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Eminence, the emeritis cardinal archbishop of HGN

Monday, March 25, 2013

Passover - A Roman Catholic Perspective

This post began this morning when I saw a news account that President Obama would host a Seder at the White House this evening. I was thinking, what a wonderful religious experience for his own daughters, Malia and Sasha. Then the story indicates his daughters would be there. It would be a family gathering. 

President Hosts His Fifth Seder in the White House Tonight

Back many years into Vatican II history, as a rural pastor, we would hold a Seder as part of our Holy Thursday service. I probably continued this event because my predecessor did it; and I read a few articles in a liberal catholic liturgical magazine suggesting ways for a catholic parish to hold a Seder. Those were the days. The parishioners always appreciated this event. For the main meal we would serve turkey. My predecessor served goat because he said the scriptures said to take from either the sheep or the goats. 

I always loved this night in the parish and our celebration of Holy Thursday. To the temple police, I took a few liberties with the RC liturgy. I would consider the Seder as the whole first part of the Mass with the Jewish ritual prayers, blessings, and scripture readings as well as the Seder meal. We always had the Jewish ritual foods along with questions and answers. Why is this night different? Then we would clear the tables and celebrate the Roman Catholic Mass for Holy Thursday. At the end of Mass we would reserve the Sacrament for adoration in the church.

I think I was respectful as I prayed the blessings over the ritual foods and wine. It was a wonderful educational event for Catholics and me as we tried to gain some sense of our Jewish heritage. President Obama talks about what Passover means to him. Even today with a new pope the message of Passover resonates. Catholics like our Jewish brothers and sisters still look for deliverance from all forms of slavery as we acknowledge God’s continuing presence with us. 

I thought that President Obama celebrating a Seder in the White House would be so educational for his own family. One of the reasons he does this is for his daughters. It is the fifth time President Obama has hosted a Seder. This is the communist, heathen, socialist, anti religious, anti God, president holding a sacred Jewish religious ritual in the White House.

They would say in the bible belt that we had a good fellowship at the meal. Eventually I stopped doing this because I wanted to be sensitive to the fact I was not really Jewish. It would be like folks trying to simulate a Mass. Yet, during those years when the parish celebrated a Seder, I learned much and hoped the parishioners did from this celebration each Holy Thursday. That news story this morning brought back the memories. 

I tried to allay concerns about trivializing the Seder and Passover. I recall, now after a few years, that I invited to the parish Seder a Jewish family that I had come to know in the town where I was a pastor. They came and were welcome and seemed appreciative of our efforts. 

I would try to offer a few reflections, a homily after the meal and before we brought forth our own bread and wine. It always seemed to me that it was easy to preach after a few glasses of wine. Actually, it was a blessing, the words in that context of Holy Thursday and the Christian memorial of the Last Supper seemed to flow so easily.

So on this Passover as Catholics wonder where Francis will take the church, I want to be one with my Jewish brothers and sisters who have their own hopes and struggles on this Sacred Night that is so different than all other nights.

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