THE PASSOVER MEAL: A Ritual for Christian Home
By Arleen Hynes
Copyright 1972 by The Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle in
the State of New York
Paulist Press Editorial Office:
304 W. 58th St.
N.Y., N.Y. 10019
400 Sette Drive, Paramus, N.J. 07652
Preparing for the Celebration
The Meal Ritual
Traditional Passover Prayer The Questions
Hallel: Psalms of Praise
The Concluding Hallel
Gathering around the table for food and conversation is a traditional
and most pleasant form of fellowship and shared learning. This meal
formula is designed to help individual families and friends as well
as large ecumenical church-sponsored gatherings to do both in an
atmosphere of spiritual understanding of the Passover and Holy Week.
The purpose of this meal celebration and the directed conversation at
table before the meal is to draw relationships between the Passover
and important New Testament truths. It is vital to our understanding
of these relationships that we recognize that Jesus was a faithful
Jew who observed Judaic laws--from the circumcision to the feast of
the Unleavened Bread, his Last Supper. That, as the "Working Document
on Jewish-Christian Relations" (1969) says, "it was within Judaism
that Christianity was born and wherein it found essential elements of
its faith and cult". This is based on the Vatican II statement that
the church "affirms that her salvation is mysteriously prefigured in
the exodus of the chosen people from the land of bondage".
No attempt has been made in this meal formula to reconstruct an
authentic Passover ritual of either Christ's time or of present day
Judaism. But by using some of the basic Jewish prayers and an
adaptation of the traditional questions of the Passover meal,
Christians can become somewhat familiar with the tradition of the
Jews. New Testament texts are used not only to build appreciation and
understanding of the Christian beliefs but also of their relationship
to Judaic roots.
The Passover meal carried on the learning tradition established by
God through Moses when he commanded his people to commemorate his
loving kindness towards them in the Exodus. "And when your children
ask you, 'What does this ritual mean?', you will tell them, 'It is
the sacrifice of the Passover in honour of Yahweh who passed over the
houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt, and struck Egypt but spared
our houses" (Exodus 12, 27).
The Jews were directed by Moses to gather in family and neighborly
clusters to eat and recall together, "And on that day you will
explain to your son, 'This is because of what Yahweh did for me when
I came out of Egypt" (Exodus 13, 8). The lesson of God's freeing the
Israelites from slavery was to be taught in the fullness of both
intellectual knowledge and the warmth of the heart surrounded by
loved ones, family and friends.
For centuries the Jewish families have been following a traditional
formula for their family Seder services. The small book which gives
the text for this order of service (Seder) is called Haggadah, which
means "the telling" as prescribed in Exodus 13, 8. The Jewish
Haggadah includes not only the order of the ancient ceremonial
events, and the story of the exodus, but a running commentary of
prayers, legends and exposition of the rites.
Modern historical research has raised many questions about the Last
Supper. The only New Testament reference to any particulars of the
Passover meal, aside from the fact that it was to be prepared by the
disciples to share it with their teacher, Jesus, is in the mention of
hymns being sung as they left the meal, "After psalms had been sung,
they left for the Mount of Olives" (Mark 14, 26: Matt. 26, 30). It
seems that this reference is to the singing of the Hallel (Psalms
113-118) which closed the family service.
However, a brief recounting of the history of the Haggadah will offer
insights into the Jewish history of the Passover festival itself.
It was not until about the thirteenth century that separate books
appeared for the Seder service in the Jewish homes. It is thought
that the custom arose because of the expense of larger books.
Each Haggadah is illustrated in various ways. The first ones,
illustrated manuscripts, were, of course, beautiful and richly
decorated. The early printed Haggadah booklets followed the custom of
using colorful drawings and decorating the borders of the pages.
Sometimes they contained pictures of the preparations for the
festival in the kitchen and the home. Other common themes for design
were the ten plagues of the Egyptians and incidents in biblical
history. Copies of famous paintings of the day, such as Holbein's,
were also used in early printed versions. Over the centuries several
hundred versions of the Haggadah have been printed. Today many
versions continue to bring the commentaries up to date in referring
to the massacre of Jews in Hitler's time and the creation of the
state of Israel. The different versions are sometimes known by the
name of the person who illustrated them. The artist Ben Shahn's
lovely 1965 edition is a recent example.
In many Jewish homes each family member and guest has his own copy of
the Haggadah to follow the Seder. It is hoped that where families and
friends and ecumenical groups gather to celebrate their Jewish
origins in the joyousness of the New Law they will also provide
individual copies for those present in order to reinforce the
learning by sight as well as the sound of the leader's voice.
In ecumenical gatherings of family or church groups we can strive to
achieve the warmth of the Jewish Seder and perhaps then a better
understanding of the significance of Judaism to the roots of
Christianity will be gained. However, the home or communal service
would never supplant the official worship in our churches. It is
designed to serve only as a preparation in understanding and
fellowship for the liturgical church service, to augment the
significance of the liturgy in our lives. For as the "Working
Document on Jewish-Christian Relations" says, "We call to mind the
strong link that binds the Christian liturgy to the Jewish liturgy,
which continues to live in our own time. The fundamental conception
of liturgy as expression of community life conceived as service of
God and mankind is common to Jews and Christians. We grasp the
importance for Jewish-Christian relations of an awareness of those
common forms of prayer (texts, feasts, rites, etc.) in which the
Bible holds an essential place."
