Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

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Teaching About Passover and the Seder

Some Things to Consider

Summary by Ms. Celia Sirois

In 1988 the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy, an arm of the USCCB, recognizing that it was becoming more and more common for Christians to take part in a Passover Seder each year, made general recommendations concerning this growing phenomenon.  While acknowledging that “this practice can have educational and spiritual value,” they urged Catholics to approach “this sacred feast. . . with sensitivity to those to whom the seder truly belongs,” the Jewish people.  The recommendations of the Bishops’ Committee first appeared in a document entitled God’s Mercy Endures Forever and, in 1997, they were expanded in a leaflet published by the SIDIC Center in Rome.  What follows is a digest of their most salient points. 

As the Bishops state, the Passover Seder belongs to the Jews.  It is Jewish liturgy and, as such, can only be celebrated by Jews.

Because Christianity is rooted in Judaism, there are good reasons for Christians to understand Passover.  (a) Since the Passover Seder is a “constitutive rite of Judaism,” attending a Seder is an excellent way of coming to know Judaism on its own terms, as the Church encourages us to do.  (b) Since Jesus lived and died as a Jew, his human understanding and experience of God were shaped by this “constitutive rite.”  Familiarity with the components of the Passover Seder can help us to appreciate Jesus’ action and intention at the Last Supper.  (c) Since the Eucharist has its origins in the Passover meal, a better know- ledge of this Jewish liturgy can, as the Catechism says, enhance our understanding of certain aspects of Christian liturgy.

When Christians reenact parts of the Passover Seder it is not a liturgical celebration, but a learning experience.  Therefore, the liturgical term Seder should not be used for these educational activities.

The Bishops are emphatic on this point:  “It is wrong. . . to ‘baptize’ the Seder by ending it with New Testament readings about the Last Supper or, worse, [by turning] it into a prologue to the Eucharist.”

In order to ensure that the rites of the seder are respected in all their integrity, as the Bishops advise, Christians who want to take part in a Seder should either participate in a Passover Seder as guests in a Jewish home or synagogue, or invite a rabbi or an observant Jew to con-duct a learning activity about the Seder.

The Bishops conclude with a reminder that Easter is the Christian counterpart to the Jewish Passover and “the rites of the Triduum are the [Church’s] annual memorial of the events of Jesus’ dying and rising.”  Preparing students for these rites should be the focus of catechesis.