Hot Cross Buns (March 8, 2011)

One step at a time makes the big project easier

One drawer a day, one closet a weekend.

That’s been my Lenten cleaning schedule for well over a decade. If observed faithfully, the clean dressers, desk and closets should meld with the explosion of “deep” house cleaning which, for me, immediately precedes Palm Sunday. Ideally, the effort will free me from all homely cares by the time the Triduum commences.

In theory, anyway.

This cleaning schedule was inspired long ago by a story assignment on the ancient custom of house cleaning which takes place in many Catholic communities before Easter and, in observant Jewish homes, before Passover.

In the former, windows are polished, floors scrubbed as a way of mirroring the spiritual house cleaning that takes place during Lent. If well done on both accounts, the family celebrates the Triduum in a sparkling house symbolic of the inner newness of their soul.

The meaning is much the same in the Jewish tradition where shiny surfaces matter less than crumb free ones.

The night before Passover, in observant homes, family members will canvas the house from top to bottom, dusting each surface with a feather to sweep away any traces of leavening – or chometz – as the crumbs are known in Hebrew.

The tales told by those who faithfully performed these rituals were so compelling that I decided to adopt the house cleaning tradition myself. Growing up, we’d always participated in a major spring cleaning event. In fact, during one particularly major spring cleaning event, I told the neighbors my mother was raising me to be a maid. But, in our house, it wasn’t tied to Lent. In fact, if memory serves me, it usually took place a bit closer to summer.

Now, combined with the spiritual exercises undertaken every year at Lent, spring house cleaning has become an inspirational endeavor. It’s always wonderfully refreshing to sweep away the crumbs and cobwebs of winter, to sift through drawers clogged with old bills and receipts and send them through the shredder.

There’s something equally wonderful about getting rid of the detritus that’s bogging down the spirit as well: ill feelings; regrets; grievances are addressed one by one and pushed out the door of my mind. Sins of omission and commission are duly noted – this year, in fact, some of us have decided to write everything down beforehand to help prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Hopefully, by Holy Thursday, the focus of preparation will shift to solemn remembrance and celebration of the Lord’s Passion.

Throughout Lent, we’ve all tried to keep the fasts and spend more time in prayer and reflection. On Good Friday, a day of mourning, family and friends strive to go the extra mile eating less at the small meals – though not to the extent of the “black fast” practiced in Ireland which consists of only black tea and water.

And, we seek out activities to help the little ones understand the solemn nature of the day. Often, we draw inspiration from a favorite Website,, which offers many inspirational activities for families throughout the year.

This site recommends staying close to the cross of Jesus on Calvary on Good Friday through quiet, not complete silence which would be far too rigorous for little kids, but quiet, peaceful activities – drawing and coloring pictures of the Stations of the cross for instance.

Catholic Culture also encourages switching the television and boom box to religious movies and music. Gregorian chant and Bach top their list. I would add Easter Vespers by Rachmaninoff and CDs of hymns that reflect on the power and glory of the cross.

Some families set up a home altar by draping a black or purple cloth on a small table and placing a crucifix and candles on top so that the family can gather and pray different devotions such as the Rosary and recite prayers recalling the Passion of Christ.

The somber quality of the day should carry to the dinner table where the simplest dinner of the year should be on the menu. Because of the demanding worship schedule, we often order Chinese take out – vegetable chow mein or chop suey – or plain pizza.

If you can’t forgo dessert or simply want to reward the children for good behavior, a perfect dinner dessert is hot cross buns. No time for baking? Catholic Culture, always practical, says any bun can be turned into the hot cross variety with a tube of plain white frosting or a drizzle of powdered sugar.

For those who have some time to bake, offered a “quick and easy” hot cross bun recipe.

Hot Cross Buns

  • 1 cup whole wheat or white flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp shortening such as butter
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup milk


  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tsp milk
  • ¼ tsp vanilla

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Cut in the shortening with a fork until it looks like coarse crumbs. Add the honey, cinnamon and raisins and toss lightly. Make a well in the middle and pour the milk in all at once. Stir it around quickly with a fork and form a ball.

Divide the ball into 6 small ones. Grease a baking sheet and place the 6 balls on it, about 2 inches apart. With a knife, cut a deep cross through the top of each ball. Bake them at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

When the rolls are slightly cool, dribble the frosting mixture of confectioners’ sugar, milk and vanilla over each.

Let Us Pray

Lord Jesus Christ, who in fulfilling your Father’s will became obedient unto death, bless us who are gathered as a family at this table. May our spiritual food be like yours: always to do God’s good and gracious will, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.


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