Both feasts, Passover for the Jews and Easter for Christians,
recognize that all things come from God: light, bread, wine,
freedom--all good things. The Jewish prayers are said in a spirit of
thanksgiving and blessing, a recognition of the total dependence of
each upon God. The Exodus celebrates the Chosen People's freedom from
oppression. Each Jew is to become aware of this personally at each
Passover. For the Christian, the Paschal season celebrates man's
redemption from the effects of sin by Christ's passion and
resurrection, and God's gift of grace, especially through Holy
Communion. Both are rooted in history and in Scripture to show God's
fulfillment of his plan of salvation.
A footnote to the book of Exodus in a recent edition of the Bible
makes some very specific comparisons. "The Jewish Passover hence
becomes a rehearsal for the Christian Passover: the lamb of God,
Christ, is sacrificed (the cross) and eaten (the Last Supper) within
the framework of the Jewish Passover (the first Holy Week). Thus he
brings salvation to the world: and the mystical re-enactment of this
redemptive act becomes the central feature of the Christian liturgy,
organized around the Mass which is at once sacrifice and sacrificial
meal" (Jerusalem Bible, p. 91, footnote 12 a).
All Christians should rejoice over the recent steps that have been
taken to bring about a better understanding of these relationships.
In 1964 the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
adopted a "Resolution on Jewish-Christian Relations." It said in
The spiritual heritage of Jews and Christians should draw
us to each other in obedience to the one Father and in
continuing dialogue; the historic schism in our relations
carries with it the need for constant vigilance lest
dialogue deteriorate into conflict . . . The General Board
urges that the members of its constituent communions seek
that true dialogue with the religious bodies of the Jewish
community through which differences in faith can be
explored within the mutual life of the one family of
God--separated, but seeking from God the gift of renewed
unity--knowing that in the meantime God can help us to find
our God-given unity in the common service of human need.
In December of 1969 a "Working Document on Jewish-Christian
Relations" was released by a committee composed of priest members of
both the Vatican and the United States Catholic unity secretariats.
Cognizance is increasingly being gained in the Church of
the actual place of the Jewish people in the history of
salvation and of its permanent election. This fact points
toward a theological renewal and toward a new Christian
reflection on the Jewish people that it is important to
pursue. On the other hand, it appears that still too often
Christians do not know what Jews are . . . They do not see
them as that people which in its history has encountered
the living and true God, the one God who established with
that people a covenant, of which circumcision is the sign,
the God who accomplished in its favor a miraculous Exodus,
which it relives each year in its Passover, both as a
remembrance of its past and an expectation of the full
realization of its promises . . . it is no less true that
it was within Judaism that Christianity was born and
wherein it found essential elements of its faith and cult.
From the experience lived in the covenant with God emerged
the Christian universe, which derived from that experience
the very marrow of its concepts.
The dignity of the human person requires the condemnation
of all forms of anti-Semitism (Vatican II Declaration on
the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions).
In view of these relations of the Church and the Jewish
people, it is easier to see how anti-Semitism is
essentially opposed to the spirit of Christianity. Still
more do these relations show forth the duty of better
understanding and mutual esteem. . .
We call to mind the strong link that binds the Christian
liturgy to the Jewish liturgy, which continues to live in
our own time. The fundamental conception of liturgy as
expression of community life conceived as service of God
and mankind is common to Jews and Christians. We grasp the
importance for Jewish-Christian relations of an awareness
of those common forms of prayer (texts, feasts, rites,
etc.) in which the Bible holds an essential place. . .
The problem of Jewish-Christian relations is of concern to
the Church as such by the very fact that it is in
'searching into its own mystery' that it comes upon the
mystery of Israel. The problem hence retains all its
importance even in those places where a Jewish community
does not exist. Moreover, it includes an ecumenical aspect.
Christian Churches, in search for the unity willed by the
Lord will find this by a return to the sources and origins
of their faith, grafted on the Jewish tradition, which is
still living in our own day.
Vatican II's Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to
Non-Christian Religions in 1965 set forth the background for the
recent renewal of these teachings. Msgr. John J. Oesterreicher's
translation of this document reads in part:
As this Sacred Synod probes the mystery of the Church, it
remembers the spiritual bond that ties the people of the
New Covenant to Abraham's stock.
Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to
God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and
election go back as far as the days of the patriarchs, of
Moses and the prophets She affirms that all who believe in
Christ--Abraham's sons according to faith (cf. Gal. 3,7)
are included in the call of this patriarch--she also
affirms that her salvation is mysteriously prefigured in
the exodus of the chosen people from the land of bondage.
The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the
revelation of the Old Testament through the people with
whom God, in that loving-kindness words cannot express,
deigned to conclude the Ancient covenant . . . For the
Church believes that by His cross Christ, who is our Peace,
reconciled Jews and Gentiles, making the two one in Himself
(cf. Eph. 2, 14-16)....
Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews
is so rich, this Sacred Synod wishes to encourage and
further their mutual knowledge of, and respect for, one
another, a knowledge and respect born principally of
biblical and theological studies, but also of fraternal
In keeping with these statements this meal celebration is planned to
extend as far as possible an appreciation of the Passover and the
Christian understanding of the Last Supper and Easter.
An earlier version of this meal formula designed for Catholic use was
published in "Worship" magazine, April 1957 and reprinted in "Act",
the Christian Family Movement bulletin the next year. Families
throughout the country have used that version. The quotations used
here from the Haggadah are taken from the special Haggadah issue of
"Christian Friends Bulletin", March 1954, Vol. II, No. 2 published by
the Anti-Defamation League. The purpose of that Haggadah was an
ecumenical desire to provide knowledge about the Passover
celebration. The translations from the New Testament are from "The
Jerusalem Bible", Doubleday and Co., Inc., Garden City, N.Y., 1966.
Quotations from the Mishnah are from the first English edition 1933,
Oxford University Press, Amen House, London, Translated by Herbert
Danby, printed in 1964.
