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Why Christians Shouldn’t Celebrate Seder Meals

April 2, AD2015

Kelli - crucifix

In sharing what seemed like a simple, informative item about Seder, I was met with much confusion and a charge of Anti-Semitism. It all began when I posted this audio on Facebook last night. With it, I quoted a priest friend:

“The ONLY ‘Seder” that celebrates the divinity of Christ is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which is the New Covenant Seder instituted by Christ Himself at the Last Supper. Old Covenant Seder does not recognize Jesus as the expected Messiah.” ~Father O.

The questions with which I was met this morning were heartfelt but needed clarification.

“This post only breeds anti-Jewish thinking and does not allow Catholics to ponder the roots of our faith, the richness of our heritage. Jesus longed to eat this meal with us…”

“I think if you are of Jewish heritage then it is not sinful to celebrate the Passover.”

“I’m confused. I grew up with a Jewish mother and a Christian father…I still like keeping some of our Jewish traditions alive, and teaching my kids about them as part of our history and heritage. We are actually planning to drive 4 hours tomorrow to go to my rabbi uncle’s house for Passover so my kids can experience a REAL Passover. This is something sinful? My family is expecting us. Should we cancel? Go to confession? If we have honest Jewish heritage, is that different?”

This column, then, is an elucidation to assist us all in comprehending the significance of our actions within the context of our religious practices.

“Saint Thomas Aquinas asked, ‘Were the ceremonies of the Old Law, the Mosaic Law, ceased at the coming of Jesus Christ?'”

The enlightening answer, given in the audio? Yes, the Old Law was completely fulfilled and updated, so to speak.

“When we’re dealing with the worship of God our external actions must correspond with our internal beliefs.” ~Saint Thomas Aquinas

According to Father, this can be further illustrated by the way we behave in the Divine Presence, the following of the rubric by priests, genuflection and the laity presenting themselves in their Sunday best when attending the Holy Sacrifice of Mass.

In the days before our Savior sacrificed Himself for us, He and His family were indeed practicing Jews. In this context, the Passover Meal consisted of an animal sacrifice to God. While Jesus celebrated this way with His family (since He was a Jew and had not yet been made a HUMAN sacrifice Himself) this made perfect sense. There was not yet a Savior Who died on the Cross for us.

Now that Jesus has completed what the Jewish people began, we have a New Law and new way to celebrate His completed law as Christians – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If we go back in time and celebrate what people did before the fulfillment of the law, we are denying (in action) that we have a Savior Who completed the Law.

This assertion is not at all Anti-Semitic. This edict is directed at Christians, not people of the Jewish faith. We have much love and respect for the original Jewish people because their faith directly preceded and made possible the fulfillment of Christianity by Jesus. Yet just as people of the Jewish faith have their own religious practices and celebrations, we Catholics wouldn’t expect them to practice our Sacraments and ceremonies. We simply no longer practice as the biblical Jewish people did. We aren’t the same, yet we are an extended family nonetheless.

Historical Aspects of Seder and Passover

As the Council of Trent proclaims, Jesus instituted the New Passover – He is the Lamb of God. If some claim affinity to a ‘Christianized celebration of the Passover meal, they should realize that the Holy Sacrifice of Mass is the Christianized celebration of the Passover meal – given to us by Christ Jesus Himself.

Historically, we must also realize that the Rabbinic Judaism of today is not the Judaism of the Bible. The Temple is gone and the biblical Jewish priesthood is gone. Not until the end of the first century did Rabbinic Judaism come into existence. This religion is actually younger than Catholicism. So following their worship practices is problematic in this regard as well.

Moral theology books cite a specific (yet commonly misunderstood) form of superstition. The superstition of False Worship – encompassing either the ‘false worship of the True God or the true worship of a false god’. Clinging to a mistaken idea that we are celebrating something with which we associate Jesus, then, is a falsehood and encompasses the sin of the specific superstition of False Worship.

We are an Easter people. Our Christian faith teaches us that Jesus came ‘not to abolish the Law or the Prophets…but to fulfill them’. (Matthew 5:17) Therefore celebrating a practice that has been fulfilled by Jesus Himself, violates the command to worship only our Triune God. In celebrating a meal that happened before Jesus saved us by His death on the Cross, we are celebrating a pre-Jesus practice. Just as the Sabbath was replaced by Sunday worship, the Lord’s Day, we show by our external actions the state of our internal worship.

