Child never thought of food as something for herself. Her art and her spirit were centered on sharing meals with others.
Catechists would do well to imitate Julia’s spirit when teaching about Eucharist. A very simple thing parish leaders can do to help emphasize that Communion is about community is to remind parishioners that we are all to remain standing until everyone has shared in Communion. It is the sacramental equivalent of not leaving the household table until everyone is finished eating.
Standing in solidarity with one another at the eucharistic table is about more than good manners. It is a symbolic action that says we also stand in solidarity with the poor.Standing in solidarity with one another at the eucharistic table is about more than good manners. It is a symbolic action that says we also stand in solidarity with the poor. Click To Tweet
Like Julia Child, we have to focus on the basics of our belief. Every meal, whether in the household or the parish liturgy, should be deepening of our faith in Jesus Christ and in his mission. Jesus’ basic mission was to serve the poor. When we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, we stand for Christ. We stand for mission. We stand for justice.
Christian meal sharing, if it is to be a celebration of Jesus Christ, is always about standing up for what we believe.
Julia Child had a mission — to teach us about the spirituality of meal. The mission of the Christian teacher is not all that different. By focusing on the four basic actions of Eucharist — take, bless, break and share — we can help family meals become a recipe for deeper faith. Bon appétit.