Local News Archive
Print Issue: April 1, 1993
Service Recalls Passover Supper
By Paula Day
Since the Second Vatican Council renewed interfaith dialogue, Catholics have been introduced to the Jewish Seder meal. The solemn traditional meal recalls events recorded in the Book of Exodus delivering Israel out of slavery in Egypt.
People of the Jewish faith have celebrated Passover for centuries. Through the ritual of a Seder meal they have kept fresh the memory of divine intervention in their history as a people. Moses, the prophet sent by God, led the Israelites from bondage under the Egyptians, through the Red Sea, into the desert and finally into the promised land.
A Christian Seder meal will be celebrated at Christ Our Hope parish in Lithonia and a few other parishes in the archdiocese as a paraliturgical service during Holy Week. Every effort is made to be faithful to the Jewish wording, intent, sequence, food and solemnity during the celebration, according to Father Austin Fogarty, pastor of Christ Our Hope.
Several elements make up the meals rituals: the lighting of candles, the cup of thanksgiving, the eating of bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, the haggadah, the solemn blessing of the food, the paschal supper itself, the cup of blessing and the final blessing.
In the Jewish home the mother of the family lights candles for every service, and the Seder begins with this custom. As she lights the candles she praises God for blessing and for sustaining the family another year. She prays for His continued blessing and for peace.
Four times during the meal a cup of wine is poured from a large goblet and passed to everyone present. Coming from a common bowl, the wine symbolizes the unity of those taking part in the meal. The first cup is referred to as the cup of thanksgiving.
Participants are then asked to dip a sprig of greenery into salt water and into moror and eat the sprig. Moror, or horseradish, with its bitter taste, symbolizes the bitterness of Jewish life under the Egyptians and is eaten at each Passover meal. The salt water represents their tears and sorrow.
The leader then lifts a large matzos, unleavened bread, and says, Behold, this is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat.
Unleavened bread is the prescribed bread for Jewish families during the eight days of Passover. Its use recalls that the Jewish people, in the rush to escape from Egypt, had no time to wait for leavened bread to rise before baking.
A second cup of wine, the Cup of Haggadah, is poured but not tasted at this time.
The haggadah or telling of the first Passover follows. The youngest in the group, representing the next generation who will pass on the legacy, breaks open the story by asking traditional questions each of which the leader answers.
Why on this night do we eat unleavened bread?
Why on this night do we eat bitter herbs?
Why on this night do we dip them in salt water?
Readings from the Book of Exodus recounting the deliverance, broaden the answers. At the conclusion of the reading the paschal lamb is brought in and placed before the leader.
At the time of Jesus a lamb or goat was killed and offered as sacrifice in the temple. Prepared in a specific way the animal symbolizes the lamb whose blood on the doorposts of Israelite homes was a sign those inside were to be spared from death.
Since the ceremony is a dramatization of a solemn event, the Seder meal is eaten with a minimum of conversation.
Parallels found in Catholic rituals and tradition as well as extrapolations from the Gospel account of the last supper can deepen appreciation of the Seder meal for Christians.
Father Fogarty has celebrated the paraliturgical Christian Seder for 10 years. He uses the meal and a commentary on the action to point out these parallels.
The lighting of candles reminds Catholics of the blessing of the fire at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. The elements of unleavened bread and wine are also those used at Mass and underscore its identity as a meal.
It was customary for the leader to dip a piece of matzos into haroses, and give it to one of the guests as a token of affection. Haroses is a mixture of nuts, apples, raisins and wine representing the mortar the Israelites mixed for construction of Egyptian buildings. Jesus dipped a piece of unleavened bread and gave it to Judas. This gesture can be seen as a last loving appeal to the man bent on betrayal.
Our faith begins with a meal, the priest points out. It was in the context of this meal that Christ gives His body and his blood. The service, he believes, can deepen Catholics appreciation of the Eucharist as a meal and emphasize that Jesus is the suffering servant of the Old Testament and the new Adam.
The Jewish Passover meal and the Christian Eucharist are distinct religious celebrations from different but related traditions. That Jesus was a Jew and used the Passover meal as the setting for instituting the Eucharist gives Catholics reason to learn about the Jewish ceremony, to respect its meaning for those Pope John Paul II calls our elder brothers, and to deepen their understanding of their own Eucharist.
Parishioners of Christ Our Hope who have made advance reservations will celebrate the Christian Seder meal on the Wednesday of Holy Week.