Some years ago I started hearing about Catholic families who hold a version of a Jewish Seder on Holy Thursday night. After a year or two of trying different things, some successful, some not so much, we've finally settled on a tradition that really works for our family.
First I have to say that this is in no way meant to be an authentic Seder dinner, obviously, as we are Catholic, not Jewish.
It's also done with the utmost respect for our Jewish friends, our "older brothers in the faith" (that includes a blogger friend I've never actually met, and my Jewish cousins-in-law). They'll very quickly see that there is nothing kosher about what I do with this meal. I hope they won't be horrified by that, but instead will understand the spirit in which it's done.
There's also a chance that my Catholic friends will be horrified by the amateurish nature of our Seder / Passover meal ... but I hope they'll remember that amateurs do things for the love of it. This is definitely a labor of love.
So, as I said, instead of trying to re-create an authentic Seder, which would of course end up being very inauthentic, we've adapted some of the elements of a traditional Jewish Passover meal to our Catholic Holy Week traditions. My hope is that we'll learn more about our Judeo-Christian heritage, appreciate the beautiful symbolism of the elements of a Seder, and come to a deeper understanding of the relationship between the Last Supper, which was a Passover meal, the Passion of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Mass of the Catholic Church.
A couple of things:
- The whole family needs to be very familiar with the story of the Israelites in captivity in Egypt, of the first Passover which required them to kill and eat an unblemished lamb and paint their doorposts with its blood, and of the Exodus into freedom and ultimately (years later) the Promised Land.
- We've sometimes had our Seder on Holy Thursday, sometimes on Holy Saturday, and this year, we had it yesterday. It's a moveable feast, for us, depending on what's happening with the family at the time. The only non-negotiable for me is that it happens during Holy Week.
- I've also made our Passover dinner considerably shorter than a true Seder, as a concession to our very late dinner hours. With a late-working husband, and now a daughter who works till 7 or 8 p.m., we have to keep to just the basics so that bedtime doesn't become insanely later than it already is.
But, we still manage to make it special! And it's become a tradition that I really look forward to.
So, here's our simple, homemade version of a Catholic Passover Supper. You'll need the following directions for the food and table preparation, and then this Word document with the traditional four question and answers adapated for a Christian ceremony.
For the main meal (serves 6 - 8)
4 small lamb chops (for just a taste of lamb per person, or, if you want to splurge, buy a leg of lamb, or enough chops for the whole family)
1 roasting chicken (if you're only providing a "taste" of lamb for everyone, as I do)
Side dishes according to your preference (I often make asparagus and rice or potatoes; no leavened bread, however!)
For the charoset
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons red wine
Cinnamon to taste
Core and dice the apple; put it and the walnuts into a medium size bowl. Add the honey and wine (the quantities are approximate; add more or less to taste) and mix. Add a little bit of cinnamon to taste (optional). The charoset should be a pleasantly sweet, sticky, tangy mixture that holds together a little bit. (Add more honey if you need to.)
For the ceremonial dipping
1 bunch green leaf or romaine lettuce, parsley, or other "bitter" greens or herbs
1 package Matzoh (or other unleavened crackers in a pinch, as when the store is sold out, as happened to me yesterday...)
1 small bowl or custard cup filled with salt water
For the ceremonial cups of wine
Have sparkling grape juice for the kids, and real wine for the adults. (If you were my German grandmother, you'd pour a thimble-sized wine glass of real wine even for the little kids. Good for the digestion, you know. But that's beside the point, and completely politically incorrect these days.) A true Seder would have four separate cups; we use the same wine glass with enough in it for four (generous) "sips".
Putting it all together
Place the bowl of salt water in the middle of a decorative tray. Surround it with the lettuce or other greens. The salt water represents the tears of slavery. Sin enslaves us today, just as much as the Pharoah enslaved the Israelites thousands of years ago.
Place the matzoh on another decorative tray or serving plate, with a custard cup of charoset in the center. (Plan to refill that cup often!) Charoset represents the mortar that the enslaved Israelites used between the bricks when they were enslaved in Egypt, when building for the Pharoah.
If you're making chicken, roast it as you normally would. Roast the lamb, or, if you're having just a few lamb chops, you can pan fry them as I do. In a true Seder, my understanding is that no roasted meat would be eaten. Ever since the destruction of the Temple, just a roasted lamb bone is present on the table as a reminder of the original sacrifice. However, we Christians eat the lamb in remembrance of both the original Passover, and Eucharist of the Lamb of God.
Prepare the side dishes so that they'll be ready at serving time with a minimum of fuss, as you want to be seated at the table for the ceremonial part of the meal which comes first. I try to keep the food pretty simple.
Set a fancy table: This is where I break the "keep it simple" rule. You need your good company tablecloth, the good china and crystal, and candles. Yes, I mean it. Yes, I know it means hand-washing the dishes. It's worth it. This is special. The only concession I've made to the "good dishes" rule is that when the kids were really little, I used those plastic disposable champagne or wine glasses for them. But now, even the 8 year old gets the good stuff. It works out just fine.
For a centerpiece we used the fresh palms from last Sunday, laid down the middle of the table.
Put the two serving trays (with the lettuce or herbs on one, and the matzoh on the other) on the table.
And if you have them, give everyone a small sofa pillow or other small pillow to sit against on their chairs, to approximate reclining at table.
Call everyone to come sit down. Have Dad light the candle.
Then, use the this script, or any version of it that you like. I cribbed this together from a whole lot of sources (including several Catholic Culture pages and this one that I think is by a Rabbi. My version is, let's just say, succinct.
After you've completed this ceremonial portion of the meal, serve the rest of the dinner.
Over the years, we've used other elements of a real Seder, such as having a roasted (hard-boiled) egg on the table, hiding a piece of Matzoh, having an extra chair for the unseen guest, and so on. This version is stripped down to the basics, but it works for us.
If you want a much more detailed -- and I'm sure deeper, richer, and holier -- version, I would suggest reading Come to the Table: A Catholic Passover Seder for Holy Week written by a Jewish woman who converted to Catholicism. I haven't read it yet myself, but it comes highly recommended by my friend Kristen McGuire.
If you try my simplified approach, or if you have your own version of a Catholic Seder -- or even if you just read this far! -- I'd love to hear about it.