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Breaking Bread throughout the Liturgical Year

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Aug 21, 2015

This upcoming Sunday concludes a series of five Sundays with the Gospel taken from John Chapter 6, the discourse on the Bread of Life. Jesus was preparing the people for his upcoming greater gift of Himself in the Eucharist.

Jesus recognized bread as a universal daily sustenance and staple of life. He used bread as a common image and substance in His work on earth. Bread was multiplied in two miracles. One of His parables uses the imagery of leaven. Our "daily bread" is part of the petition in the Our Father. Most importantly, Jesus uses the sign of bread to transform into His Body in the Eucharist. One could say that bread is a basic component of our faith.

Bread has so many universal aspects, such as having the shared social experience of "breaking bread" or eating together. Bread baking was also a necessary and universal function of every household, with usually the women of the household being the artisans of the bread, crafting the bread from the grinding of the wheat to flour, using leavens for rising, kneading and baking. Most often the bread was utilitarian, to provide nourishment, but the bread could also be the expression of love and celebration, with added special ingredients and unique shaping to make the bread the centerpiece of a family or religious celebration.

Sadly, bread and grains in general have taken a negative rap lately with the popularity of wheat free, gluten free, grain free and paleo diets. Modern wheat has been hybridized to the point that it is no longer the same wheat our grandparents and other earlier generations ate. Wheat is also an added ingredient in almost every processed food, so in many ways it is not the same type of nourishment as for former generations. Despite the negativity, bread in different ways continues to have such a predominant role in daily lives.

Since bread is "the staple of life", it seems so natural to work bread into our celebrations around the year. A simple loaf of bread can symbolize as a reminder of a feast day, shaped into a special treat for a high celebration, or be an actual symbol to recall a saint. My last two posts featured how wine, one of the physical accidents used for the Eucharist, can be an integral part in observing and celebrating the Liturgical Year. The use of bread is even more widespread than wine as connected with the feasts of the Liturgical year. Our daily bread can be a reminder of the Bread of Life, and other gifts of the Church 

I find breaking bread (literally and figuratively) and sharing wine together is such a wonderful social experience. I enjoy baking bread, although I've had to shelve most of my interaction with wheat flour because of my older son's food allergy to wheat and my wheat intolerance. One day he will outgrow his allergy, and I find I can tolerate some small amounts of wheat for those special occasions, especially those high feast days.

Bread is so intimately connected with the Liturgical Year, it isn't difficult to make connections. Here are few highlights and hints to help link that daily bread to the next liturgical feast day.

Liturgical Feasting With Bread:

1. Celebrate the saints with connections of bread:

There are several saints who have stories of miracles with bread, such as:

  • August 16: St. Roch or Rocco, who while living in a cave, a dog would come and bring him daily bread.
  • July 11: There is a story of St. Benedict and the raven, where the bird took away the loaf of poisoned bread, intended for St. Benedict, far away from any man.
  • January 25: St. Paul the Hermit was supplied with daily bread from raven, and there is a wonderful story about when St. Anthony Abbott came to visit:
    St. Anthony, after two days and a night spent in the search, discovered the saint's abode by a light which shone from it and guided his steps. Having begged admittance at the door of the cell, St. Paul at last opened it with a smile; they embraced, and called each other by their names, which they knew by revelation.... While they were discoursing together, a raven flew towards them, and dropped a loaf of bread before them. Upon which St. Paul said, "Our good God has sent us a dinner. In this manner have I received half a loaf every day these sixty years past; now you have come to see me, Christ has doubled His provision for His servants" (Butler’s Lives of the Saints Complete Edition).
  • And there are several saints who were generous to the poor by providing bread, and miraculous events when they were “accused” of giving or stealing bread, such as St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Elizabeth of Portugal and St. Germaine Cousins.

2. Pray the Church's blessings for bread

The older form of the Roman Ritual (which can still be used) and other liturgical books have multiple blessings for bread, some that are connected to feasts of the year. Even just a sandwich loaf of bread becomes special when praying the Church's blessing over the bread:

3. Bake traditional breads linked with a feast or saint.

Bake breads that are traditionally linked with a feast or saint. The Catholic Culture Liturgical Year recipe section contains the most recipes for the Breads category. These are bread recipes from all over the world that connect to certain feast days, such as:

3. Don't be limited by yeast breads, but remember there are a vast array of recipes for sourdough breads, rolls, quick breads, muffins, gluten-free and wheat free breads, grain-free bread (with coconut flour, almond flour, etc.) scones, (American) biscuits, etc.

4. Use bread recipes from a geographic area, region, or culture. For example, for the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Italian bread would be appropriate, but you could also delve deeper and use a bread recipe from the Umbrian region or specifically a recipe from the city of Assisi. The same principle applied elsewhere, such as not confusing Spanish with Castilian saints (St. Ignatius of Loyola was Castilian). France is divided into various regions, each with unique flavors, such as bread from Provençal. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is from Germany, but he's specifically from Bavaria.

5. Use regional ingredients (grains, fruits, etc.) to mark a feast. Is a saint from Scotland? Oat cakes or scones or bannocks would be a perfect touch. Native corn in the style of cornbread would be appropriate on Saint Kateri Tekakwitha's feast on July 14. For St. Barnabas the Apostle (June 11), incorporate olive bread, since one of his symbols is the olive branch.

6. Use inspiration from other traditions and customs around the world. The particular recipe doesn't have to be used only for the original feast, like Symbolic Breads, which were originally from St. Joseph's feast day, but the shaping of breads (such as the shape of a monstrance) can be applied to various feasts, such as Corpus Christi Sunday. Utilize historical recipes, such as Biblical, ancient Mediterranean, medieval, etc. Try medieval baking for a saint or feast from the medieval era, or biblical breads, such as Ezekiel fasting bread for Ember Days and unleavened bread for some New Testament saints. And how about some Jewish kosher cooking for saints like Martha? A Jewish challah bread would be perfect for her day!

7. Play with words! Sometimes recipes have unique or fun titles, or use proper names. If a bread has a name that fits with the saint of the day, use it! I keep thinking of the story of panettone, Tony's Bread by Tomie dePaola. Since it's named after Tony, it would be perfect to serve on St. Anthony Abbott's feast on January 17th, whose daily bread was brought to him by a raven. Most Italians don't bake this bread but buy it, so purchase an extra box at Christmas and save it for this feast.

8. Be inspired by the shapes and colors of breads. A fabulous Easter bread is the Italian Colomba di Pasqua or Colomba Pasquale (Easter Dove). Although it's originally an Easter bread, the dove shape makes it perfect to serve Columba Pasquale for Pentecost or Confirmation celebrations. And the same can be applied to Greek Trinity bread -- an Easter bread, but triangular in shape would make it perfect for the Feast of the Blessed Trinity. Cloverleaf and Shamrock Rolls can be used for the feast of St. Patrick and the feast of the Blessed Trinity.

These are simple ideas to utilize the humble loaf of bread as a connection with the Liturgical Year, especially the Bread of Life, but the connections are endless. May your family be blessed with these extensions into the Domestic Church.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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