“The ceremonies of the Old Law, which foreshadow the New Covenant and the joys of Heaven, had to cease at the Advent of the New Covenant and other ceremonies had to be introduced which would be in keeping with the state of Divine worship for that particular time.” ~Saint Thomas Aquinas

Within the beautiful season of the Easter Triduum, we have the fullness of our Catholic heritage, given to us by Jesus Himself. What more could we presume to add?

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Birgit is a 50-something cradle Catholic who is passionate about the pro-life movement. She has been married to her Catholic convert husband, Rick, for 40 years. They have four children and nine living grandchildren (all age twelve and under). Their frequent visits eliminate any fear of an empty nest! Birgit can also be found on her personal blog Designs By Birgit and Facebook fan page Designs By Birgit, where she shares the pro-life memes she creates.

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  • pbecke

    It seems to me that that lady was absolutely right to ‘indulge’, to ‘go along with’ her Jewish relatives in their kind invitation to join them in their Seder celebration. Jesus is a family man before anything else. What he was not was an autocrat and tartar for formality, despite the surely faultless reverence of his demeanour during liturgical celebrations..

    We, Catholics, are a large, ever so slghtly crazy, higgledy-piggledy family. Sure, even in our liturgy, nay, in the Mass, itself, we pray to Our Lady and the saints, but always seem to end up praying one or other version of ‘through Christ our Lord. Amen.’

    But it gets better. We will often ask, Jesus, to ask Our Lady, St Joseph or any number of saints to pray to God for us! Round the houses! The more, the merrier! If you’re Irish, come into the parlour. Listen. You’ don’t even have to be Irish! No. What’s important is our family and our larger family of mankind. What we do with our lives outside the church walls during the rest of the week. Our demeanour during the Mass will become increasingly informed and inspired, as we grow older. and grow in our life of faith.

    Another columnist, I think on Aletia, was recommending shutting out our neighbours when they are ‘glad-handing’ each other, as she puts it, by continuing to stare determinedly at our missals; evidently, forgetting that they are all ‘other Christs’, no whit less than she; and quite possibly of more eminent stature than she, in the eyes of God.

    “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things
    from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them
    to the childlike.

    • Guest

      If Jesus is a family man, why did he say this:

      ’32 *Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father, who is in heaven.

      33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father, who is in heaven.

      34 *Do not think that I am come to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword.

      35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

      36 *And a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household.

      37 *He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.

      38 *And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me.’

      To keep away from false worship will definitely cause much strife in non-Christian families. Yet to commit false worship, even to preserve peace in the family, is to offend God.

    • pbecke

      My reading of these words of Jesus is that they encapsulate two of the most central of all God’s messages to us in the Gospel, namely, that we must view the whole world as our family, and that in his life on earth, his preaching had to take precedence even over his family ties and duties. Presumably, in matters of life and death with regard to his parents and family, that precedence would have been reversed, but here is no indication that the matter would have been of such urgency.

      In the normal run affairs, of course, we both have a natural preference for our own family, feel special ties to our parents and brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles et al. and, indeed, owe special duties to them, as Jesus intimated was only common sense and decency, in relation to the abuse of the Corban by the Pharisees.

      However, this incident seems to iterate the precept Jesus taught, after being found in the Temple with the teachers of the law : ‘And he said to them: How is it that you sought me? did you not know, that I must be about my father’s business?’

      Even from childhood, his parents and we, ourselves, must understand that he was still God, and God with a divine prerogative of teaching and preaching the Gospel. A prerogative so sovereignly important that even considerations of the injured duty of care exercised by those most sublime of parents had to be subordinated, and the matter played out for our instruction.

      The incident in the Temple was evidently part of his preparation, both of his divine God-man vocation, and for the instruction of his parents.

  • As a Jewish convert to Catholicism, I agree that the Seder should not be celebrated in a Christian Church setting. On the other hand, I think Birgit Jones misses much of what the Seder is about. There is, in addition to a Judaistic religious significance, a social/ethnic component in which Jews celebrate their heritage as a people. When I was younger (and not Catholic) we celebrated the Seder regularly in our house to give our children a good notion of their heritage from their Jewish father, as well as from their Catholic Pennsylvania Dutch mother (and there is an oxymoron). By the way, their mother made matzoh ball soup and kugel as good or better than my grandmother ever did!

