One of the ongoing humorous mistakes over the years in which I have been attending various meetings and gatherings at local Jewish synagogues and the Jewish Community Center is that, at times, Jewish friends and participants have mistakenly addressed me as Rabbi instead of Father.
Over this same period of time, I have been approached by directors of religious education here in the diocese, asking if I would be available to celebrate a Seder or Passover meal at their parish during the Lenten season. I think they must think I’m a Rabbi as well.
Imagine, if you can, a group of Jews asking one of their Rabbis to celebrate a Catholic Mass so that they could have a better understanding of the rite and its symbolisms. We would be a bit confused and somewhat upset over what we would perceive as an inappropriate way to teach the meaning of our central form of worship. The same rings true when Catholics decide to host a Seder Meal, usually to show the connections between Eucharist and Passover, with no Jews present, and often by Christianizing the meaning of the Seder.
The Seder Meal commemorates the Passover of the Jewish people. It ritualizes the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, and their transition from slavery to freedom. The Seder occurs on the first two nights of the holiday. This year it begins at sundown on April 10 during our Holy Week. It is a festive meal that involves the re-telling of the Exodus through stories and song and the consumption and display of ritual foods, including matzah (unleavened bread), wine, maror (bitter herbs), lamb shank, and other Passover foods. The Seder Meal is a Jewish tradition that Catholics should enjoy only if we are privileged to be welcomed to a Jewish Passover gathering.
It is certainly true that a greater understanding of the connectedness between the symbolism of the Passover and our understanding of the Eucharist enhances our faith. And it is especially informative at this time of year when Jews and Catholics celebrate the origin of these central celebrations that mark the themes of freedom and life. Certainly, the desire to learn more about and experience firsthand, the Seder for Catholics, is laudatory, since it helps Catholics to have a greater and more in-depth understanding of the connectedness of the themes of Eucharist and Passover. Soon we will hear the first reading at our Holy Thursday liturgy that celebrates the Lord’s Supper connecting Passover to Eucharist. It is also no coincidence that on Holy Saturday, in the Easter Proclamation (The Exsultet), we hear the words, “This is our Passover feast!”
To help in our understanding here in South Jersey while at the same time respecting the integrity of our Jewish friends’ celebration, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey and the Catholic Jewish Commission, invite you to our Interfaith Passover Seder, Monday, March 27, 6:30 p.m, hosted by the Catholic Parish of Saint Simon Stock, in their parish hall (school gym), 178 W. White Horse Pike, Berlin. Registration is only $10 for adults (children under age 12 free). All are welcome.
To register, please contact Sue Ann Jeral, 856-767-1537 ext. 306, firstname.lastname@example.org. The Seder will be celebrated by Rabbi Gary Gans and a cantor from his synagogue. Local Jewish participants will be present to sit at the various tables to help explain the meanings of the meal. I would like to thank my good friend, Father Jim Dabrowski, pastor and his director of lifelong faith formation, Sue Ann Jeral, for hosting our Seder this year. Also our wonderful chefs, Kevin DiPietropolo and Richard Selznick, for the wonderful dinner they are preparing for everyone.
We are all aware of the terrible acts of hatred and disrespect that have been unleashed on our local Jewish community. Bishop Sullivan immediately called David Snyder, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Southern New Jersey, when the news stories broke and promptly issued a statement of support to the Jewish Community. In his statement he called on Jews and Catholics to “join with all people of good will in forging a community of compassion.” Many Catholics from our diocese have contacted me, asking what they can do to let our local Jewish friends know of their solidarity. My suggestion is to join with us on Monday, March 27th, for our Interfaith Seder. In joining together to learn in an atmosphere of respect and harmony, sharing a meal, praying, singing and celebrating, we stand against the ignorance that leads to such acts of malice and bigotry.
Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.