The Sacredness of Mealtime: Tips for Setting the Table and Savoring Dinner

Cherish this sacred space, a moment for encounter with others and an invitation to encounter the Creator

Intentionally strive to see mealtime as a set-apart time, writes Bridget McCartney Nohara.
Intentionally strive to see mealtime as a set-apart time, writes Bridget McCartney Nohara. (photo: Bridget McCartney Nohara)

As a child, each day looked a little different for my family. As No. 5 of seven children, schedules were filled, and days were full. But despite how full days and weeks might be, my parents always prioritized our family dinner. My siblings and I knew that even if it seemed like we were simply crossing paths with one another during the day, taking care of our own duties and commitments, we would gather each evening around the table.

There have been years where the table I sat around was filled with my siblings and other family and friends. These days morphed into years at college and, shortly after, where the seats were filled with roommates and friends, and, sometimes, it was just me sitting down to dine. Regardless of how many people I was surrounded by, I have come to cherish mealtime and see it as a sacred space in my day. It is a moment for encounter with those around me and an invitation to encounter my Creator.

We are all invited to the sacred banquet at the end of our earthly pilgrimage. In the meantime, our own tables in our own homes can become a foretaste of the heavenly feast, as we intentionally strive to see mealtime as a set-apart time. I found this in my home growing up, and I’ve sought to continue it in the home I’ve created as an adult.

If you’re hoping to do the same, here are three things that might help.


Set the table.

As embodied creatures, what we do with our bodies greatly impacts us. The small act of setting a table, similar to the act of making our beds, can reap benefits for much longer than the few minutes it might take to complete the task.

If it’s your style, you may adorn your table with a centerpiece, pretty glasses, flowers and fancy linens. But that’s certainly not required for preparing your home for mealtime. Simply clearing off your dining table from the day’s work, perhaps adding a simple cloth or placemats, and putting out cups, plates and silverware will do. Dessert forks, totally optional!

By setting the table, you invite yourself and your family — big or small — to gather. This serves as a sort of holy interruption to the nonstop nature of our days. At the Holy Mass, we watch the priest prepare the altar for something very important that’s about to occur. Similarly, we, too, may take a posture of sweet anticipation for dinner time as we prepare to nurture our bodies and fuel our spirits.

In the few minutes you spend setting the table, let this small service be an offering for all who may dine with you. If setting for yourself (yes, it’s okay to set the table for a party of one!) take that time of quiet stillness to raise your intentions from the day to heaven.


Enjoy it.

There are many ways to enjoy mealtime, and I’m certain that I can’t tell you exactly which way is best for you. Perhaps for you, it means burning a candle you only light in the evening, or putting on some soothing music. If you have children, you might like going around the table and talking about highs and lows of the day, or other such questions that beget good conversation. If you are alone, maybe it’s your designated time for that audiobook you love, time to call Mom or a friend, or simply relish the sweet silence after a busy day. There’s no correct way, so long as you and those involved enjoy it.

And don’t forget the food! It doesn’t have to be a three-course supper. If it’s takeout, small intentional efforts, such as serving the meal on dishes and using real cutlery, can make a big difference through thoughtful touches.

Mealtime is much more enjoyable when the food is delicious, nourishing and leaves us feeling well after we’ve consumed it.


Invite the Spirit.

A lovely aspect of mealtime is the way it allows for prayer. 

Many of us have built habits of prayer before a meal. This is powerful!

Whether you are dining solo, have a table bursting with hungry mouths, or it’s just a few for fellowship, take the time to invite the Holy Spirit to sit at your table and to thank God for all he is doing in your life. Doing so turns a simple, human activity into a holy encounter. It is in these moments that we truly see the home as the domestic church.

As we mimic the eternal banquet in our own homes, we are cultivating spaces of hope in our hearts. Gathering together to share a meal, and setting aside intentional time to feed our bodies, we become a living testament to the good we anticipate, to the promise we hold fast to: that one day, we will join the choirs of angels and saints and sit at the Lord’s banquet, which he has prepared for us and which he yearns for us to participate in.