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Host your own family Seder meal

We can’t transmit the Christian faith to our children without transmitting the story of our Jewish Fathers. Teaching the next generation the importance of Judaism and its practices in our faith – and especially in the Mass – will help them better understand who Jesus was and what he did, and also appreciate our Jewish brothers and their traditions.

“We have to teach our children about our Jewish roots,” said Sister Magdalit Bolduc, liaison for Jewish-Catholic relations for the Archdiocese of Denver and member of the Community of the Beatitudes. “Some parishes host Seder meals during Holy Week… because [it is] the historical context of the Christian Passover.”

(To see how the Christian Passover [the Mass] has deep roots in the Passover meal, see the article “From the Passover Seder to the Eucharist.”)

The Passover Seder is an ancient Jewish practice that recalls the deliverance of the chosen people from Egyptian slavery as told in the Book of Exodus. It’s meant to make the same mystery present and pass it on to the next generation.

“So many Catholics are amazed when they discover this,” Sister Bolduc said. “Being able to witness the Seder as a family celebration and how it can be transmitted in such a fun way [is very enriching].”

The ritual is directed toward the children. “The evening needs to be prayerful, but also must keep the children’s attention and transmit them in an interactive way their story of salvation,” she said.

Sister Bolduc assures that hosting a home Seder is not disrespectful to “our elder brothers in the faith.” Rather, she says that immense work has been done in the Jewish-Catholic dialogue and relationship for the last 20 years and “both communities agree that it is time to overcome fears in order to establish a relationship of trust and respect.”

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Sister Bolduc helped to explain some parts of the Seder meal to aid you in hosting your own Seder. This, of course, is not meant to be a home-made Eucharistic celebration.

Make recipes with symbolism

Having lamb for the meal would, of course, be the best way to being to life this event. In addition – or if that is not possible – it’s better if the food on the table is symbolic. A good example would be to bake a cake or pie in the form of a lamb or a Biblical character. Parents can then ask their children why it was baked in that shape. Parents are also encouraged to include their children in the preparation of recipes – such as rolling the unleavened bread pieces – and incite them to ask questions.

Use the Seder plate to retell the story

The father of the house is responsible for explaining the meaning behind each of the food items on the table. They help retell and relive the Exodus story. This should be done in an engaging way and asking many questions. A short explanation of each item is included in the infographic at the end of the article.

A family participates in a Seder meal at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Denver. (Photo provided)
Dress up and reenact

Some family traditions include wearing a tunic and head covering to immerse themselves more fully into the stories being told. More than that, children and parents can prepare skits retelling Bible stories or even use puppets to do so, while asking questions about the characters or guessing the story. For example, reenacting the story of Moses being found in the river would incorporate the whole family.

Such practices developed from a tradition of transmitting the faith orally to the successive generations. The involvement of parents “is important” and “can make a real difference in their children’s lives,” Sister Bolduc said.

Hide a piece of matza

This traditional practice is called the afikomen, which comes from the Greek word for “dessert.” The half-piece of the matza is typically hidden in the house by a parent during the Seder without the kids looking. After eating the meal, the children are sent to look for it. When they find it, each is given a prize, which is usually candy, money or a small gift. Then, everybody eats a piece. This practice was introduced in the Middle Ages by Jewish families to make the Seder more entertaining for children.

Sister Bolduc recalled that our last three popes have emphasized the importance of growing in relationship with our Jewish brothers. She especially recalled Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium: “The Church… looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own identity… As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion.”

What you need for a Seder Meal

1. Shank bone (Z’roa): Symbol of the Passover sacrifice

2. An egg (Beitzah): It must be hard boiled and smoked. The egg recalls the Passover peace offering called the hagigah. In addition, it’s a symbol of mourning recalling the destruction of the Temple.

3. Bitter herbs (Maror): Horseradish and romaine lettuce may be eaten in fulfillment of the commandment to eat bitter herbs during the Seder. This symbolizes the bitterness and harshness of the slavery which the Hebrews endured in Egypt.

4. Haroset: It’s a mixture of apple, nuts and wine (you can find this recipe online!) that is eaten with the matza (unleavened bread). It represents the bricks and mortar made by the Hebrew slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt.

5. Vegetable (Karpas) and salt water: Parsley, celery or a boiled potato can be used. These vegetable is to be dipped into salt water, which represents tears, mirroring the pain felt by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt.

6. Three pieces of matza: Matza is the unleavened bread of the meal. The first two loaves represent the fact that in the desert, the Israelites received two portions of manna on Friday so they could observe the Sabbath. The third matza is used to recall the haste with which their ancestors fled from Egypt.

7. Wine: The Seder is ordered around the blessing of four cups. This may complicate things if you have never attended an actual Seder before, so it is recommended to have a glass of wine for symbolism. Each cup commemorates the four expressions of redemption promised by God in Exodus 6:6-7: “I will take you out,” “I will deliver you,” I will redeem you” and “I will acquire you as a nation.”

If you decide to do this in your family, tell us about it!

Featured photo by Edsel Little | Flickr

Vladimir Mauricio-Perez
Vladimir Mauricio-Perez
Vladimir is the editor of El Pueblo Católico and a contributing writer for Denver Catholic.

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