Prayer book for family meals aims to cement family ties

One man expressed his experience during the heaven meal on Feb. 9 at Vinh Chau church. (Courtesy of Sr. Mary Nguyen Thi Hong Que) 

A new prayer book that gives advice on how to pray to God at meal time is inspiring Catholic families to restore the value of family meals and relationships.

On Feb. 9, nearly 700 Catholics from parishes in Ba Ria Vung Tau province, southern Vietnam, watched dances and morality plays, listened to talks on values and the meaning of meals, and experienced a “heaven meal” held in the Vinh Chau church’s compound. During the special meal, they thanked God for his mercy, expressed their loving care and gratitude to one another, and focused on strengthening family relationships.

They were also given copies of the book Loi Nguyen Thanh Hoa Bua An (Prayers Sanctifying Meals) that was written by the Education Program of the Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese and then endorsed by the Episcopal Commission for Evangelization.

This dinner was the fourth event that Dominican Sr. Mary Nguyen Thi Hong Que has held to help Catholics to experience these meals and practice the prayers in the book. Three other events happened in Ho Chi Minh City and the neighboring Dong Nai province.

Que, the main writer of the book, said the guide aims to “teach people how to express their gratitude to God who gives them daily food by urging them to pray before and after meals.” Many Catholics do not make the sign of the holy cross before meals and others make the sign mechanically, she added.

Que, who gives talks on family issues and living skills to parishes throughout the country, said the book also serves the purpose of restoring the value of the family meal, which has been ignored in a society where people are engulfed in work and consumerism.

She said family members eat on their own and often make disparaging remarks about food or each other instead of expressing gratitude or loving care. “Disregarding family meals is the beginning of the end of family ties,” she added. 

Three designs of the book that costs 10,000 dong and 20,000 dong. (Joachim Pham)
Two pages inside the book. (Joachim Pham)

She suggested people spend time eating together and preparing healthy food themselves rather than buying fast food from restaurants. They should give positive encouragement and praise to one another, and avoid watching television and using smartphones during meals.

Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop of the northern Vinh diocese wrote in the book, “Meals are golden occasions for family members to gather together to listen to God’s Word, thank Him and those who prepare food, and remember their beloved relatives.”

Bishop Alfonse Nguyen Huu Long, head of the Episcopal commission, told hundreds of participants at a Jan. 17 heaven meal that reciting prayers for meals is a way of evangelization. A Catholic man who did not practice faith noticed Fr. Nguyen Ba Vi from Da Nang diocese praying before eating at a restaurant and secretly footed the bill for his food. Then after meeting the priest, he decided to return to the church, Bishop Long said.  

Three colorful and attractive designs of the pocket book cost 10,000 dong and 20,000 dong (U.S. 50 cents-$1) each. The book gives daily prayer intentions – sanctifying the new week on Mondays, praying for family, the poor, evangelization and charitable work on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, respectively, following Mother Mary on Saturdays and thanksgiving on Sundays. Each page contains an illustration, scripture verses and reflection. People also read traditional prayers or sing short songs before and after meals.

Que said it takes only one minute to pray before and after meals.

She said the small paperback with red cover box made it convenient for people to give it as li xi or lucky money, which is put in red envelopes for relatives and friends at the Lunar New Year.

This year's Tet festival or Lunar New Year of the Goat fell on Feb. 19-21 and was celebrated through Feb. 25.

Que said some lay Catholics bought 15,000 copies of the book and offered them to Catholics in the Mekong Delta dioceses where few Catholics pray before meals.

She said she is having the book translated into English to serve Vietnamese Catholic communities around the world and does not own the copyright on the book for evangelization purposes.

Copies of the book were put in red covers as gifts for the Tet festival. (Joachim Pham)

[Joachim Pham is a correspondent for Global Sisters Report, based in Vietnam.]