What if we could help young people understand the roots of the Mass through an experience of the Passover Seder meal? In this article: my experience, some Church guidelines, a booklet guide to download and use, and related practical ideas.
Preparing My Passover Seder Meal for a Retreat
I heard about the idea of doing a Passover Meal while preparing my 2012 Lenten retreat (“Choose Your Experience” Retreat) for teens. Parishes and Catholic groups around the country are hosting the Jewish “Seder” meal as a way to connect with the Jewish roots of Christianity. Since the Lord would have celebrated the Passover every year, and the Last Supper itself was a Seder Meal, I thought the idea could help teens understand the roots of the Mass itself, and therefore help them better participate in Mass.
We could begin the retreat with a Seder Meal and end the retreat with Sunday Mass. After investigating the idea a bit and looking for online resources, I found a 30-minute Seder for Children made by a Jewish company (30 Minute Seder) that I thought would help the retreatants make this connection. I thought the 30 minute duration was excellent given the attention span of teens.
Although I was nervous at first with all the details of the Seder, I found that it wasn´t too hard to prepare. One of the moms volunteered to prepare the necessary food items and utensils beforehand. I also made sure that I understood every detail of the process, including its meaning. So that the retreatants could experience the meal in a small group setting, I decided I would teach the young adult volunteers how to lead it as well. Each would lead a small group Seder.
After the retreat introduction, I explained to the teens what the Seder meal is all about and motivated them to make the best of it. They were genuinely interested since this was a new experience for almost all of them.
My Actual Experience of the Seder Meal
So each team went to their assigned room with their leader. Thanks to help from a chaperone, each room already had everything ready to go when we got there. The rooms at our retreat center are perfect for small groups. We only used light from candles to create a more realistic setting. Once each group was about to start, volunteers were chosen for readers.
The Seder Meal booklet we used was very helpful because it explains the meaning behind each step. Since my booklet was Jewish, I had to connect each of the parts to the life and meaning of Christ. However, another booklet that I found at a website (@Heidi´s Pages) is already prepared for Christians. It can be downloaded below:
The Seder Meal is fairly complex and detailed, yet the teens made great effort to follow the steps with precision. I tried to present the ideas behind the Seder by asking them questions. Why do you think we light the candles before beginning? What does this washing of our hands remind you of? What does the unleavened bread signify? They usually had a good answer, and I would then complete their answer with more details, tying each part of the Seder Meal with a reference to:
- the Exodus and the first Passover Meal with Moses,
- the life, death and resurrection of Jesus,
- the corresponding part in the Catholic Mass,
- the metaphorical meaning for us today.
The Seder meal helped the leader provide a context with which to present a message. Our roots go back thousands of years to God´s intervention in the life of Moses and the Israelites as they were freed from the slavery of the Pharaoh, foreshadowing what Christ would do to save us from the slavery of sin. Just like the Jews today “relive” that moment every year, every Mass makes present for us the mystery and saving action of Christ, allowing us to be spiritually fed on our journey away from sin and towards Heaven.
Our 30-minute booklet´s narration of the 10 plagues ended up being too long, so the kids got a little antsy and hungry looking at their food, unable to eat it! I recommend the booklet above because it moves much quicker and it should work well. Nevertheless, judging from their desire to get the details right and their participation, I think they generally enjoyed the experience and learned something new.
Once the Seder was over, we prayed a blessing for the meal and ate pizza and soda. We didn´t have enough main course in the Seder Meal to feed middle-schoolers, so we made sure to have a pizza meal afterwards! The teens were happy and this proved to be a good way to begin a Lenten retreat. Also, the seminarians and young adults who volunteered were happy they could lead this for their small group of five or six teens.
Church Guidelines to Keep in Mind
Participation of the Passover Seder during Holy Week is becoming familiar in Catholic parishes and homes. Number 28 of the USCCB´s document “God´s Mercy Endures Forever: Guidelines on the Presentation of Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching, 1988” (Click here to download), presents concise guildelines for the practice of the Passover Seder during Holy Week. These are the main points:
- The primary reason why Christians may celebrate the festival of Passover should be to acknowledge common roots in the history of salvation.
- This can have educational and spiritual value.
- We should participate in the Seder Meal respectfully and also maintaining all its parts.
- We should not:
- end the Seder with additional New Testament readings,
- make it a prologue to the Celebration of the Eucharist,
- try to “restage” or replace the Last Supper or Holy Week Liturgy.
- Seders arranged at or in cooperation with local synagogues are encouraged.
In short, we are not adding a new liturgical celebration, but participating in a Jewish custom that can help us better understand the roots of our Christian faith.
Booklet Summary & Download
I found a good booklet to download, print, and use for the Passover Seder meal at the following website: @Heidi´s Pages. For your convenience, you can click on the link below and download it to your computer.
The booklet has 22 pages, and it explains the items needed. Also, since this is for minors, make sure to serve grape juice instead of wine.
This is the index:
- Ceremonial Plate
- Set the Table
- About the Passover & the Seder
- Four Promises, Four Cups
- Candles & Consecration
- First Cup: Sanctification
- Urhatz: Ritual Washing of Hands
- Karpas: Sign of Hope
- Yahatz: Breaking the Middle Matzah
- The Four Questions
- Maggid: Story of the Passover
- Story Continued
- The Plagues
- Second Cup: Instruction
- Lamb Bone & Egg
- More Symbolic Foods
- The Afikomen: Dessert
- Third Cup: Blessing
- Hallel (Song of Praise)
- Fourth Cup: Consumation
- Jesus´ Fourth Cup
Some Options for your Passover Seder Meal:
- Guest speaker: The best recommendation is to invite a Jewish guest speaker to lead it for your group. Afterwards, you can organize group discussions to help the teens understand the Christian references. This can be done for either CCD Classes or Youth Ministry.
- CCD Class: Teach your catechists how to do it for their own classrooms. Everyone can pitch in to prepare all the food and supplies for the actual day.
- Homily at Mass: When you celebrate Mass at a later point in the retreat, ask the priest to make reference to the Passover Seder meal during the Homily.
- Family Passover: Teach parents to do the Passover Seder meal at their home within their families at some point during Lent as a way to prepare for the Holy Week liturgies.
- Background music: You may be able to include some soft background music to help set the mood. Sometimes, Jewish sites have music you can purchase.
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