The Passover Seder, celebrating freedom and life

“And this day shall become a memorial for you and you shall observe it as a festival for the Lord, for your generations, as an eternal decree shall you observe it. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes… you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt, you shall observe this day for your generation as an eternal decree” (Exodus 12:14-17).

Passover or Pesach is the eight-day observance commemorating the freedom and journey of the Israelites who were in bondage in Egypt during the reign of Ramses II. Of all the Jewish holidays, Pesach is the one most commonly observed, even by otherwise nominally observant Jews. Pesach comes from the Hebrew meaning to pass through, to pass over or to spare. It refers to the story that God passed over the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt, it is also the name given to the sacrifice that took place in the Temple in Jerusalem on this holiday in ancient times. It is a time for Jewish families to gather and share lavish meals called Seders. Seder means order because there is a specific set of information that must be followed in a specific order. At these Seders the story of Passover is read and symbolically retold through the reading of the Haggadah, a book that tells the story of Passover through the rituals of the Seder.

As many of you know many parishes, RCIA programs and religious education programs host various presentations of Passover meals during the Season of Lent. Their intentions are wonderful and praiseworthy but sometimes misguided in my opinion. It is important for Catholic Christians to have an understanding of the intrinsic connection between the Eucharist and the Passover story. It is difficult to fully appreciate the full meaning of the Eucharist without an understanding of the significance of the Exodus and Passover experience of the Jews. However, reenacting the Seder in purely Christian settings or worse yet, Christianizing the Jewish Seder, could be perceived as a lack of respect by Jews. How comfortable would we be if non-Catholics chose to “reenact” our Catholic Mass?

The proper setting for Christians to celebrate the Seder is through the invitation by Jewish individuals or groups, or by gathering with credible and knowledgeable representatives from the Jewish community in a Catholic setting to come and explain the Seder through a purely “Jewish” reenactment. The United States Bishops promulgated a document: “God’s Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching” in 1988. Chapter 28 states: “It is becoming familiar in many parishes and Catholic homes to participate in a Passover Seder during Holy Week. This practice can have educational and spiritual value. It is wrong, however, to ‘baptize’ the Seder by ending it with New Testament readings about the Last Supper or worse, turn it into a prologue to the Eucharist. Such merging distorts both traditions.”

To this end, here in the Diocese of Camden, we offer two opportunities to celebrate with our Jewish friends their celebration of the Passover Seder. On Wednesday, March 24 at 6:15 p.m. at Temple Emanuel, 1101 Springdale Road, Cherry Hill, (across from the Jewish Community Center), we will hold our annual South Jersey Interfaith Passover Seder. The Jewish Community Relations Council, in conjunction with the Catholic-Jewish Commission, will present a Jewish Passover Seder for all those interested, to gain a better understanding of this special holiday for the Jewish people. One of the rabbis from the local community will lead the Seder. Families are more than welcome. The buffet style Kosher Seder costs $35 per person; call for family rate. You can register on line at and make your checks out to the JCRC. For questions or more information, please call Helene Klimberg at 856-751-9500 x117. Please RSVP by March 22.

Another opportunity to share in a Jewish Seder is at the St. Pius X Spiritual Life Center, 1840 Peter Cheeseman Road, Blackwood. Each year the staff of this beautiful retreat house in Blackwood offers an opportunity for Catholics to join with Rabbi Jerome David, the senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel, and the Temple’s Cantor, to celebrate the Seder in song, prayer, readings and a home-cooked authentic Seder meal. Please call the Retreat Center at 856-227-1436 for price and further information. Please come and join us at one of these wonderful opportunities to celebrate freedom and life.

Categories: That All May Be One

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