Here’s a Lenten Tradition to Try

Chef Gilda making pretzels

At the Catholic Conference Center where I work, we had a delightful visit from the students of the Regina Caeli Academy last Friday. The academy offers a unique hybrid approach to learning that blends both homeschooling with on-campus instruction. They took a field trip to the Catholic Conference Center to have our chef, Gilda Caputo, show them how to make pretzels. 

It was not only a wonderful cooking experience, but making pretzels is an ancient Lenten tradition. In the monasteries during the 7th century, fasting regulations were stricter than today, with prohibitions on eating staples like meat, eggs, fat, and milk. The few foods that were allowed included flour, water, and salt – the basic ingredients for a home-baked pretzel. 

The significance of making pretzels during Lent goes deeper than allowing monks to have a hearty snack. The shape also has two reminders of the faith. The word pretzel comes from a German word that means, “little arms”. It is easy to imagine the pretzels being two little arms folded across the chest in the shape of a cross. It’s the way people come to me during Mass to receive a blessing instead of communion. The three loops of the pretzel also offer an image of the Trinity, with three separate parts woven into one divine knot.

As an observer, I thought of a few other biblical images. The students molding the dough reminded me of God molding Adam out of clay. Jesus also talked about a little salt flavoring the whole of the earth, or the Kingdom of God is like a little yeast flavoring a whole batch of dough. 

After the pans were filled with ‘little arms’ folded in the sign of a cross, the children went outside to pray the Stations of the Cross. While they were praying, Chef Gilda was baking. The group returned to the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread and set about devouring the platter of snacks. 

Chef Gilda commented how she loved working with the kids. “Young and old alike had a lot of fun shaping the dough. It was a great way for them to learn.”

I enjoyed watching the activity, soaking up the aroma, and then sneaking a mouthwatering piece of a freshly baked pretzel. I think sometime this Lent, I’m going to try it at home and let making pretzels become part of my Lenten prayer. How about you?