Catholic Activity: The Passover Meal: 6. The Questions
A Catholic family can enter more deeply into the Triduum during Holy Week by having a seder meal, similar to the Last Supper that Jesus would have celebrated with his Apostles. With the knowledge that Christ has come and redeemed the world, we can incorporate a Christian attitude during the seder meal.
A tradition from ancient seder meals is the four traditional questions the son asks the father about the Passover. These are some suggested questions and answers to be discussed during your Christian seder meal.
FATHER OR LEADER: At the ancient Passover meal the son asked the father four traditional questions about the Passover. In time, in order to carry on a discussion about the symbolic foods, other questions were also asked about their meanings. The father replied "according to the understanding of the son."
In more recent times the same four questions have been asked at the Seder. The questions we ask tonight are similar but have been adapted to bring to mind the relationships between the Old and the New Testament.
CHILD: Why is this night different from all other nights?
FATHER OR LEADER: In the MISHNAH we find the ancient teaching of the Jews concerning the meaning of the Passover meal:
In every generation a man must so regard himself as if he came forth himself out of Egypt, for it is written: And thou shalt tell thy son in that day saying: ‘It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt’ (Exodus 13:8). Therefore are we bound to give thanks, to praise . . . and to bless him who wrought all these wonders for our fathers and for us. He brought us out from bondage to freedom, from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning to a festival day, and from darkness to great light, and from servitude to redemption: so let us lay before him the Hallel.
We who are followers of Christ know that as God rescued the Israelites through Moses from the slavery of Egypt, so he redeemed us through Christ from our slavery to sin. Christ passed from this world to his Father, showing us the way and preparing a place for us, as he said:
No one can come to the Father except through me (Jn. 14, 6).
St. Paul tells us,
And for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation — the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here (II Corinthians 5:17).
And again he said,
Now, however, you have been set free from sin, you have been made slaves of God, and you get a reward leading to your sanctification and ending in eternal life. For the wage paid by sin is death; the present given by God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:22-23).
CHILD: Why do we eat bitter herbs tonight at this special meal?
FATHER OR LEADER: The Jews of old ate bitter herbs on Passover night, as do the Jews today, because
Our fathers were slaves in Egypt and their lives were made bitter.
We who are followers of Christ do not hesitate to taste of this bitterness as a reminder of His passion and death or to recall that He said,
Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27).
CHILD: Why do we eat herbs tonight, and this time with sweet jam?
FATHER OR LEADER: We dip the bitter herbs into the haroses, sweet jam, as did the Jews of old, as a sign of hope. At the Passover meal the father explains:
Our fathers were able to withstand the bitterness of slavery because it was sweetened by the hope of freedom. We who are the followers of Christ are reminded that by sharing in the bitterness of Christ’s sufferings we strengthen our hope.
St. Paul says:
It is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace in which we can boast about looking forward to God’s glory. But that is not all we can boast about- we can boast about our sufferings. These sufferings bring patience, as we know, and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us (Romans 5:2-5).
Christ and His disciples — and all Jews who celebrate the Passover — tell the Haggadah during the Paschal meal. Haggadah means "retelling." It is the retelling of the Israelites’ salvation from the tenth plague because the lintels of their doors had been marked with the blood of the lamb sacrificed at God’s command and of the story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.
The yearly retelling of the deliverance of the Jews is an essential act in the Passover meal. As the evidence of God’s loving care is refreshed in the minds of each individual each year, so is the renewal of their dependency upon God for all things, particularly their freedom from slavery.
CHILD: Why did the Jews at the time of Christ eat the Paschal lamb when they celebrated the Passover meal?
FATHER OR LEADER: At the time of the Liberation from Egypt, at God’s command each family took a lamb, sacrificed it, ate it, and sprinkled its blood on the doorpost and lintel. And on that night, seeing the blood, the angel of the Lord passed over them, smiting the Egyptians and sparing the Israelites (see Exodus 12, 26-27).
The Jews continued a memorial sacrifice in the Temple of a lamb for each family in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. The lamb was brought home, roasted and eaten in a memorial meal. Since the destruction of the Temple there is no longer sacrifice but the meaning of the Paschal Lamb is retold by Jewish people today.
Followers of Christ know that Christ is our Lamb, who sacrificed Himself for us, and by His death and resurrection, enabled us to merit passing into eternal life with God. As St. Paul says:
Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed (I Corinthians 5:7).
CHILD: Why did Christ and His disciples wash at table?
FATHER OR LEADER: At the festival table of the Jews it is customary to wash the hands of all present while saying this prayer:
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us concerning the washing of hands.
On this night followers of Christ are taught a new meaning. Christ, the Lord, while washing the feet of His disciples taught His commandment of love and service for others:
The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:11).
(The father or leader now takes a matzo and breaks off a portion. He passes the matzo around and each eats his portion of it.)
CHILD: Why did Christ and His disciples eat unleavened bread at the Passover table?
FATHER OR LEADER: The blessing and the breaking of the matzo is one of the important parts of the feast of the Pasch. The origin of the matzo was this:
When Pharaoh let our forefathers go from Egypt, they were forced to flee in great haste. They had not time to bake their bread; they could not wait for the yeast to rise. So the sun beating down on the dough as they carried it along baked it into a flat unleavened bread.
The matzah was the "bread of affliction" which enabled the Chosen People to be delivered from slavery.
On this night the followers of Christ recall that before our Lord distributed the bread to all the disciples He added the significant words of the Lord’s Supper. Through this action all men are able to become one in Christ, as St. Paul says:
The fact that there is only one loaf means that, though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all share in this one loaf (I Corinthians 10:17).
CHILD: Why did Christ and His disciples drink wine at the Last Supper?
(The father and all present take a sip of wine.)
FATHER OR LEADER: The feast of the Passover begins and ends with the drinking of a cup of wine. It is both a blessing and a thanksgiving expressed in this benediction prayer:
Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.
On this night the followers of Christ read in the gospel of St. Luke:
When the hour came he took his place at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, `I have longed to eat this passover with you before I suffer — because, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’
Then taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and share it among you, because from now on, I tell you, I shall not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.’
Then he took some bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body which will be given for you; do this as a memorial of me.’ He did the same with the cup after supper and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you (Luke 22:15-20).
For the Christian, then, this is the night of the new Passover.
Let us recall with respect the feast of the Passover and its place in God’s Providence. Let us recall with gratitude how on this night Christ instituted the new Memorial. By this act and by His death and resurrection, He established a new sacrifice, a new deliverance.
Activity Source: Passover Meal, The by Arleen Hynes, Paulist Press, 1972