Other books referred to in the following "Celebration" are "The
Christian Friends Bulletin" of March 1962, "The Living Heritage of
Passover" and the "Passover Haggadah", Prayer Book Press, Hartford,
Conn., both designed for adult education use.
The basic materials for parents and leaders to reread before the
celebration are the Scriptural references: the book of Exodus,
especially Chapters 7 through 13 about the plagues of Egypt and the
Passover. The Gospel accounts of the Last Supper are given in Matthew
26, 17-30: Mark 14, 12-26: Luke 22, 7-39 and John, chapters 13
PREPARING FOR THE CELEBRATION
When we try to establish in Christian homes a family feast to teach
our children their spiritual heritage we are only imitating the Old
Law. The first ordinance of the Jewish religion concerns the family
festival to celebrate the birth of freedom--the Passover: "each man
must take an animal from the flock, one for each family: one animal
for each household" (Exodus 12, 3).
The essential intimacy of the Passover feast is indicated when we
learn that a Jewish adult finds that his memories of the feast
include the happy bustle and excitement of getting the home ready for
the celebration. If we think about it, the preparations within the
family circle are an important personal involvement in any family
Housecleaning is an essential part of the preparation for Passover.
Exodus 12, 15 states, "On the first day you are to clean all leaven
out of your houses." In accordance with that command the whole house
is scoured and cleaned. In the Jewish family, the evening before the
first Passover meal, the entire house is searched room by room for
any evidence of hametz or leaven. The family goes from room to room
by candle light, accompanying the father who uses a small wooden
spoon and feather to sweep up the few crumbs of bread in each room so
that it will be free of hametz.
Christians who wish to become more aware of our Jewish background
have not carried on the tradition of looking for the evidences of
leaven. However, the spirit of housecleaning remains a symbol for
cleansing our hearts, preparing for the love we shall find there if
we imitate God's love for us. The season of Lent has been a time in
which we have been purging ourselves of self-centeredness and lack of
love and the physical preparation of cleaning our homes before the
feast of Easter is a tangible evidence of our resolve to live a new
life in God's love.
Whether the festival will be in your own home or with a group in your
church joining with members of other Christian churches, there should
be hospitality based on respect, "Love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev.
19, 18). The tradition of gracious hospitality is one that should be
incorporated into our observance. In Exodus 12, 4 it says, "If the
household is too small to eat the animal, a man must join with his
neighbor, the nearest to his house, as the number of persons
requires." There is always room for the lonely and poor at the
Passover meal. In fact there is a tradition that when a man sits down
to perform the Seder on Passover, he should invite the poor, saying,
"Let those who are hungry enter and dine with us. We are all equal,
and though you may be poor, do not be ashamed or fearful, for so too
were our forefathers in the land of Egypt" (Christian Friends
Bulletin, March 1962).
Families who make a custom of the Holy Thursday meal create their own
family practices. Some continue to share the feast year after year
with the same special group. Both the Old and the New Covenant teach,
"Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us all" (Mal. 1,
10; Eph. 4, 6)? In accord with that teaching others feel it is good
to invite different guests each year. Some, for example, ask elderly
people one year, people of other races and nationalities another, and
on the third year people they know only slightly, "strangers": a
child's school friends or the parents' business acquaintances or
ecumenical co-workers. Some alternate, as circumstances dictate,
between joining the communal celebration and having their own meal at
To emphasize the spiritual meaning of hospitality the commentaries in
the Haggadah contain prayers such as this one from the "Passover
Haggadah": "May the Seder each year be the means of drawing us ever
closer to our family and friends and may it help to keep each Jewish
home a miniature sanctuary where God's spirit shall dwell, and where
reverence, love and peace shall prevail." May all our homes be so
Each group that uses this modern Haggadah to clarify the relationship
between the Old and the New will obviously make its own arrangements
for holding it so it does not conflict with the local church
services. Families, depending on the ages of the children and the
availability of different times for church services, may choose to
eat an early dinner on Thursday, before they go to church. At least
two hours should be planned on if the entire meal is to be eaten.
Eating dessert after coming home from church appeals to families of
adults. If your family and guests are mainly adults, a late leisurely
seder provides an opportunity to savor the insights and the
fellowship after the liturgical services.
The whole family should become involved in the preparations for the
seder for the best realization of its significance. The father's role
varies greatly because of his work and family customs.
Frankly, however, there will be no celebration at all if the mother
does not make the preparations. Her involvement in a family affair is
the deepest kind of participation and sets the tone for the whole
family's acceptance of the spirit of the feast.
It has been suggested that because the pronoun "you" in the biblical
verse "You shall tell your son" is "abt", feminine, it can be
interpreted that it is the mother who shall impart the first
instruction to the child. Whether she does so consciously or not, it
is true that a mother does give the basic instructions. She
communicates attitudes of joy and reverence toward spiritual things
in a more persistent way than a father if she is caring for the child
all day. The very young child learns the significance of spiritual
matters by the unspoken communication of attitude and example. The
mother's attitude toward the extra work involved in the preparations
for a family feast teaches everyone. Ideally there should be an
attitude of serenity and gaiety even while doing the mundane cleaning
and food preparations as against one of tension and irritability if
these tasks are seen as an outgrowth of prayer. The mother's
willingness to let the young child invest something of himself in the
preparations is also important, but if she insists on adult standards
of perfection, the child may feel that involvement in the things of
the spirit are hedged about with restrictions.
The parents will also do some formal teaching when they are guiding
the kinds of participation the children will make in decorations,
music, food preparation or helping with the actual cleaning and
As is the Jewish custom, the mother begins the meal by chanting the
blessing for the lighting of the candles and may alternate with the
father in reading the commentary. Her commitment is integral to the
whole feast; she is the hostess, presiding in her home.