  • Susan Peterson

    While I agree theoretically I don’t think it is wrong for people to attend a seder with family. I went to one with my roommates family when I was in college and it was a learning experience for me. They were liberal Jews or else they probably would not have wanted me there. I didn’t have to do anything which felt like participating in worship to me.

  • Yachov Ben Yachov

    The quote from Florence against Judaizing is from Session 11 and according to the Catholic Encyclopedia only session 6 is considered infallible. Indeed I believe Session 8 contained teaching on the handing over of priestly instruments and the validity of Armenian Rite priestly ordinations that has been abrogated.

    So I question it is not disciplinary still even it is not I don’t see how it matters?
    Since we are not eastern Orthodox we have to interpret Florence & St Thomas Aquinas in light of Papal Teaching & clarification specifically Pope Benedict XIV

    If a man should perform acts for a different end and purpose (even with the intention of worship and as religious ceremonies), not in the spirit of that Law nor on the basis of it, but either from personal decision, from human custom, or on the instruction of the Church, he would not sin, nor could he be said to judaize. So when a man does something in the Church which resembles the ceremonies of the old Law, he must not always be said to judaize. [Ex Quo, 67]

    Quote” But others remarked wisely that some, surely, of the ceremonial rites of the old Law could be observed under the new Law if only they were not done as obligations of the old Law, which was abrogated, but as a custom, or lawful tradition, or as a new precept issued by one enjoying the recognized and competent authority to make laws and to enforce them, as Vasquez observes (vol. 3, in the 3rd part of the Summa, disp. 210, quest. 80, art. 7). [Ex Quo, 74]”END QUOTE

    The USCCB has issued instructions on how Christians should observe Passover Seders so if it was sinful to do them in all circumstances then it seems Rome would have put a stop to it.

    In the 1950’s a Seder like right was used for instruction in many Churches.

    Also Modern Passover Seders are technically not the rites authorized by the OT since they don’t partake of a Lamb sacrificed in the Temple.

    Eastern Catholic Church’s have Seder like rites performed to commemorate the Exodus specifically the Syro-Malabar and the Melikites & St Melito of Sardis has the outlines of a primitive Christian Seder not the Mass.

    So I appreciate your sentiments here but I must contend your are simply wrong with all due respect.

  • Annette Rf

    As a Traditionalist Roman Catholic (pre-Vatican II) of Orthodox Jewish birth and upbringing, I agree with you 100%!

  • Lisa Bergeson

    I completely disagree with the catholic belief that Jesus did not celebrate Passover, Hannukah, etc. He certainly did, scripture cites this. The danger with not recognizing Judaism is that Christianity not only tolerated Antisemitism but attempted to rid its societies of all Jews on several occasions and often accused the Jewish people of “false and superstitious worship”. The most recent has been terrorist attacks again in Europe. The most notable was the genocide if 6 million Jews thereby replacing them with Muslim immigrants. Shame on Christianity!!

    • YachovBenYachov

      It’s not a Catholic belief ” Jesus did not celebrate Passover” it isn’t even what Dr. Marshall (whom I maintain is wrong here) is saying.

      Obviously Jesus observed the rites of the Old Law including Passover etc…. But after the Promulgation of the Gospel Catholics can’t observe the Sacraments of the Old Covenant without sin. They can’t Judaize.

      But as Pope Benedict XIV (not to be confused with B16)said ”

      “If a man should perform acts for a different end and purpose (even with the intention of worship and as religious ceremonies), not in the spirit of that Law nor on the basis of it, but either from personal decision, from human custom, or on the instruction of the Church, he would not sin, nor could he be said to judaize. So when a man does something in the Church which resembles the ceremonies of the old Law, he must not always be said to judaize. [Ex Quo, 67]

      Quote” But others remarked wisely that some, surely, of the ceremonial rites of the old Law could be observed under the new Law if only they were not done as obligations of the old Law, which was abrogated, but as a custom, or lawful tradition, or as a new precept issued by one enjoying the recognized and competent authority to make laws and to enforce them

      ..End quote
      There are other issues and criticism but this is the main one.
      Cheers and Shalom

  • Lisa Bergeson

    A Christian or gentile really can only be an observer of what is the celebration/remembrance of Israels release from 400 years of slavery. We are extremely uneducated when it comes to our understanding of Jesus and His Jewish roots and even more ignorant if we believe we are to be included in Seder. It is a Jewish personal and spiritual tradition. We have incorporated paganism into our celebrations starting with the liturgical calendar Christians are in the wrong, not the Jews.

