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Pretzels for God

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An informative pamphlet that describes the history and traditions of the pretzel during Lent, with suggestions for prayers and recipes to use within the family, schools or youth groups.

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Pretzels for God

Publisher & Date

St. Francis Xavier Church, Phoenix, AZ, February 2000

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" should be made clear to children. It 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.

A traditional means of reminding the family that it is the holy season of Lent is the Lenten foods which are served only this time of the year. Thus parents and children realize, even at their meals, that prayer and penance should be practiced during these days.

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.

Ceremony of the Pretzel

1. On Ash Wednesday, father or mother may explain the origin of the holy pretzel, so that the children will understand its significance.

2. The pretzel might be served on each plate for each evening meal until Easter.

3. Added to the grace before meals, is the "pretzel prayer."


We beg you, O Lord, to bless these breads which are to remind us that Lent is a sacred season of penance and prayer. For this very reason, the early Christian started the custom of making these breads in the form of arms crossed in prayer. Thus they kept the holy purpose of Lent alive in their hearts from day to day, and increased in their souls the love of Christ, even unto death, if necessary.

Grant us, we pray, that we too, may be reminded by the daily sight of these pretzels to observe the holy season of Lent with true devotion and great spiritual fruit. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

--With ecclesiastical approbation.

Pretzel Making -- Fun Project for Families

You might make a bag of pretzels for a friend during Lent. An idea for an attractive presentation is to use a plastic bag, tied with a purple ribbon, which would include Pretzel Leaflet, Prayer Cards (about five) and a note which may read:

"Pretzels for God" Sharing Custom

Dear Friend:

Please take these Pretzels for God as a token of love. We happily share with you and your family this beautiful pretzel custom. It will bear much spiritual fruit, serving to remind each of your dear ones of the true purpose of Lent.



Bread Pretzels

1-1/4 cups 85º water plus 5 tablespoons
1 cake compressed yeast

1/2 teaspoon sugar
4-1/2 cups flour (1/2 wheat flour, 1/2 unbleached)

Let the warm water, yeast and sugar stand for 1 hour.

Mix with the flour into the water mixture.

Knead for about 7 or 8 minutes. Let the dough rise covered in a greased bowl until double in bulk. Form into sticks of pretzels. Place on a greased sheet. Apply a thin egg wash. Sprinkle lavishly with coarse salt. Allow the pretzels to rise until not quite double in bulk. Bake in preheated oven at 475º about 10 minutes. Makes 4 dozen 6-inch pretzel sticks or twelve 6-inch pretzel rings.


Pretzel Rolls

1 cup scalded milk
1/4 cup butter
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 yeast cake

1 egg
3-3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add butter, sugar and salt to milk; when lukewarm add yeast cake, whit of egg well beaten and flour. Knead, let rise, roll in pieces width of finger and twice the length. Shape into pretzel rings. Let stand on floured board, only until they begin to rise. Drop rings one at a time into shallow pan half full of very hot (but not boiling) water and cook. Must be light, keep shape and not break apart. Bake in hot (400º) oven on thin baking tin until crisp and brown.

(Serve as a special treat with Lenten Sunday meals.)


Almond Pretzels or Mandelplaettchen

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 to 2 egg yolks
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup cultured sour cream
2-1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon lemon rind (grated)
Sugar and chopped almonds

Beat butter till soft. Gradually add sugar; beat till light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, egg yolks and sour cream. Stir in sifted flour. Add baking powder, cinnamon and lemon rind. Chill dough several hours. Shape dough into long thin rolls and make into pretzel shape. Place on greased tin. Brush with yolk of an egg. Sprinkle with sugar and chopped almonds. Bake at 375º, 10 to 15 minutes.

(Surprise the family with sweet pretzels on Sundays during Lent-- Great for Easter also!)


Soft Pretzels
(This recipe is easy to make--for youth groups)

1 cake yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water.
1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar.
4 cups of flour, (1/2 whole wheat, 1/2 unbleached)

Dissolve the yeast into the warm water, then add the salt and sugar. Blend in the flour mixture.

Knead dough until smooth. Cut into small pieces. Roll into ropes, and twist into desired shape. Place on lightly greased cookie sheets. Brush pretzel with 1 beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake immediately at 425º for 12 to 15 minutes.

(For hard pretzels, use only 1-1/4 cups water, and add 1/4 cup melted butter. Make pretzels smaller and bake until brown. These keep well over a period of days.)

The Birth of the Pretzel

*During Lent, the Early Roman Christians (4th century) observed a strict fast--no milk, no butter, no cheese, no eggs, no cream and no meat. They created a bread which they called "bracellae" which they shaped into the form of arms crossed in prayer (as they prayed) to remind them that Lent was a time of prayer and penance. They sprinkled the top of this pastry with salt.

Later when the monks introduced these breads to the northern countries, the Germanic people coined the word bretzel from bracellae (little arms) from which comes our word pretzel.

The earliest picture and description of a pretzel (from the 5th century) may be found in the manuscript-code #3867 of the Vatican Library.

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

PFG seeks a spiritual renewal in prayer and penance of families for God. The pretzel being symbolic of prayer and penance is a small but powerful instrument in bringing families to God. (Prayer is lifting our mind and heart to God; praising Him, thanking Him, asking personal favors and invoking Him to help other.) (The term penance means striving for a change of heart, giving ourselves to helping others and accepting everyday trials and crosses for the love of God and betterment of mankind.

Prayer and penance draws individuals near to God. When man loves God, he will become closely united with his family and God. The family is the root of society. When the family is strong in God's love, America is strong because God promises His peace and good will to individuals and nations that honor His commandments.

"Pretzels for God" leaflets can be ordered by sending a donation to cover mailing and printing to:

"Pretzels for God"
St. Francis Xavier Church
4715 N. Central
Phoenix, AZ 85012

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