Regardless of the locale of the seder, at home or in a community
center, decorations are a sign of festivity and also serve as a way
of reinforcing learning about the meaning of the many symbols.
Banners provide colorful and comparatively simple ways for people to
tell spiritual truths. Techniques used may extend from the
comparatively simple method of drawing designs on paper to gluing
fabric to fabric or the more elaborate method of using creative
stitchery. However, if young children are to become involved in the
process of preparation, it may be more educational and fun to
deliberately plan decorations that are meant to be used only once. As
children grow older and gain different insights and interests, as
well as developing different relationships in the groups gathering to
celebrate, new forms and new ideas should be created to bring out the
uniqueness of each seder.
When children are small and in the early years of grade school, they
will be making simple designs. Shelf paper or rolls of newsprint are
good for beginners' crayola drawings. As the children grow older
mothers will try to find new techniques and encourage them to change
their approaches from drawing outlines of symbols and people and
animals to more complicated things.
Even very young children can do the background coloring needed for
color-resist drawings. A piece of paper, or a definite shape, is
filled in quite haphazardly, but solidly, with a variety of colors.
One rather dark color is overlaid to give a general hue to the whole
area. Then an adult or older child can, with a sharp pointed object,
draw in the desired lines to make the design. Delightful effects can
be gained by the many colors exposed when the over-color is scratched
Or a large outline drawing might be made by someone older and tiny
children could paste in "stained glass" made of small bits of colored
construction paper, or simply cut up and pasted pieces of the many
hued ads in magazines.
Lettering phrases from scripture or a hymn or poem in gay colors, or
"stained glass", might be done by children in the early grades.
Consulting with the children about what to letter is important as it
provides an opportunity to talk about the meaning of worthwhile
ideas, which is, of course, the purpose of their involvement.
As children grow older, they will want to choose their own messages,
Junior high and high school students might want to make collage
banners from among the things they have been reading and singing.
They might create the collage by using long sheets of paper to paste
designs or messages from pertinent and colorful photos they find in
magazines on issues like oppression of people today or some signs of
deep joy to symbolize this feast day. The older children in the
family would also be expected, and allowed, to assume more and more
responsibility for taking care of the decorations and menu,
scheduling and guest list.
It is up to the parents to help the children discover their own best
efforts. Some families prefer to make simple corn starch "clay" and
shape small animals or symbols to use on the table. Or to design
special tablecloths and napkins for the meal. Only imagination,
patience and skill limit the kinds of things families can do.
The symbolism used in the banners and decorations can range from
biblical stories and allusions to Christian symbols and phrases from
hymns, poetry and scriptural texts.
The most obvious Old Testament symbols to use might be the paschal
lamb, Moses, the marked door frame, a group of Israelites garbed as
Exodus 12, 11 decreed for the first Passover, "with a girdle round
your waist, sandals on your feet, a staff in your hand." A brick wall
to symbolize the cities the Jews were forced to build in Egypt, the
unleavened bread in baskets, the Jews marching through the divided
sea or Pharaoh's army being overwhelmed by the returning waters are
other possibilities. A lyre and phrases from the Hallel might serve
for another banner. The ten plagues of Egypt lend themselves to
illustration: blood, frogs, vermin, wild beasts, cattle disease,
boils, hail, locusts, darkness, the slaying of the first born.
Studying different Haggadah books borrowed from the library or those
borrowed from friends helps stimulate the imagination and develop
sensitivity to the significance of the Passover.
Christian symbols of the paschal lamb surmounted by a cross and
flying banner, the chalice, plate of breads, the Last Supper, loaves
and fishes, phrases from St. John's discourse at the Last Supper,
bunches of grapes and sheaves of wheat for the bread and wine are
also sources for designs.
Since this is a springtime feast it is appropriate to use the
gathering of flowers as one of the means of participation. The
efforts of young gardeners should be particularly appreciated, even
to the bunch of dandelions. Some young people enjoy making paper
flowers, which can be very lovely and very creative. If that is what
they like to do, they should be encouraged to decorate the tables
It is inconceivable today that any spiritually oriented celebration
would be held without music and song. Younger members of the family
who are musically inclined will practice for days in advance
preparing a broad range of songs, both secular and sacred, to precede
and follow the seder. They may also seek out music for the Hallel
(Psalms 113 to 118) and use one of the many versions of "Where
Charity and Love Prevail" or "God is Love". They might also practice
for alternate or responsive reading of the psalm verses.
It would deepen the emotional bond to the Jewish people to come to
love their music, particularly the chant of the Hallel, the Kiddush
(the opening benediction) and the candle lighting. To learn to do
this correctly would involve working with some Jewish friends or
members of the synagogue. If you do not have many Jewish friends in
your community, phonograph records can be obtained. Actually, using
the Hebrew at your celebration might not result in the understanding
which is the purpose of this meal, but listening to the records or
having a brief explanation of them as they are sung during the
evening should add much to our understanding love of Jewish
While lamb is not essential to the feast, it is especially meaningful
if it is served. Learning a particularly tasty way to fix the lamb
might become someone's speciality. Homemade bread is a rare treat
today and young girls might look forward to the contribution they
could make by providing it for the occasion. Miniature loaf pans can
be obtained for individual loaves of bread. These seem particularly
delightful at the feast initiating the bread of life.
Young children love having a cake made in the form of a lamb. The
molds are available in specialty shops. And young children delight in
helping to sprinkle coconut on the fluffy white frosting to give the
lamb his woolly coat. Or if you do not use the lamb mold, the
circular form of the angel food cake can be seen as a symbol for
Because horoseth is unique to the Passover meal it deserves a special
notation. It is a pastelike compound of ground apples, nuts, cinnamon
and wine to remind us of the days when the Israelites were forced to
lay bricks as slaves of the Egyptians.
