My parish is having a seder meal this coming Friday (March 18, 2005) at which turkey, lamb, and other meats will be served. The bulletin stated that because it is a liturgical event, not just a dinner, any attendants are absolved of their Lenten abstinence obligation. I am preparing to be received into the Church this Easter, so I’ve never heard of a Christian Seder meal before. I’m skeptical. Am I relieved of my Lenten obligation of abstinence if I attend?
There are really two questions here:
[list]Can a pastor excuse a parish from the Lenten abstinence for an event of this nature?[/list]
In answer to this first question, here is what the Code of Canon Law (1983) has to say:
Without prejudice to the right of diocesan Bishops as in canon 87, a parish priest, in individual cases, for a just reason and in accordance with the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, can give a dispensation from the obligation of observing a holy day or day of penance, or commute the obligation into some other pious works. The superior of a pontifical clerical religious institute or society of apostolic life has the same power in respect of his own subjects and of those who reside day and night in a house of the institute or society (canon 1245, emphasis added).
Note that there are three conditions: individual cases, for just reason, and in accord with the local bishop’s directives. To find out your local bishop’s prescriptions on such dispensations, you can contact your local diocese. But the individual-cases condition appears to rule out a blanket dispensation for an entire parish invited to attend a particular event. And then there is the just-reason condition, and that brings us to the second question.
[list]Should the parish be sponsoring a Christian Seder in the first place?[/list]
Despite its advertising in your bulletin, a Christian Seder is not a Catholic “liturgical event.” If it was, the Church would have set up liturgical rubrics regulating its celebration. Although the Church has not expressly forbidden Christian Seders, it is also not an event of which the Church has approved for public celebration. At best, a Christian Seder is an unapproved private devotion that is being publicly celebrated on Church property. Unapproved private devotions – whatever their nature – should not be publicly celebrated on Church property without the prior approval of the Church because it gives the impression of Church approval for something the Church has yet to approve.
It is also worth noting that such events serve, unintentionally we may hope, to undermine the Church’s interreligious dialogue with the Jewish people. The events give the appearance of an approval that doesn’t exist, especially to non-Catholics and non-Christians unfamiliar with the requirements of authoritative Church approval. Thus, those Jews who support such endeavors are being set up for disappointment should the Church choose to disapprove of Christian Seders; and those Jews who do not support such endeavors are likely to mistakenly attribute to the universal Church any offensive innovations to the Seder – which they rightly consider to be their sacred celebration of an important Jewish festival – that they see or hear about at a local parish.