Saturday, April 5, 2008

Catholic Seder Meal

Some years ago I started hearing about Catholic families who hold a version of a Jewish Seder. Many do their Catholic Seder on Holy Thursday night.
I found most of the following, very helpful information at Stand in the Trenches.

This is, in no way, meant to be an authentic Seder dinner. We are Catholic not Jewish.

It's also done with the utmost respect for our Jewish friends, our"older brothers in the faith".
This Seder meal does not re-create an authentic Seder, which would of course end up being very inauthentic. Elements of a traditional Jewish Passover meal are meshed with our Catholic (Holy Week) traditions.
My hopes are that

  • we'll learn more about our Judeo-Christian heritage
  • appreciate the beautiful symbolism of the elements of a Seder
  • come to a deeper understanding of the relationship between the Last Supper, which was a Passover meal, the Passion of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Mass of the Catholic Church.

A couple of things:
  • The whole family needs to be very familiar with the story of the Israelites in captivity in Egypt, of the first Passover which required them to kill and eat an unblemished lamb and paint their door posts with its blood, and of the Exodus into freedom and ultimately (years later) the Promised Land.
  • It's a movable feast. The author of this information noted that they always have their family's Seder meal during Holy Week. We are having our first Seder meal on the traditional Jewish Passover date this year which does not fall during Holy Week.
  • The Passover dinner described in this post is considerably shorter than a true Seder.

What follows is a VERY simple, homemade version of a Catholic Passover Supper. You will find the directions for the food, table preparation, and the traditional four question and answers adapted for a Christian ceremony.

Food for the main meal (serves 6 - 8)

4 small lamb chops (for just a taste of lamb per person)
1 roasting chicken (if you're only providing a "taste" of lamb for everyone)
Side dishes according to your preference. Remember no leavened bread!
Asparagus and rice or potatoes are complimentary choices for this meal. Remember no leavened bread!

For the charoset (or Haroses, Horoseth, Haroset, Charoses)
1 apple
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons red wine
Cinnamon to taste
Core and dice the apple; put it and the walnuts into a medium size bowl. Add the honey and wine (the quantities are approximate; add more or less to taste) and mix.
Add a little bit of cinnamon to taste (optional). The charoset should be a pleasantly sweet, sticky, tangy mixture that holds together a little bit. (Add more honey if you need to).

For the ceremonial dipping
1 bunch green leaf or romaine lettuce, parsley, or other "bitter" greens or herbs
1 package Matzoh (or other unleavened crackers)
1 small bowl or custard cup filled with salt water

The ceremonial cups of wine
A true Seder would have four separate cups; we use the same wine glass with enough in it for four (generous) "sips".

Putting it all together
  • Place the bowl of salt water in the middle of a decorative tray. Surround it with the lettuce or other greens. The salt water represents the tears of slavery. Sin enslaves us today, just as much as the Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites thousands of years ago.
  • Place the matzoh on another decorative tray or serving plate, with a custard cup of charoset in the center. (Plan to refill that cup often!) Charoset represents the mortar that the enslaved Israelites used between the bricks when they were enslaved in Egypt, when building for the Pharaoh.
In a true Seder no roasted meat would be eaten. Ever since the destruction of the Temple, just a roasted lamb bone is present on the table as a reminder of the original sacrifice. However, we Christians eat the lamb in remembrance of both the original Passover, and Eucharist of the Lamb of God.

Prepare the side dishes so that they'll be ready at serving time with a minimum of fuss, as you want to be seated at the table for the ceremonial part of the meal which comes first.

Set a fancy table: The place to "keep it simple" rule is in the way you set your table. Use your good company tablecloth, the good china and crystal, and candles. Yes, I mean it. Yes, I know it means hand-washing the dishes. It's worth it. This is special.

If you are having your Seder meal during Holy Week you could use fresh palms from Palm Sunday, laid down the middle of the table as a centerpiece..

Put the two serving trays (with the lettuce or herbs on one, and the matzoh on the other) on the table.

Give everyone a small sofa pillow or other small pillow to sit against on their chairs. This can approximate reclining at table.

Call everyone to come sit down. Have Mom light the candle.

Then, use the this script, or any version of it that you like. This particular script was put together from many sources (including several Catholic Culture pages and one by a Rabbi.
This version is succinct. Following the short version (at the link site) you can scroll down to find MANY more details for a more complex seder meal.

After you've completed this ceremonial portion of the meal, serve the rest of the dinner.

You can easily integrate other simple elements of a real Seder, for example:
  • having a roasted (hard-boiled) egg on the table
  • hiding a piece of Matzoh
  • having an extra chair for the unseen guest.
This version is "just the basics".
If you want a much more detailed -- and I'm sure deeper, richer, and holier -- version, I would suggest reading Come to the Table: A Catholic Passover Seder for Holy Week written by a Jewish woman who converted to Catholicism.


Lisa said...

I've always thought this a very interesting thing to do. How cool to celebrate as Our Lord Himself celebrated?

Dad said...

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These sites contain the contents of two of our "In the Domestic Church" books published by Ignatius.

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