  • Todd C Goergen

    I have attended cedar meals for several years. It’s basically just a communal meal, more like an atmosphere of a parish celebration / picnic with some scriptures and a bit of role play, I have never felt that we were participating in an act of “false worship” of the True God”. We stopped having them several years ago, because somebody in the parish convinced a previous pastor that it was “offensive to Jews”, how would we feel if the Jews started Celebrating Holy Mass. Well , would not that be exactly what we want? Wouldn’t that be great!

    I think there are far more important things to get worked up about folks! Abortion, The “redefinition of marriage”, the New Evangelization, Education of “sunday morning” and OAE Catholics. (Only at Easter).

    Thanks for listening!

    • BiologyBrain

      Our Faith and their Faith is not just a social club with arbitrary rules excluding others, the rules were put in place by God for his followers. Breaking those rules goes against God and could damn their souls if true conversion is not the intention. So are you converting to Judiasm by celebrating the Passover and Seder? If you aren’t, then you are not truly celebrating those ceremonies as the Jews do… Therefore you are profaning them and offending them. If Jews were to dress up their rabbi as a priest and ‘celebrate’ the Mass on Easter Sunday, yet not have any intention of converting, wouldn’t they be profaning the Eucharist and offending us? Or if instead of dressing up a rabbi, what if they just came to our Mass and presented themselves to the priest to receive the Eucharist? That goes against Scripture and the Catechism and could very well damn their soul according to both of these sources.

      False tolerance is not celebrating other religious rites without intending to convert or believe as that religion does. True tolerance is letting other religions practice their rites without copying them or borrowing them. I have no problem studying the history of *Biblical* Judiasm and how Jesus lived his life. However, I do not feel the need to recreate ceremonies that Jesus fulfilled through His sacrifice. I don’t need to use the *new* Judiasm created *after* Jesus’s Holy Sacrifice. Especially during Holy Week when we are celebrating the Institution of the Eucharist, the Institution of the Mass, the first Ordination of Priests, Jesus’s Sacrifice on Calvary, and His Glorious Resurrection. There is absolutely no need to add extraneous celebrations to these. If you have a thirst for history, research the historical aspects of what Jesus actually did during this Holy Week. There is no need to celebrate a fake Seder/Passover meal when I could just celebrate what Christ established – the true saving Sacrament.

  • Guy McClung

    St. Thomas Aquinas referred to the new status of the
    Passover Meal as inaugurated at the Last Supper by Christ in his hymn, Tantum Ergo:

    Tantum ergo Sacramentum

    Veneremur cernui:

    Et antiquum documentum

    Novo cedat ritui:

    Præstet fides supplementum

    Sensuum defectui.

    Literal translation of the first four lines spells out how a new Sacrament, instituted by Christ, has transformed the meal:

    Hence so great a Sacrament

    Let us venerate with heads bowed

    And let the old
    practice

    Give way to the new rite.

    WE celebrate the “new rite” to which St Thomas refers.
    Guy McClung, San Antonio

  • Stephen Dalton

    Birget, you nailed it! BTW, Rabbi Mark Glickman, in the 04/12/2008 Seattle Times said that Passover Seders are out of place in Christian churches. That the current Passover Seder didn’t exist until several decades after Jesus’s death. And finally he says the Seder is partly an Anti-Christian polemic. So, we have no business being involved in a so-called Christian Seder.

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      What you state mirrors what I have found as well. Most likely, this practice is a misguided attempt at ‘living history’ but in reality only shows how little some understand the history of our beautiful Catholic faith. Thank you for your comment.

  • SclrHmnst

    “If we go back in time and celebrate what people did before the fulfillment of the law, we are denying (in action) that we have a Savior Who completed the Law.”

    That is the kind of divisive quackery that we need to put in the rear view mirror. The traditions of other cultures should not be taboo to us. We need to be inclusive, not divisive. We should celebrate the Passover with our Jewish brethren and Easter with our Christian brethren. To think there is anything wrong with that is sheer quackery.

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      “When we’re dealing with the worship of God our external actions must correspond with our internal beliefs.” ~Saint Thomas Aquinas

    • SclrHmnst

      I don’t even know what that means. Christians can’t celebrate Passover with their Jewish friends and family? Really? That’s messed up.