It is simple to do and boys like to help make it, as well as look
forward to eating it. One needs only a little for the purposes of the
meal, but there is rarely any left over. To make it chop or coarsely
grate a seeded apple and a half cup of walnuts, to which is added a
teaspoon of cinnamon and also sugar. Mix these together and add a
tablespoon of red wine. These amounts will make a cup of horoseth.
One Haggadah makes this commentary: "Life is bitter sweet; the smell
and pleasant taste of the Horoseth impresses upon us that, no matter
how bitter and dark the present appears, we should hopefully look
forward to better days. 'Sweet are the uses of adversity' ".
If the festival is going to be held in a church or community center
the bustle and involvement of joint preparation is an important and
tangible means of building solidarity and awareness of our dependency
on others. It is a very concrete way to bring about what the "Working
Document on Jewish-Christian Relations" recommends: "Christian
Churches, in search for the unity willed by the Lord, will find this
by a return to the sources and origins of their faith, grafted on the
Jewish tradition which is still living in our own day." Nor it is
totally alien to modern Jewish practice, for some synagogues now hold
a communal Seder for members.
Possibly in these days of mobility where the single family exists
alone and there is a sense of isolation and loneliness, people feel a
greater urgency to join in a common fraternal meal set up to promote
greater understanding. Particularly when for Jews and Christians,
both, Passover and the eucharist are feasts of God's loving care for
For a group initiating an ecumenical seder, it is easier to start
working with another group or church membership with whom they have
already cooperated on some other project. If the groups as such have
not actually cooperated or there is some difficulty in making it an
official occasion, perhaps one individual who has had community
experience and knows others can make the overtures so that it can be
a shared experience. Later on it might seem wise to hold this
ecumenical ceremony with members of other churches with whom there
has been little previous relationship, such as with those outside the
immediate geographic neighborhood or with other racial or ethnic
Meal planning is handled differently according to local custom,
facilities available and the size of the group. When the group is
small or a few dynamic people want to start, the food may be brought
together by a system of sharing its preparation in the different
homes. Some groups arrange to have the lamb roasted in a nearby
restaurant or bakery, taking care to keep out one of the shank bones
for the seder plate.
Or as a way of introducing the practice into your church or
community, a "symbolic meal" can be quite simply carried out by a few
interested persons where arranging for a large kitchen and dining
room might seem difficult. A group, such as a Christian Family
Movement or a social action committee, can arrange to meet in a
classroom, or even in the back of the hall if that is where church
services are held, using the full text and the symbolic foods but not
eating an entire meal together. If desired a roasted leg of lamb can
be sliced and cubed with portions served on toothpicks at the time
allotted for the regular meal. A lamb roast so prepared will serve
about fifty people. The rest of the symbolic foods are taken during
the readings as they would be if a full meal were to follow. Paper
plates and tablecloths and small paper cups for the wine can be
festive indeed and the decorations as extensive as desired. Different
families may wish to bring flowers as their contribution.
The time at which a communal seder would be held depends mainly on
coordinating it with church services. If one congregation is
involved, the meal can be taken two hours before services and then
wait until after the liturgy is celebrated to eat dessert. When the
members have brought their favorite desserts to share and they go
forth from the eucharistic table enriched by God's action, the seder
becomes a long evening of deep fellowship.
The Haggadah as recorded in the Mishnah was brief and succeeding
generations have added to it, although the essential items of the
symbolic foods and the questions and the cups of wine remain
unchanged. Christians who want to use a learning device in their
homes or church groups who wish to relate the Old to the New are not
bound by any tradition and may change it as they desire. This booklet
is meant only to be the teaching servant of its users and they should
make any adaptations which they find useful. In fact, if a family or
group is led to do its own research and to create its own Haggadah,
it would immeasurably increase their awareness of the beauty and love
of both the Jewish Seder and the eucharist.
Those who wish to use this material but adapt it will find there are
six main sections to adjust to family or group needs.
Parents of the very young children still in highchairs may want them
to experience some part of the Jewish feast from the time of earliest
memory. For this initial experience, they may find using Section I,
the Introductory Blessings, to be enough. When the children are
somewhat older, but not yet ready for a large or long gathering,
Section I and Section II, the Traditional Passover Prayers, may be
used. By the time the children are ready for several minutes of quiet
listening, Section III, the Questions, which also involves one or
more of them in asking the questions, may be added. Some people will
feel that only when all the children are in school will they want to
recite all the Hallel. However, we might remember that for centuries
Jewish children have participated with delight in their long service.
Perhaps parents need to look at their attitudes about children's
behavior and the values of an early memory of this family festival
celebrating the interdependence of the Christian teachings and the
Jewish tradition. We should not ask for perfect, adult attendance to
every word on the part of the young children, and should be willing
to let the joy and love of the feast help us overlook some smiles and
inattention on the part of the young in favor of their innate
understanding of the celebration and its origins. Where the children
with their parents make preparations for and share in the dialogue of
making the connections between the Jewish practices which Jesus
performed and the teachings he left us, they are helping build an
understanding of "how anti-Semitism is essentially opposed to the
spirit of Christianity" (Working Document on Jewish-Christian
The father or a single leader may read the entire formula, but many
families like to share the opportunity. The mother and the
adolescents, or older married children back at home for the Passover
meal, may take turns reading. Or if the group is mainly adults, the
head table at the communal meal might arrange to share the
leadership. Whatever serves the needs of the group best, should
dictate how the text is read. The result should be a sense of
solidarity of Jews and Christians in the experience of their unity of
Where this meal is to bring together members of different churches,
the meal might best be held later in the evening, after services,
where a leisurely evening of song, readings and God's good food can
be shared to the fullest.
