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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Week / The Pesach: Passover Seder

Jewish Passover
 and the
Catholic Eucharist
Part 1

Why would a Gentile study the roots and tradition of the Jewish Passover? Because, Jesus, a devout Jew and Rabbi, celebrated His Last Supper at a traditional Passover meal, and His death fulfilled the old covenant, where He became the perfect sacrifice for the new and everlasting covenant.

Holy Week is a good time to learn more about the Jewish roots of my Catholic faith. The following is my best Gentile understanding of a Jewish Passover. I apologize for any errors, I have much to learn.

Passover Plate Spain c. 1480
The Pesach: Passover Seder
Jewish Year 5770: sunset March 29
- nightfall April 6, 2010
Jewish Year 5771: sunset April 18
- nightfall April 26, 2011
Jewish Year 5772: sunset April 6
- nightfall April 14, 2012
Jewish Year 5773: sunset March 25
- nightfall April 1, 2013
Jewish Year 5774: sunset April 14, 2014
 - nightfall April 22, 2014
Jewish Year 5775: Sunset April 3, 2015
- Nightfall April 11, 2015
Jewish Year 5776: Sunset April 22, 2016
- Nightfall April 30, 2016
Jewish Year 5777: Sunset April 10, 2017
- Nightfall April 18, 2017
Jewish Year 5778: Sunset March 30, 2018
- Nightfall April 7, 2018

Pesach means to pass through or pass over, referring to the time when God “passed over” and spared the first born of the Jews, it is also the name given to the sacrificial lamb offered at the Temple during this feast in the Old Testament. Passover is a memorial feast commanded by God to be celebrated [yearly] as a perpetual institution. (Exodus 12:14) Passover spiritually brings the Jewish people back to participate in the First Passover: "In every generation a man must so regard himself as if he came forth himself out of Egypt, for it is written (Exodus 13:8).  Therefore we are bound to give thanks..."   (Mishnah Pesahim 10)

The Preparation

A few days before the Passover feast is celebrated the house is purified of all leaven; anything with yeast. For those who do this right, it means scrubbing everything in your kitchen from stove, refrigerator, dishes and shelves with a brush and feather. This enormous task of cleaning and removing all signs of leaven symbolizes removing sin from our lives.

On the fourteenth of Nisan, if the first born son of the family is above thirteen, he is to fast in memory of the deliverance of the first born of the Israelites from the angel of death. That evening the men of the family attend synagogue before returning home for the Seder meal.

The Seder

The “instruction manual” or steps for this meal is contained in the Haggadah which basically means “the telling.” It is called the telling because, after the Seder meal is over you will have been told and you will be expected to tell others, to pass the story on, so that no one ever forgets.

Blessing of the Festival Candles

The oldest women of the family will light the candles at the beautifully set table and pronounce a blessing in Hebrew which translates to “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe who has made us holy by the Law, and has commanded us to kindle the festival lights.”

The Seder Plate

This is a special plate that contains six symbolic foods that will be used during the meal. Each of the six items arranged on the plate have a special significance to the retelling of the maggid or story of the Exodus from Egypt. The six items on the plate are:

Maror and Chazeret: two types of bitter herbs such as horseradish and romaine lettuce
Charoset: a blending of apples, raisins, and honey to represent mortar
Karpas: vegetable other than the bitter herb usually parsley
Zeroah: roasted lamb bone symbolizing the sacrifice
Beitzah: roasted egg

The First Cup: Sanctification

During the Seder four cups of wine will be poured. Each cup will have its own name and meaning.

The first cup of wine, the cup of Sanctification, is poured. The oldest male of the family lifts their glass and pronounces a blessing in Hebrew which translates to “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe who creates the fruit of the vine.” This cup reminds the Jewish people that they are sanctified, are holy and set apart.

The Washing of the Hands

The oldest man then washes his hands three times in honor of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in preparation for the eating of the karpas, or parsley.

The Story (Maggid)

Now the maggid or story begins. This is the retelling of the Exodus story, the flight from Egypt following the first Passover. It is designed to satisfy the needs of four different types of sons: the wise one, who wants all the details; the wicked one, who is uninterested; the simple one, who needs know only the basics; and the one unable to ask. This story is intertwined with the four questions, the theme of which is, “Why is it different?” These questions are traditionally asked to the young children at the Seder in an effort to arouse interest and curiosity while teaching ritual and history. To make this clearer for my readers and myself (mostly myself), I will discuss the four questions first and then go on to the story of Exodus.

The Four Questions

The first question is “On all other nights we eat normal bread, on this night why do we eat only matzah”? Because this, the bread of affliction, the poor man’s bread was baked in a hurry, there was no time for the leaven to rise, because the Israelites were on the run. After this question the eldest male takes three pieces of matzah from the Seder plate, which represent Abraham, Issac and Jacob, he takes the middle piece of matzah, breaks it, wraps one half and hides it. This hidden piece is called the Afikomen and it reminds us that Moses was sent down the Nile and hidden. Then everyone takes a piece of matzah and a blessing is said “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth let us eat a piece of matzah."

