organize a Jewish-Catholic Seder?
springtime both Catholics and Jews observe rituals of freedom and rebirth. The
Catholic Easter Triduum and the modern Jewish Seder both have roots in the
Passover traditions of biblical
. Both communities see
themselves as experiencing the liberating power of God first manifest to the
ancient Hebrews in the Exodus. In every generation, each of us should feel as
though we ourselves had gone forth from
is a principle
held by both faiths. By joining in this ritual meal, Jews can share one of their
central festivals with Catholics, whose own religious heritage predisposes them
to appreciate the Seders deep spiritual significance. This makes it more
likely that during table conversation mutual understanding will begin to replace
stereotypes or misapprehensions about each other.
authentic is our Jewish-Catholic Seder?
usual setting for a Seder is in the home where people are surrounded by family
and close friends. It does not take place in a synagogue. We have adapted our
Seder to a location outside the home. Also, we are conducting the Seder on an
evening other than Passover. Otherwise, our Seder will follow the traditional
order of the ritual set down by the rabbis in the 5th or 6th
Century. We will engage in the ritual as well as eat the appropriate food for a
Passover meal. We created our own haggadah:
a book that tells the story of Passover through the rituals of the
seder. No two haggadot are alike, and like all other haggadot, ours is a reflection of contemporary times while closely
following the required order of the Seder.
might Catholics be interested in participating in a Seder?
are many reasons. The Book of Exodus is part of the Christian Bible and so
Christians are indebted to the spiritual heritage of ancient
. In addition, Jesus
ate a final meal with his friends at the time of Passover. While it is not clear
how Passover meals were conducted in the first century, or even whether this
Last Supper was a Seder (John 13:1 and 19:31 indicate it was not), todays
Catholic Mass is partially understood as a commemoration of that meal. Many
Catholics can thus have a powerful experience of their shared roots in biblical
Judaism by joining in a Seder meal with Jewish friends.
significance of Passover for the Jewish people
is the model for all
the redemptions in the course of history and beyond into the Age to Come. The
Seder guides participants through that passage from the oppression of harsh
taskmasters, through the terror of the plagues until they emerge singing Psalms,
celebrating as free people. While the Seder overtly describes the Exodus from
, it transports
the participants from past to future, closing with the hopeful cry,
"Next year in
", a look forward
to the ultimate redemption of all humankind. Perhaps because that passage is one
traveled by each individual at the Seder, this ritual has attracted more
attention than any other in the Jewish year. Haggadot
have been lavishly illustrated, and myriads of songs have been composed for
every phrase of the Seder. Some Seders can last until the wee hours of the
morning an energetic celebration of redemption.
Judaism and some relevant Roman Catholic Teaching
is important for Catholics to realize that the Jewish religious heritage has
evolved and developed over the centuries, just as the Christian tradition has.
In the centuries after the Roman destruction of the
in the year 70,
learned Jews called rabbis adapted Judaism to a world without a
by stressing study of
the Torah, prayer, and the fulfillment of Gods biblical commands (the mitzvoth).
This rabbinic tradition eventually became normative for all Jews. All the
various movements in Judaism today whether Reform, Conservative,
Reconstructionist, or Orthodox engage the traditions of the rabbis in some
way. Judaism today is not biblical
Judaism. Todays Seder continues but differs from biblical Passover rituals.
For instance, lamb is not served.
since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Catholic Churchs official
teachings have urged Catholics to respect and learn from rabbinic Judaism.
Noting that the faith of the Jewish people did not end with the demise of the
Temple, a 1985 Vatican document declared that, It continued, especially in a
numerous Diaspora which allowed Israel to carry to the whole world a
witness-often heroic-of its fidelity to the one God and to exalt Him in the
presence of all the living (Tobit 13:4).
We [Catholics] must remind
ourselves how the permanence of Israel is accompanied by a continuous spiritual
fruitfulness, in the rabbinical period, in the Middle Ages and in modern times
This spiritual richness is the consequence of the fact that Jews are partners
in a covenant of eternal love [with God] that was never revoked,[ii]
as Pope John Paul II has put it. That is why Christians must strive to learn
by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own
Respect for the Seder
recent years, some Christians eagerly pursuing their Jewish roots have taken a
modern Jewish haggadah and turned it
into a dramatization of the Last Supper. Such misappropriation disrespects the
Jewish tradition. It is also historically inaccurate since the Seder has
developed over time. For example, some elements of todays Seder arose in
response to Christian oppression of Jews. Many scholars believe that the
medieval Seder adapted to a Christian accusation that Jews ritually murdered a
Christian child at Passover to use its blood to make unleavened matzah bread.
Jews began to open the front doors of their homes during the Seder to welcome
the possible arrival of the prophet Elijah, but also so Christians could see for
themselves that no evil was being done.
a Catholic perspective, the Seder is a
Jewish tradition that Christians should honor and experience only when they are
privileged to enjoy the hospitality of Jews at the Passover table. Catholic
guests at Jewish Seders should not imagine that they are reenacting the Last
Supper, which after all occurs at the Christian paschal meal, the Mass. Rather,
they are blessed with a chance to experience the profound and related
spirituality of the Jewish people, a graced moment that not only enriches
Christian faith, but also energizes Catholics to take up the commitment of Pope
John Paul II to genuine fellowship with the People of the Covenant.[iv]
should Jews expect about Catholic guests at interfaith Seders?
who invite Christians to share in a Seder can expect that the Exodus story is
familiar to them. The Jewish conviction that at the Seder past events become
present today is something that can resonate strongly with Catholics. The
Catholic concept of anamnesis
corresponds to the Hebrew term zecher.
Both refer to the use of ritual to make the past a lived present reality.
unfamiliar is the order of the meal, the symbolic meanings of the various foods
and actions, and the meaning of Hebrew expressions. Christians may not be
familiar with how the Exodus carries such a strong moral weight for Jews and how
the memory of having been slaves demands that Jews fight against the oppression
of all people today. Christians may find it difficult to appreciate the
centrality of the mitzvoth in the
Jewish tradition and will benefit from seeing how they shape the Seder
experiencing the Seder for the first time may be struck by the various
connections with their own Easter or other observances. They may be surprised
that Jews have similar ideas about God even though Jesus, who is obviously
central to Christian understanding, is not part of the Jewish experience. Jews
who observe this dynamic in their Christian guests may be puzzled why Jesus
should be thought necessary to relate to God. It may be helpful for both
Christians and Jews to observe both the differences and the similarities of
their experience of the Passover ritual.
eating of the Seders main course offers a wonderful opportunity for Jews and
Catholics to get to know each other better. That is why sitting in mixed groups
is encouraged at the Jewish-Catholic Seder. Besides discussing the particulars
of the Seder itself, participants might talk about some aspect of the following
of your own memories, as either a child or an adult, of preparing for or
celebrating Passover or Easter. What are some customs observed in your
family that you associate with the feast? What does the celebration mean to
Moment of Blessing
and Christians are literally living in unprecedented times. For the first time
in history it is becoming more possible for us to learn from each other without
fear. Such events as the Jewish-Catholic Seder are occasions for us not to lose
our respective identities through some sort of blending, but rather to deepen
who we are as Jews and Christians by appreciating the distinctive though related
ways in which we covenant with God.
Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and
Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church (1985), VI, 25.
Pope John Paul II, Address to Jewish Leaders in
(Sept. 11, 1987).
Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews,
Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra
Aetate, no. 4 (1974), Preamble.
Pope John II, Prayer at the Western Wall, March 26, 2000.