    • CatholicBreakfast

      By what we participate in outwardly reflects our inward beliefs. Meaning, if you participate in a Jewish Seder, you are outwardly communicating affirmation and belief in what it represents. In other words, your participation in Jewish ceremonies, in this case a ‘Seder’, means you believe it to be true. Such is the case of Catholic theology and of any religious thought or theology. As the 2 millenia old liturgical axiom goes: ‘Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.’ That is, ‘The Law of prayer is the law of belief.’ As one worships or prays, it shews how one beliefs. We as Catholic Christians are forbidden by several General Councils from participating in Jewish rituals that are apart of the Modern-day Jewish sect; as such is giving God false worship; as modern-Judaism is a fabrication and amalgamation of the Pharisees’ sect, not the same thing as Old Testament Judaism.

    • SclrHmnst

      “We as Catholic Christians are forbidden by several General Councils from participating in Jewish rituals that are a part of the Modern-day Jewish sect; as such is giving God false worship;”

      That is ridiculous. Jews and Christians worship the same God. There would be no Christianity without Judaism. It just shows how divisive religions can be.

    • BiologyBrain

      The bishops caution against it…

      “It is wrong, however, to “baptize” the Seder by ending it with New Testament readings about the Last Supper or, worse, turn it into a prologue to the Eucharist. Such mergings distort both traditions.” … Any sense of “restaging” the Last Supper of the Lord Jesus should be avoided …. The rites of the Triduum are the [Church’s] annual memorial of the events of Jesus’ dying and rising (Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy Newsletter, March 1980, p. 12).”

  • Rebecca

    Excellent catechising!

  • Mo Ajayi

    Hmmm. We need to understand that there is a Jewish culture and not only a Jewish religion. For Jewish converts to Christianity I see absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t participate in a Seder if they want to. It’s certainly not compulsory but neither is it reprehensible. Jesus came to fulfil the law not abolish it. I wouldn’t say the same for a Hindu convert to Christianity who wanted for e.g. to continue chanting trance- inducing words to a Hindu goddess. The difference being that there is a continuum between Judaism and Christianity but not the same for Hinduism. Let’s not be divisive…a Seder may very well help a non Jewish Christian better understand the significance of Christ’s suffering and death as the “unblemished lamb”. I would avoid such words as “should” and “shouldn’t ” and rather just say that it’s not necessary but it’s not sinful either.

    • SclrHmnst

      No. It is nonsense.

  • james

    http://www.arkansas-catholic.org) This is how Jesus’ wish that all may be one will be realized. This is the direction the CC is totally committed to realizing.

    • james

      http://www.dolr.org/article/catholics-observing-passover-seder...

      The previous link may contain the reference I intended but this new one
      is what I wanted to highlight.

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      I’m sorry, the link still isn’t working. What I’ve cited is the Council of Trent, Catholic theology, history, and Saint Thomas Aquinas. Individual parishes who mistakenly follow these practices are not firm evidence to dispute these sources. If you would, please listen to the audio presentation. Father does a much better job of explaining it all. God bless and Happy Triduum!

    • james

      Happy Triduum and Easter to you too.

  • Leende

    Jesus did say he didn’t come to change the law but to fulfill the law. I’m not real good at quoting the bible and I’m sure I took it out of context. Maybe somebody can set me straight.

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      That’s correct: “Jesus came ‘not to abolish the Law or the Prophets…but to fulfill them’. (Matthew 5:17) When he fulfilled the Law, He Himself became the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. We no longer offer animal sacrifices specifically because He made Himself the victim in reparation for us and our sins. When we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of Mass, we are following His fulfillment of the Law. What more could we want or need? God bless!

    • Leende

      My point is in the OT it is an abomination for men to lay with men and woman with women so why would Jesus change that.

    • Birgit Atherton Jones

      As scripture says, He didn’t come to change law, He came to fulfill it. The ten commandments didn’t change; morality didn’t change. What was fulfilled was that, instead of looking forward to a Savior, we have now been given one – in the form of Our Lord Jesus the Christ. Therefore, we don’t celebrate in anticipation of His coming – Passover. We celebrate that He has come – Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

    • Kevin Symonds

      Jesus fulfilled the law–the 603 Levitical laws. This does not mean the 10 Commandments are now abolished (hence why it’s not 613), much less morality.