The second is “On all other nights we eat all other vegetables why tonight do we eat only bitter herbs?” Because this reminds us that for a time the Israelites were slaves and were forced to do hard labor, suffering bitterly. Everyone takes a piece of bitter vegetable from the Seder plate, dips it in salt water (representing tears shed as a result of slavery) and eats. The blessing is said, “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe who has set us apart by His word and commanded us to eat bitter herbs.”

The third question is “On all other nights we do not dip our vegetables even once yet tonight why do we dip them twice? Because from the tears of the faithful and the prayers of His people, God listens, and in His mercy rains down blessings on His people. Now everyone takes a piece of the bitter herbs, and dips it into the Chazeret, a sweet mixture of apples, honey, raisins that when mashed together resembles the mortar the Israelites used to make bricks without straw for the Pharaoh. This symbolizes the sweetness and bitterness of God’s people.

The fourth question is “On all other nights we eat sitting, but tonight we eat reclining, why is this so? Because the Israelites on the night of the first Passover ate standing ready to flee, tonight in honor of Moses and his people and the freedom that they brought us by God’s intercession, we eat reclining and take the rest that they could not.

The Story
(My “short” paraphrase of Exodus 1:8-12:50
– come on it is 12 Chapters I did the best I could)

The Passover story of the exodus from Egypt is a commandment that must be performed on the eve of Passover. (Exodus13:8-10) And so we begin….Pharaoh looked around Egypt and thought, there are too many Jews. If they continue to reproduce at this rate, they will outnumber us and overtake us.”Look how numerous and powerful the Israelite people are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase; otherwise in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us.” (Ex 1:9-10)

Pharaoh decided that every Jewish boy that was born was to be put to death. He commanded that all midwifes and nurses kill any males they delivered. Infanticide had begun. “When you act as midwives for the Hebrew women and see them giving birth, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she may live.” (Ex 1:16)

Moses was born and his mother hid him for three months after which fearing for his safety, she “took a papyrus basket, daubed it with bitumen and pitch, and putting the child in it, placed it among the reeds on the river bank.” (Ex 2:3) She left his sister to watch what would happen to him.

As providence would have it, the Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the Nile to bathe and discovered the basket with Moses and took pity on him. She asked for a Hebrew woman to nurse the child, and unknown to the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses’ own mother was summoned, to nurse him. Eventually the Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him as her own and he was named Moses, “for she said, I drew him out of the water.” (Ex 2:10)

Now Moses grows into a man and witnesses an Egyptian striking a Hebrew laborer. This did not sit well with Moses and he killed the Egyptian man and hid him. In guilt and fear for his own life he fled to the land of Midian where he defended some women drawing water for their father’s flock. The women returned to their father and recounted the story leading to him to invite Moses to live with them. “Moses agreed to live with him, and the man gave him his daughter Zipporah in marriage.” (Ex 2:21)

A long time passed, during which the king of Egypt died. Still the Israelites groaned and cried out because of slavery. As their cry for release went up to God, he heard their groaning and was mindful of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (Ex 2:23-24)

God called out to Moses while he tended the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, from a burning bush. “When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am” God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father…the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob…..I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry…so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey….Come, now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Ex 3:4-10)

Whoa, wait, no way, I just fled Egypt because I killed a man. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11) God explained that He would be with him and that Moses was to tell the people that “I AM sent me to you.” (Ex 3:14) God asked Moses to tell the king of Egypt, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent us word. Permit us, then, to go a three days journey in the desert, that we may offer sacrifice to the Lord, our God.” (Ex. 3:18)

Still not quite convinced Moses asks God, “Suppose they will not believe me?” (Ex 4:1) Then the Lord gave Moses a sign with his staff that when thrown to the ground would become a serpent. And his hand when pressed to his breast would become leprous. The Lord told Moses that if the Pharaoh would not believe him after those two signs he was to take water from the Nile and pour it on the dry land where it would become blood.

Moses still protested saying that he was not eloquent, and asked please put someone else up to the task. So God says, okay Aaron your brother will do the talking for you in fact he is on his way to meet you. “You are to speak to him, then, and put the words in his mouth. I will assist both you and him in speaking and will teach the two of you what you are to do.” (Ex 4:15-16) With God’s assurance that Moses was to return to Egypt safely, he took his wife and sons and went back to Egypt. Though God warned him that Pharaoh would be obstinate so Moses was to say, “Thus says the Lord: Israel is my son, my first-born.” (Ex 4:23)

Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and say “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Let my people go, that they may celebrate a feast to me in the desert.” (Ex 5:1) Pharaoh was not happy about letting the Hebrew people off work for three days so he made the Israelites job harder by withholding some of the material they needed to make bricks for his buildings. “Thus says Pharaoh: I will not provide you with straw. Go and gather the straw yourselves, wherever you can find it. Yet there must not be the slightest reduction in your work.” (Ex 5:10-11)

Time went by and the Lord came to Moses again and requested that he “Go and tell Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to let the Israelites leave his land.” (Ex 6:10) But Moses protested saying that he was a poor speaker and whenever he asked Pharaoh something, Pharaoh would make the lives of the Israelites harder. The Lord said, “Your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave his land. Yet I will make Pharaoh so obstinate. “(Ex 7:2-3)

So Moses and Aaron went and spoke to Pharaoh, who requested that they show him a sign. Obliging, Aaron changed his staff into a snake. Not to be outdone, Pharaoh commanded his sorcerers to do likewise. Which they did, but Aaron’s snake ate all of the sorcerer’s snakes, and Pharaoh remained obstinate.