THE MEAL RITUAL
The room is prepared for a truly festive occasion. The table or
tables are set with the best silver, dishes, linen and flowers. The
children may make large banners on shelf paper of the Paschal lamb,
breads on a platter, the Last Supper, phrases from the scriptures,
chalices, loaves and fishes, brick walls to symbolize the slavery of
the Jews, and marked doorposts or any other gaily colored symbolic
pictures of their own making. In this way the children can enjoy a
creative experience, decorate the home or hall and learn through
symbolism. A wine glass (or grape juice for the young children) is
set before each place. The centerpiece is a white frosted cake,
molded in the shape of a lamb, or an angel food cake whose circular
shape symbolizes eternal life. A candle is placed at the head of the
The food for the meal is carefully prepared and served, announcing to
all present that this is indeed a special feast. If possible, the
menu contains the symbolic foods which are required for the feast of
The Seder Plate
Jewish custom arranges on one plate the symbolic food used during the
service. If the ecumenical gathering of family and friends is large,
small bowls of these foods will also be placed at intervals in easy
reach of all. On the Seder plate or tray are arranged several items.
The bone from the roasted leg of lamb is always at the Jewish table
and may be on ours. It symbolizes the sacrificial lamb offered by the
Israelites and was eaten on the eve of their departure from Egypt.
Whether we actually eat lamb at this meal or not, Christians have
retained the symbolism of the Lamb of God.
Matzos, in memory of the unleavened bread which the Jews ate when
they were freed from Egypt. (If you cannot obtain Matzos use white
crackers, placing the whole sheet on the table so that portions may
be broken off.)
Bitter herbs, for the bitterness of slavery. Horseradish or spring
radishes may be used.
Haroses, a food made of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine, chopped and
mixed together to look like the mortar which the Hebrew slaves used
in their servitude.
Greens, parsley or watercress, used as a token of gratitude to God
for the products of the earth.
Water with salt added in another small dish is needed into which to
dip the greens and bitter herbs.
I. INTRODUCTORY BLESSINGS
All gather around the table and stand quietly. The mother, or chosen
hostess, lights a candle, since it is the Jewish mother's privilege
to light the Sabbath candles.
MOTHER OR HOSTESS: The traditional prayer of the mother in the Jewish
family as she lights the feast day candle before the meal is this:
Blessed art thou, O Lord God, King of the universe, who
hast sanctified us by thy commandments and hast commanded
us to kindle the festival lights. Blessed art thou, O Lord
God, King of the universe, who hast kept us alive and
sustained us and brought us to this season. May our home be
consecrated O God, by the light of thy countenance shining
upon us in the blessing and bringing us peace.
FATHER OR LEADER: This is Holy Week, a time that joins for us the Old
and the New Covenant. At this season the Jewish people celebrate the
feast of the Passover or Pasch. More than 1,400 years before the time
of Christ, the chosen people were suffering in slavery in Egypt. God
raised up Moses as their leader and Moses tried to secure their
release from captivity. Despite the hardships of nine successive
plagues which God sent to them, the Egyptians still refused the pleas
of Moses. Then an angel of the Lord was sent to strike down the first
born son of every family; but at God's command, each Jewish family
had sacrificed a lamb and sprinkled its blood on the doorposts. And
the angel, seeing the blood, passed over their homes and their
children were spared.
Then, finally, Pharaoh permitted the Jews to leave. They fled in
haste, to wander amid the hardships in the desert for forty years
before coming to the promised land. And God commanded Moses that the
Jews should make a remembrance of their day of deliverance (Exodus
12:14-28). Thus the Passover became the great feast of sacrifice, of
deliverance and of thanksgiving. Each Passover meal revolves around
the retelling (the Haggadah) of this Providential act.
We who are the followers of Christ see the working of God's concern
for His people. As God sent Moses to rescue the Israelites from
captivity in Egypt, so He lovingly sent His Son to redeem fallen man
from slavery to sin. By the sacrifice of Himself, Christ opened the
gates of heaven to us.
At this time Christians and Jews celebrate their own feasts in their
own ways and we can see in these celebrations the common bond of the
symbolism of the Exodus. Jesus was a Jew and today we wish to draw
upon the traditional Jewish Seder and the words of the New Testament
to help us more fully appreciate Jesus' observance of His Jewish
heritage, whose laws He kept.
Matthew's, Mark's and Luke's accounts of Christ's sacrifice for us
each begin with His celebration of the paschal meal:
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came
to Jesus to say, 'Where do you want us to make the
preparations for you to eat the Passover?" (Matt. 26:17)
(see also Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7-9)
II. TRADITIONAL PASSOVER PRAYERS
FATHER OR LEADER: The first act of the Jewish Passover is a
benediction, the Kiddush. The leader takes up a cup of wine and
recites this blessing:
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe,
Creator of the fruit of the vine. Blessed art Thou, O Lord
our God, King of the universe who hast chosen us among all
peoples and sanctified us with Thy commandments. In love
hast Thou given us, O Lord our God, solemn days of joy and
festive seasons of gladness, even this day of the feast of
the unleavened bread, a holy convocation unto us, a
memorial of the departure from Egypt. Thou hast chosen us
for thy service and hast made us sharers in the blessing of
Thy holy festivals. Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, Who
hast preserved us, sustained us, and brought us to this
(All present take up their cups.)
We who are Christians know, as St. Luke writes (22:18), that on the
night our Lord celebrated the Pasch with his disciples, He said:
From now on, I tell you I shall not drink wine until the
kingdom of God comes.
