Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pretzels and Lent

When early Christians would pray, they would cross their arms and touch each shoulder with the opposite hand. They also fasted very strictly during lent, making their bread with only water, flour, and salt. A monk shaped this in the form of praying arms for children, and the pretzel was born!

Here is a recipe for you to try, if you are interested:

Soft Pretzel Recipe:
• 1 package yeast
• 1 1/2 cups warm water
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 4 cups flour

2 cups warm water
2 Tablespoons baking soda

Mix the yeast, water, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the flour, and knead until the dough is smooth. Let the dough rise until doubled. Divide the dough into about 12 pieces, roll into a "snake" and shape into the form of arms crossed in prayer. Combine the 2 cups warm water and baking soda in a shallow dish and dip each pretzel briefly into the mixture and place it on a greased baking sheet. Let rest about 20 minutes. You can sprinkle the top with salt (or bake them naked and just before you eat it, spritz it with water and dip it in a little salt. Or garlic salt. Or cinnamon sugar!), and bake in an oven preheated to 425 degrees for 15 minutes.

You might be a little more successful in shaping your pretzels. A couple of mine looked ok, but more than a few kind of looked like something that should be scooped out of the dog kennel! Fortunately, they still taste good!
How the pretzel and Lent are entwined -

Lent is a period of fasting, self-denial and prayer, in imitation of our Lord's fasting, forty days and forty nights, and in preparation for the feast of Easter. It comprises forty days, not including Sundays, from Ash Wednesday to the end of Holy Saturday. The term "penance" means a "change of heart," a victory over sin and a striving for holiness. The sacrifices of fasting and self-denial are only means and signs of this spiritual penance.

The pretzel has a deep spiritual meaning for Lent. In fact, it was the ancient Christian Lenten bread as far back as the fourth century. In the old Roman Empire, the faithful kept a very strict fast all through Lent: no milk, no butter, no cheese, no eggs, no cream and no meat. They made small breads of water, flour and salt, to remind themselves that Lent was a time of prayer. They shaped these breads in the form of crossed arms for in those days they crossed their arms over the breast while praying. Therefore they called the breads "little arms" (bracellae). From this Latin word, the Germanic people later coined the term "pretzel."

Thus the pretzel is the most appropriate food symbol in Lent. It still shows the form of arms crossed in prayer, reminding us that Lent is a time of prayer. It consists only of water and flour, thus proclaiming Lent as a time of fasting. The earliest picture and description of a pretzel (from the fifth century) may be found in the manuscript-codex No. 3867, Vatican Library.
That many people eat pretzels today all through the year, that they take them together with beer in taverns and restaurants, is only an accidental habit. In many places of Europe, pretzels are served only from Ash Wednesday to Easter, thus keeping the ancient symbolism alive.
There seems to be no reason why our Christian families should not return to this beautiful custom of our ancient Roman fellow- Christian, especially since we still have these breads everywhere. The children will be delighted and greatly impressed when they hear the true story of the pretzel!

From The Year of the Lord in the Christian Home by Rev. Francis X. Weiser, S.J. (Collegeville, Minnesota, The Liturgical Press, ©1964) p. 89, pp. 93-94.

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