The Ten Plagues (Ex 7:14-10:28)

The maggid culminates with the ten plagues God finally sends to Egypt. Each plague punishes a god of the Egyptians. As each plague is named, each person dips their finger into their cup of wine and wipes the drop on their plate. Symbolizing the spilling of a drop of blood for each plague.

Dam (Blood) All the water in Egypt was changed to blood
Tzfardeyah (Frogs) An infestation of frogs sprang up in Egypt
Kinim (Lice) Egypt was afflicted by lice
Arov (Swarms of Flies) An infestation of flies sprang up in Egypt
Dever (Blight or pestilence) Killed of all Egyptian livestock
Shichin (Boils) The Egyptians were afflicted by an epidemic of boils
Barad (Hail) Large heavy hail rained down on Egypt
Areh (Locusts) Swarms destroy crops in Egypt
Choshech (Darkness) Egypt is covered in darkness

The Second Cup: Judgment

Right before the tenth plague is announced the second cup of wine, the cup of judgment is poured, for God is about to rescue His people from slavery with a mighty act of judgment.

Makat B’chorot (Slaying of the First-Born) Moses then said, “Thus says the Lord: At midnight I will go forth through Egypt. Every first-born in this land shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh on the throne to the first-born of the slave-girl at the hand mill, as well as all the first-born of the animals.” (Ex 11:4-5)

To protect the Israelites from the tenth plague, God gave Moses the details of the first Passover ritual, and commanded that they make this a perpetual institution on this day every year. “On the tenth of this month every one of your families must procure for itself a lamb…The lamb must be a year-old male and without blemish….You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present, it shall be slaughtered during the evening twilight….They shall take some of its blood and apply it [with a bunch of hyssop Ex 12:22] to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb…That same night they shall eat it roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs….This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the Lord. For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every first-born of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt – I, the Lord!” (Exodus 12:2-12)

After midnight, the night of the tenth plague Pharaoh arose to the sounds of wailing and found the first born of all Egyptians dead just as predicted. Finally Pharaoh tells Moses “Leave my people at once, you and the Israelites with you! Go and worship the Lord as you said.” (Ex 12:30-31) And the Israelites set out.

As the maggid concludes everyone drinks the second cup of wine and sings the first part of the Hallel or Psalms 112 and 113.

The Main Dinner (Shulchan Orekh)

Finally the main dinner meal is eaten. There is no particular requirement regarding what should be eaten but there can be no leaven. It may begin with the hard-boiled egg that is on the Seder plate. Eggs represent new life, as the Israelites are now free from slavery. After the meal the Afikoman which was hidden earlier is discovered symbolizing that Moses who was hidden has come forth and redeemed his people. This is the last food that is eaten at the Seder.
The Third Cup: The Cup of Blessing

The third cup of wine is poured and the Grace after Meals is recited. The cup is consumed in the reclining position. Then the great Hallel psalms 114 – 118 are sung.

The Fourth Cup: The Cup of Praise

The fourth cup of wine is poured, including a cup set aside for the prophet Elijah a foreshadowing of his future arrival at the end of days will announce the arrival of the Messiah. At this time a young child may come forward and open the front door of the house symbolizing letting the prophet Elijah in. Everyone holds up the fourth cup of wine, and a blessing is announced “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.” Then all drink the fourth cup of wine which is the climax of the Passover.

All say, Next year in Jerusalem!

The Passover is finished it is complete, now you have been told and now you must tell others.

The Jewish Passover and the Catholic Eucharist Part 2
For items related to the Catholic Church
please visit Lynn's Timeless Treasures
L'examen du Levain by Bernard Picart
Librarires at Hebrew Union College  Illuminated Haggadah Exhibits
British Library Stories from the Golden Haggadah
Sources Judaism 101 Passover Seder Roy H. Schoeman  Passover 2010
Brother Bob Fishman, LBSC - The Passover of Christ
Judaism for Dummies, Rabbi Ted Falcon & David Blatner
What I Wish My Christian Friends Knew About Judaism, Robert Schoen


  1. Hello,

    Thanks for your post. The information that you are providing will reach many people all over the world. Thank you for your commitment to the faith. I thought that you might enjoy some other sites. One is called and the other is Both give detail of your main topics. Take a look! May the Lord bless you and keep you close.


  2. Hi Mike - Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and thank you for the link to, this is a wonderful site. It is very helpful in furthering our understanding of the Jewish roots in the Catholic Church. With the beginning of Lent just two months away, I will be revisiting The 4th Cup again soon. May the Lord bless you always, Lynn