(All present drink of the wine.)
FATHER OR LEADER: The next traditional act of the Jewish Passover
meal is eating the greens. The greens are a symbol that nature comes
to life in Springtime. Following the Jewish custom, we dip the greens
in salt water and pray:
Blessed art Thou O Lord our God King of the universe,
Creator of the fruit of the earth.
(All present eat of the greens dipped in salt water.)
FATHER OR LEADER: Another action of the Jewish Passover meal is
breaking the matzo. The leader lifts up the matzo and says:
Lo, this is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate
in the land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat.
Let all who are in want come and celebrate the Passover
with us. May it be God's will to redeem us from all trouble
and from all servitude. Next year at this season may the
whole house Israel be free.
(The leader replaces the matzo on its plate.)
III. THE QUESTIONS
FATHER OR LEADER: At the ancient Passover meal the son asked the
father four traditional questions about the Passover. In time, in
order to carry on a discussion about the symbolic foods, other
questions were also asked about their meanings. The father replied
"according to the understanding of the son."
In more recent times the same four questions have been asked at the
Seder. The questions we ask tonight are similar but have been adapted
to bring to mind the relationships between the Old and the New
CHILD: Why is this night different from all other nights?
FATHER OR LEADER: In the MISHNAH we find the ancient teaching of the
Jews concerning the meaning of the Passover meal:
In every generation a man must so regard himself as if he
came forth himself out of Egypt, for it is written: And
thou shalt tell thy son in that day saying: 'It is because
of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of
Egypt' (Exodus 13:8). Therefore are we bound to give
thanks, to praise . . . and to bless him who wrought all
these wonders for our fathers and for us. He brought us out
from bondage to freedom, from sorrow to gladness, and from
mourning to a festival day, and from darkness to great
light, and from servitude to redemption: so let us lay
before him the Hallel.
We who are followers of Christ know that as God rescued the
Israelites through Moses from the slavery of Egypt, so he redeemed us
through Christ from our slavery to sin. Christ passed from this world
to his Father, showing us the way and preparing a place for us, as he
No one can come to the Father except through me (Jn. 14,
St. Paul tells us,
And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation-
the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here (II
And again he said,
Now, however, you have been set free from sin, you have
been made slaves of God, and you get a reward leading to
your sanctification and ending in eternal life. For the
wage paid by sin is death; the present given by God is
eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:22-23).
CHILD: Why do we eat bitter herbs tonight at this special meal?
FATHER OR LEADER: The Jews of old ate bitter herbs on Passover night,
as do the Jews today, because
Our fathers were slaves in Egypt and their lives were made
We who are followers of Christ do not hesitate to taste of this
bitterness as a reminder of His passion and death or to recall that
Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27).
CHILD: Why do we eat herbs tonight, and this time with sweet jam?
FATHER OR LEADER: We dip the bitter herbs into the haroses, sweet
jam, as did the Jews of old, as a sign of hope. At the Passover meal
the father explains:
Our fathers were able to withstand the bitterness of slavery because
it was sweetened by the hope of freedom. We who are the followers of
Christ are reminded that by sharing in the bitterness of Christ's
sufferings we strengthen our hope.
St. Paul says:
It is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this
state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward
to God's glory. But that is not all we can boast about- we
can boast about our sufferings. These sufferings bring
patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance, and
perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive,
because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by
the Holy Spirit which has been given us (Romans 5:2-5).
Christ and His disciples--and all Jews who celebrate the
Passover--tell the Haggadah during the Paschal meal. Haggadah means
"retelling." It is the retelling of the Israelites' salvation from
the tenth plague because the lintels of their doors had been marked
with the blood of the lamb sacrificed at God's command and of the
story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.
The yearly retelling of the deliverance of the Jews is an essential
act in the Passover meal. As the evidence of God's loving care is
refreshed in the minds of each individual each year, so is the
renewal of their dependency upon God for all things, particularly
their freedom from slavery.
CHILD: Why did the Jews at the time of Christ eat the Paschal lamb
when they celebrated the Passover meal?
FATHER OR LEADER: At the time of the Liberation from Egypt, at God's
command each family took a lamb, sacrificed it, ate it, and sprinkled
its blood on the doorpost and lintel. And on that night, seeing the
blood, the angel of the Lord passed over them, smiting the Egyptians
and sparing the Israelites (see Exodus 12, 26-27).
The Jews continued a memorial sacrifice in the Temple of a lamb for
each family in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. The lamb was
brought home, roasted and eaten in a memorial meal. Since the
destruction of the Temple there is no longer sacrifice but the
meaning of the Paschal Lamb is retold by Jewish people today.
Followers of Christ know that Christ is our Lamb, who sacrificed
Himself for us, and by His death and resurrection, enabled us to
merit passing into eternal life with God. As St. Paul says:
Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed (I Corinthians
CHILD: Why did Christ and His disciples wash at table?
FATHER OR LEADER: At the festival table of the Jews it is customary
to wash the hands of all present while saying this prayer:
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who
sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us
concerning the washing of hands.
On this night followers of Christ are taught a new meaning. Christ,
the Lord, while washing the feet of His disciples taught His
commandment of love and service for others:
The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who
exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles
himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:11).
(The father or leader now takes a matzo and breaks off a portion. He
passes the matzo around and each eats his portion of it.)
CHILD: Why did Christ and His disciples eat unleavened bread at the
FATHER OR LEADER: The blessing and the breaking of the matzo is one
of the important parts of the feast of the Pasch. The origin of the
matzo was this:
When Pharaoh let our forefathers go from Egypt, they were
forced to flee in great haste. They had not time to bake
their bread; they could not wait for the yeast to rise. So
the sun beating down on the dough as they carried it along
baked it into a flat unleavened bread.
