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Catholics and Seder Meals during the Lenten Season

February 18, 2010
In response to numerous inquiries that have been sent to us at Salt + Light Television regarding the practice of Seder Meals sponsored by Catholic communities for Catholics, I would like to offer the following excellent guidelines written by Joe Paprocki, author of Catechist's Journey published by Loyola Press in Chicago and first presented in his March 14, 2008 blogpost.
SederMealIt is not unusual to see Catholic parishes, RCIA programs or religious education programs hosting a Seder Meal.  The intention is to show the connection between Eucharist and Passover.  While it is true that there is an intimate connection between the Eucharist and the Passover, we cannot fully grasp the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist without a basic understanding of the Exodus/Passover experience. It not by chance that for the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s supper, the first reading is about the Exodus/Passover event. It is also no coincidence that on Holy Saturday, in the Easter Proclamation (The Exsultet), we hear the words, “This is our Passover feast!”
There are, however, some serious concerns about Catholics re-enacting the Seder Meal.
First and foremost, the Seder Meal is a sacred Jewish ritual. For Catholics to re-enact this sacred ritual is disrespectful of the Jewish tradition. Imagine Jews or Muslims re-enacting a Catholic Mass!  The Seder Meal is a Jewish tradition that Catholics should enjoy only if we are privileged to be welcomed to a Jewish Passover table.
Second, we do not know for sure that Jesus was celebrating a Seder Meal with his disciples on the night before he died. The synoptic Gospels indicate that Jesus was celebrating Passover with his disciples, but we do not know for sure how Jews celebrated Passover in the First Century. To teach that Jesus ate a Seder Meal at the Last Supper can be misleading.
Third, the Catholic Church has not approved of Seder meals as a public ritual or devotion. For a parish to host a Seder Meal may give the impression that Church approval exists for such functions where it does not.
If Catholics wish to learn more about the Seder Meal or participate in one, I recommend to priests, pastoral ministers and catechists the following points.
  1. Catholics can work with the Jewish community to invite speakers to come and explain the Seder Meal to a group of Catholics at the parish Catholics can arrange to join members of the Jewish community as they celebrate the Seder Meal.
  2. It is encouraging that Catholics wish to learn more about our Jewish roots and such education will continue to improve Catholic-Jewish relations. I encourage you to move forward, however, in a manner that is respectful to our Jewish brothers and sisters.
  3. I also encourage you to read what the American Bishops have written on the matter in their important teaching document: God’s Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching (1988)
Pay special attention to paragraph #28.
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 mergings distort both traditions. The following advice should prove useful:
When Christians celebrate this sacred feast among themselves, the rites of the haggadah for the seder should be respected in all their integrity. The seder . . . should be celebrated in a dignified manner and with sensitivity to those to whom the seder truly belongs. The primary reason why Christians may celebrate the festival of Passover should be to acknowledge common roots in the history of salvation. Any sense of "restaging" the Last Supper of the Lord Jesus should be avoided .... The rites of the Triduum are the [Church's] annual memorial of the events of Jesus' dying and rising (Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter, March 1980, p. 12).  Seders arranged at or in cooperation with local synagogues are encouraged.
Father Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt + Light Catholic Television Network
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