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Much Ado About Pretzels

Dear Family in Christ,

     Did you know that the Pretzel is over 1400 years old, and has a rich spiritual meaning particularly for Catholics during Lent? This week, I spent a disproportionate amount of time thinking about pretzels. Thanks to our wonderful grade 8 students at Notre Dame, and their fearless leader Mrs. Cha, I learned about the rich Catholic tradition surrounding pretzels. We were treated to an interactive pretzel-making lesson from one of our very own parishioners (an aspiring pastry chef), and even got to enjoy one (or two) of these ‘penitential’ snacks. Here’s what we learned about the Pretzel:

     ‘According to tradition, pretzels were invented by Italian monks in the early seventh century. Older monks would treat novices and small children to baked dough twisted in the shape of crossed arms, a classic monastic praying posture.

     These treats were called pretiolas, meaning “little prizes,” small rewards for kids who had successfully memorized their prayers or performed some work of charity for the poor. Some others say that they were originally called bracellae (“tiny arms” or “little arms”), which is where we get our German “brezel”.

     Considered by many as a classic Lenten treat, since it is only made of flour, water and salt, with no dairy or eggs added at all, tradition also gave pretzels an extra spiritual meaning: the three holes in it came to represent the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and the Holy Spirit — as the custom spread from Italy to the rest of Europe, and were eventually associated with long life and prosperity as they became a great, easy, tasty way to get a full stomach.’ (Courtesy of

All this was part of one of the students’ Lenten religion curriculum, and included an assignment on the Temptations of Jesus in the Desert. While we waited for the pretzels to bake, I was blessed to engage our grade 8 students in a discussion about the ways Satan tempted Jesus. We discussed the three major temptations and how they relate to what we face today. Finally, we talked about how to imitate Jesus in resisting temptation by trusting in God our Father. 

     I have to say, as a priest and someone who cares deeply about authentic Catholic education, this lesson was extremely encouraging. Far too often, we fall into the trap of being ashamed of our faith and trying to downplay what makes us uniquely Catholic - yet the Traditions/traditions of our Faith are unfathomably rich in truth, goodness, and beauty. 

     We are at our best when we stop trying to fit in with or be ‘acceptable’ to the world - when we stop apologizing for being Catholic and start to unashamedly embrace our heritage and identity. We change the world by being radically transformed by the love of God. Loving Him and His Church necessarily makes us gloriously unique. The Church shines brightly in Her Sacramental worship of God, in Her teaching and Creed, in Her care for the poor and vulnerable, and even in Her little traditions - like a cross of ashes on our foreheads, or a simple snack of twisted dough.

     As Lent ‘Marches’ on, may God grant us the grace to know and love our faith. We need not be ‘experts’ or ‘professional’ Catholics; it is enough to be an ‘amateur’ - one who loves. 

God love you, 

Father Daniel

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