My sister wants her family and mine to get together this year to celebrate a seder meal. I haven’t answered her yet because I don’t know if it’s right for Catholics to celebrate the seder. Can you help me out on this, please?
A seder (Hebrew, “order”) is the ritual meal that Jews celebrate to commemorate the Passover. Although scholars disagree over the matter, many believe that the Last Supper of Christ and the apostles was a seder meal. In recent decades many Christians, including Catholics, have started celebrating seders as a means of honoring the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.
These Christian seders can take a number of forms. Some Christians celebrate the seder as do Jews, using a Jewish *haggadah *(Hebrew, “telling”; the book containing the seder service) and omitting Christian references. Other Christians use a Jewish *haggadah *but insert Christian commentary into the service. And yet other Christians create a Christian haggadah, making the service essentially Christian but with Jewish references. Sometimes, too, Christians and Jews get together to hold interfaith seders.
Whether or not Catholics should celebrate a seder is a tricky question that has two main elements: Should a seder be celebrated by a parish or diocese? Should it be celebrated privately (i.e., off of Church property) by families or groups as a private devotion?
The answer to the first question is a matter of prudential judgment and not a matter of ecclesiastical law: The Church has not approved of seders as a public ritual or devotion of the Church; therefore, it seems reasonable that seders should not be celebrated on Church property. This is because hosting such an event on Church property can give the impression of Church approval where it does not, as yet, exist. I can only recommend that, as a matter of prudence, Catholics not participate in seders held on Church property. It should be noted though the USCCB document God’s Mercy Endures Forever states the following:
It is becoming familiar in many parishes and Catholic homes to participate in a Passover Seder during Holy Week. This practice can have educational and spiritual value (GMEF 28).
The answer to the second question is that the Church has not expressly forbidden the private celebration of the seder, but many disagree over whether or not it is appropriate for Catholics to do so. Some argue that because the seder has been superceded by the Mass, Catholics should limit their commemoration of the Last Supper to the Mass. Others argue that it is disrespectful to the Jewish people to co-opt their sacred ritual for non-Jewish purposes. And others say that the seder, as it is celebrated today, is a non-Christian worship service that Catholics should not participate in as worshippers (as distinguished from those who merely attend a Jewish seder as a guest or who take part in a Christian historical re-enactment of a seder).
Since the Church has not yet spoken on the issue of the private celebration of the seder by Catholics, you are free to use your prudential judgment to determine whether or not this is something that you feel appropriate for you to take part in. Just remember that the celebration of a seder ordinarily should not replace attendance at Mass on Church holy days, and, indeed, *cannot *fulfill a duty to attend Mass on the holy days of obligation. Observation of your duties as a Catholic must come first.
God’s Mercy Endures Forever by the USCCB