February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday, Lent, Fasting, and Pretzels

Ash Wednesday, Lent, Fasting, and Pretzels

Ash Wednesday and Lent: A Time for Penance

From Fat Tuesday to fat pretzels, carnival season and Mardi Gras are now over. Lent is here.

And that is a good thing. Life if full of seasons and there is a time for everything. We turn now from our revelry and rejoicing to face our own shortcomings and sinfulness, and to acknowledge our deep need for a Savior.

Lent is a penitential season often associated with fasting and abstinence. But fasting and abstinence are not the only things that Lent is about. Lent is really about conversion. It’s about renewing and living out our baptism. Our focus during Lent shouldn’t be on giving up candy or coffee or booze. Rather our focus should be on interior conversion, conversion of the heart. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can be tools to help us in our conversion. At the same time, our interior conversion will yield fruitful actions of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent is a great time to establish in our daily lives the habits of a follower of Jesus Christ.

Fasting and Abstinence

Fasting is not an end in itself. No, it is a tool. A practice. Fasting is supposed to help us to empty ourselves (physically and spiritually) so as to better focus on God.

When I was young (and idealistic?), I believed that fasting had to be rigorous. When you look at the official rules of fasting for the United States, you see that fasting is not that difficult. As a matter of fact, there are only two days out of the year that we are required to fast: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. And you actually still get to eat when you are fasting. 😉

“Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.”—Pope Benedict XVI

Perhaps less attention to a rigorous fast, and more attention to the interior quality of fasting, will help me to grow in my relationship with God and my family.

The Church’s Regulations on Fasting and Abstinence

Here are the regulations on fasting and abstinence in the United States (taken from USCCB.org):

  • Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of universal fast and abstinence. Fasting is obligatory for all who have completed their 18th year and have not yet reached their 60th year. Fasting allows a person to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may be taken, not to equal one full meal. Abstinence (from meat) is obligatory for all who have reached their 14th year.
  • If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the “paschal fast” to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily his Resurrection.
  • Fridays in Lent are obligatory days of complete abstinence (from meat) for all who have completed their 14th year.

The Lenten Pretzel

How are pretzels and Lent connected? As the story goes, the pretzel is in the shape of arms folded in prayer. Pretzels can be a wonderful way to teach children the value of prayer during Lent. Letting them come into the kitchen to help you make the pretzels can be a wonderful way to teach children the value of family.

We discovered this recipe a few years ago and we have been making Lenten pretzels ever since. They are perfect for days of fasting and days of abstinence. They are also delicious. These pretzels have made my children very popular with their friends at church and at gymnastics. During Lent they like to make these pretzels and share them with their friends.

Lenten Pretzels

Author: Jeff Young
Cuisine: German
Recipe type: Snack


  • 1½ cups lukewarm water (about 110 F)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (we prefer King Arthur)
  • 2 cups White Whole Wheat flour (from King Arthur) (or just use 4 cups all-purpose flour)
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Coarse salt (for topping)
  • 1 egg, beaten


  1. Add the honey to 1½ cups warm water (about 110 F). You don’t want the water too hot… that would kill the yeast.
  2. Add the yeast and stir until dissolved.
  3. Add 1 tsp salt and stir until dissolved.
  4. Blend in the flour using a fork. When the dough begins to pull away from the bowl, lay it out on a hard surface and knead till smooth.
  5. Cut the dough into pieces… about the size of the palm of your hand.
  6. Roll each piece into “ropes” by hand, then twist into pretzel shapes.
  7. Place the pretzels on baking stones (or lightly greased cookie sheets)
  8. Brush each pretzel with the beaten egg and sprinkle with salt.
  9. Bake at 425 F for 12 to 15 minutes (or until golden brown).

Enjoy! [Moderately, though… It is Lent after all.]

You can download CF156 here, or press Play below to listen now:

The CRS Rice Bowl Helps Us Celebrate Lent

For years and years “Operation Rice Bowl,” which is now called simply CRS Rice Bowl, has been a part of my lenten observance. It is a part of my children’s lenten observance too.

Tomorrow I will feature a special recipe from the CRS Rice Bowl website. Until then, take a look at this simple explanation of how CRS Rice Bowl can help you and your family celebrate Lent this year:

CRS Rice Bowl brings Lent to life.

CRS Rice Bowl is a Lenten faith formation program that helps us to live in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable around the world.

We pray to reflect on what type of person we are called to be.

We fast to remove the things that get between us and God, and to remember those without enough to eat.

We give to honor Jesus’ call to serve those in need.

More information about CRS Rice Bowl can be found at CRSricebowl.org.

Additional Resources for Lent

What Are You Doing Extra (or Giving Up) This Lent?

Let me know in the comments below!