The matzah was the "bread of affliction" which enabled the Chosen
People to be delivered from slavery.
On this night the followers of Christ recall that before our Lord
distributed the bread to all the disciples He added the significant
words of the Lord's Supper. Through this action all men are able to
become one in Christ, as St. Paul says:
The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are
many of us, we form a single body because we all share in this one
loaf (I Corinthians 10:17).
CHILD: Why did Christ and His disciples drink wine at the Last
(The father and all present take a sip of wine.)
FATHER OR LEADER: The feast of the Passover begins and ends with the
drinking of a cup of wine. It is both a blessing and a thanksgiving
expressed in this benediction prayer:
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe,
creator of the fruit of the vine.
On this night the followers of Christ read in the gospel of St. Luke:
When the hour came he took his place at table, and the
apostles with him. And he said to them, `I have longed to
eat this passover with you before I suffer--because, I tell
you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the
kingdom of God.'
Then taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, 'Take this
and share it among you, because from now on, I tell you, I
shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.'
Then he took some bread, and when he had given thanks,
broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body
which will be given for you; do this as a memorial of me.'
He did the same with the cup after supper and said, 'This
cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured
out for you (Luke 22:15-20).
For the Christian, then, this is the night of the new Passover.
Let us recall with respect the feast of the Passover and its place in
God's Providence. Let us recall with gratitude how on this night
Christ instituted the new Memorial. By this act and by His death and
resurrection, He established a new sacrifice, a new deliverance.
IV. HALLEL: PSALMS OF PRAISE
FATHER OR LEADER: In the Passover feast, before the meal is eaten,
the first two psalms of the Hallel--the hymns of praise which the
Jews recited at the great feasts--are recited.
Alleluia! You servants of Yahweh, praise, praise the name
Blessed be the name of Yahweh, henceforth and for ever!
From east to west, praised be the name of Yahweh!
High over all nations, Yahweh! His glory transcends the
heavens! Who is like Yahweh our God?-- enthroned so high,
he needs to stoop, to see the sky and earth!
He raises the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from
the dunghill to give them a place with princes, with the
princes of his people. He enthrones the barren women in
her house by making her the happy mother of sons.
Alleluia! When Israel came out of Egypt, the House of
Jacob from a foreign nation, Judah became his sanctuary and
Israel his domain.
The sea fled at the sight, the Jordan stopped flowing, the
mountains skipped like rams, and like lambs, the hills.
Sea, what makes you run away? Jordan, why stop flowing?
Why skip like rams, you mountains why like lambs, you
Quake, earth, at the coming of your Master, at the coming
of the God of Jacob, who turns rock into pool, flint into
THE MEAL. (The festive meal now takes place. It is a joyous meal
rather than somber. It is a leisurely meal, and ample.) After the
meal we recite together:
WHERE CHARITY AND LOVE ABIDE, THERE IS GOD.
The love of Christ has gathered us together;
Let us be gay in Him, and cheerful:
Let us love and be in awe of the living God
And love each other with honest hearts.
WHERE CHARITY AND LOVE ABIDE, THERE IS GOD.
So now that we are gathered together
Let us take care not to be isolated in ourselves.
Let ill will, quarrels, and disagreements stop.
WHERE CHARITY AND LOVE ABIDE, THERE IS GOD.
And together, with the saints
May we see Your face in glory, Christ our God.
That is straight, unmeasured joy,
For ages on unending age. Amen.
(tr. Father Caedmon, OSB)
V. THE CONCLUDING HALLEL
FATHER OR LEADER: We shall all join in reciting the concluding Psalm
of the Hallel keeping in mind that St. Matthew tells us
After psalms had been sung, they left for the Garden of
Olives (Matthew 26:30).
Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good, his love is
everlasting! Let the House of Israel say it, 'His love is
everlasting!' Let the House of Aaron say it, 'His love is
everlasting!' Let those who fear Yahweh say it, 'His love
Hard-pressed, I invoke Yahweh, he heard me and came to my
relief. With Yahweh on my side, I fear nothing: what can
man do to me? With Yahweh on my side, best help of all, I
can triumph over my enemies.
I would rather take refuge in Yahweh than rely on men; I
would rather take refuge in Yahweh than rely on princes.
The pagans were swarming round me in the name of Yahweh I
cut them down; they swarmed round me closer and closer in
the name of Yahweh I cut them down; they swarmed round me
like bees, they blazed like a thorn-fire, in the name of
Yahweh I cut them down.
I was pressed, pressed, about to fall, but Yahweh came to
my help; Yahweh is my strength and my song, he has been my
Shouts of joy and safety in the tents of the virtuous:
Yahweh's right hand is wreaking havoc, Yahweh's right hand
is winning Yahweh's right hand is wreaking havoc
No, I shall not die, I shall live to recite the deeds of
Yahweh; though Yahweh has punished me often he has not
abandoned me to Death.
Open the gates of virtue to me I will come in and give
thanks to Yahweh.
This is Yahweh's gateway, through which the virtuous may
I thank you for having heard me, you have been my saviour.
It was the stone rejected by the builders that proved to be
the keystone; this is Yahweh's doing and it is wonderful to
see This is the day made memorable by Yahweh, what immense
joy for us.
Please, Yahweh, please save us. Please, Yahweh, please give
us prosperity. Blessings on him who comes in the name of
Yahweh! We bless you from the house of Yahweh. Yahweh is
God, he smiles on us. With branches in your hands draw up
in procession as far as the horns of the altar.
You are my God, I give you thanks, I extol you, my God I
give you thanks for having heard me, you have been my
saviour. Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good his love is