It is Easter Monday. We have just been through the Sacred Triduum and each year I am all the more enriched and blessed by the prayers, liturgies, traditions, and inheritance of our faith! We have 40 days of fasting and then 40 days of feasting. And through it all we have a shocking, stirring, moving reality to ponder in our hearts: that God our Father became man, sanctifying our mortal lives and earthly work, making it all sacred. This Jesus became our Brother, teaching us how to love each other, being the radical, against-the-grain-man of his time, frying fish on the beach over a fire with his disciples, teaching his elders in his local synagogue, building with wood as apprentice alongside his foster father, walking on water, commanding the stormy waters to be calm, and talking to a woman at the well! This Jesus taught us and lived with us then radically offered us his flesh and blood as he ate for the last time with us, and obediently went to his death: a brutal, bloody crucifixion, then triumphed, coming back from the dead and into new life all the stronger, working miracles among the people He so loved. Then He breathed his breath into us by leaving us with His Holy Spirit after he departed this earth. All this we ponder in our hearts and study and pray about.
And all of this: the Jewish heritage and the beginning of Catholicism in the first Breaking of the Bread, comes together in the Catholic Seder Meal which we celebrate on Holy Thursday of the Triduum! It connects the past to the present, the Old Testament to the New, Jewish roots and Catholic realities, God of the Old Testament to God of the New. It is a celebration of our heritage, involving biblical history and education, all evolving around the table, the Meal: the Passover Feast which Jesus celebrated as a child and then made new when He celebrated the Last Passover before he died.
Holy Thursday is the holy feast of the Eucharist; Seder is the name for the Jewish Passover Meal. Seder means “order” which, applied to the Seder meal, means the order of prayers. Its central focus is redemption from slavery, recalling the exodus from Egypt, and renewal and rebirth in Christ. Again, old and new, united in the sacred sharing of a meal: the breaking of bread!
The Catholic Seder Meal, involving hard boiled eggs, bitter herbs, salt, apples, chopped nuts, vinegar, lamb, flatbread, wine (and grape juice for littles), candles, pouring and dipping vessels, scripts for all, songs, music, and alteration of schedules, takes a hefty amount of preparation: careful grocery shopping sometimes the week before, several hours of kitchen work and at least an hour of planning.
There are several Catholic guides and versions online on blogs and Catholic websites for the basics of planning the meal and finding a script, but I encourage each family to figure out what works best for them. Three years ago (I think that was my second year doing the Seder from my own home) I went to the Goodwill to buy special dishes just for the feast. I found 50-cent tiny wine glasses for all the children and vessels for pouring. I found a set of large and small plates that did not match but looked fine, and even beautiful, sitting next to each other on the table. I have a Spotify playlist ready to go with Yiddish folk tunes, Passover prayer songs, Jewish roots music. I turn this on at the end of the readings, prayers and slower parts of the meal, just as I turn on the lights and serve the main course of lamb and spices, flavorful curried rice and whatever sides I have prepared. It’s a pieced-together, creative, beautiful, homespun tradition, and each year my Seder Meal gets a little bit nicer, a little bit more organized, a little more delicious, a little more planned. My goal for next year is to ask my mother to make me (I don’t sew, but those of you who do could do this!) a set of scarlet napkins, and to have learned and prepared a Holy Thursday Catholic hymn for the beginning of the feast, and a festive Jewish song for the end of the feast.
Each year I begin my work in the morning, after breakfast and the “morning rush”. With my coffee or tea, and with any little ones home and eager to help, I prepare the meal and the table while listening to, and singing along with, the traditional hymns from the Holy Thursday Mass. I use the finest silverware, the finest table linens, candleholders, platters and dishes. I pray, I lift up, I prepare for nourishment of the hearts and bodies gathered around my table. It is the beautiful work of a woman, the heart and deep wisdom of the home.
In my house I cook all morning, lay the table then pick up kids from school early. I then send them off to their rooms to find something nice to wear: boys throw on a button down shirt with the jeans they’re already in, my daughter into a quick nice top or dress. Now that she’s six, she shows great love for this special meal by eagerly placing blossoms or a single tulip into the vase of water ready for her touch (and once she threw on one of my own necklaces, honoring the formality of the meal; I loved this!). The little ones come to the table with a sparkle in their eyes, eager to see what this commotion and hustle is all about. The last two years I have selected my oldest son as leader of the feast at the head of the table. To start the feast I just lean on the sung prayer we already all know. I use the only all-white tablecloth I own, and for place-cards I just cut out white cardstock squares and fold them in half, writing in careful script each person’s name.
And as I light the candles of the feast with my children gathered around me in the natural light of the room, all their eyes fixed on me, saying the prayers as Mother, as Woman of the Home: “In praising God we say that all life is sacred. In kindling these festive lights, we are reminded of life’s sanctity. With every holy candle we light, the world is brightened to a higher harmony. We praise you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe who hallow our lives with commandments and bid us to light these festive holy lights”, I feel deeply rooted as a woman of God. I am overwhelmed with gratefulness for tradition and beauty and religion. I have reverence and humility in my dignity and beauty as Woman of the home.
When we then go Holy Thursday Mass, (my favorite liturgy of the entire year) I feel connected, again, as I did when lighting the candles at the beginning of the feast, to Christ’s mother Mary, to Anne, her mother, to her cousin Elizabeth, to Mary Magdalene, who were all Jewish in heritage but also knew Christ! And I then think of all the women of the Old Testament and all the women of the New, and beyond… and I feel like one star among millions, in a galaxy of Life, by our very existence as women being vessels of meaning, tradition, beauty, and nourishment.
-Sia writes from her couch, listening to giggles coming from the children’s bedroom and polishing off the last of her cardamom – cinnamon coffee before beginning a hard day’s work.