1. The Last Supper
One of the saddest facts of our history is the frequent anti-Jewish tone of Christian writing. It is a tragedy if we Christians of all people fail to accept the full significance and value of Judaism, because within it lies our own beginnings, and the foundations of God's Plan of Salvation for all men and women. Jesus was a Jew so He prayed in a Jewish way and nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than during the Last Supper - the First Eucharist.
The Gospel accounts of the first Holy Week are familiar reading. Jesus and His disciples went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. It would be hard to find a more significant Jewish Festival through which we can link the Old with the New. The Passover is the most important of all Jewish Festivals. On this Feast every Jewish child is taught what it is to be a Jew.
Traditionally, the Festival is believed to have originated from two earlier spring festivals. These were transformed to commemorate the historical event of the liberation of the Hebrew people from years of slavery in Egypt.
2. What is the Passover?
Passover recalls how God saved His people. The historical account is in Chapter 12 of Exodus. The blood of a sacrificial lamb was smeared on the doors of every Hebrew home so that the "angel of death", which destroyed the first-born throughout Egypt, should "pass over" the Hebrews. They were then led by Moses, inspired by God, to a new life as free women and men in the promised land.
Through the centuries the events commemorated at Passover have become a key to the meaning of their existence for the Jewish people. God saw their plight, intervened and delivered them from it. In doing so He pledged Himself to continue to do this throughout history. It is the solemn duty of every Jew to hand on this history of salvation to the next generation, "You shall tell your son on that day..." (Exodus 13:8). The reason for celebrating the Passover is explained by the head of the household. "It is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt" (Exodus 13:8). The symbolic objects, the story of the Exodus, and the promise of future redemption, means that this memorial celebration becomes a "Sacrament" of the Old Covenant.
3. Celebrating the Feast
On the night of the Feast, family and friends gather around a table on which everything reminds them of that past event:
The Angel of Death passed over' those houses protected with the blood of the lamb the shank bone of lamb is a reminder of that deliverance.
The Hebrews had to leave Egypt quickly so they could not wait for the bread to rise the bread on the table is unleavened. Slavery is bitter and cruel bitter herbs on the table are a reminder of that.
Through forced labor the Jews made thousands of bricks for the building of the palaces and pyramids in Egypt a paste mixture of apples and nuts (Charoset) is a symbol of the mortar.
God made four promises to Redeem His People - the four glasses of wine remind them of those promises.
Following the blessing over the first glass of wine and the washing of hands, the youngest child present asks, "Why is this night different from all other nights"? In response, the father tells the story of God's love for His people, their deliverance, salvation and the promise of final redemption at the coming of the Messiah.
When the Passover meal is celebrated, the door of the room is always left open. Pointing to the open door, the guests repeat after the host, "One day the Messiah will come to join us at our meal".
4. The Link with the Eucharist
The tradition begun by the first three Gospels linking the establishment of the Eucharist with the Passover Supper, is shown most clearly in Saint Luke's gospel. Although the Eucharistic celebrations of the early Church developed their own prayers and style, becoming a daily or weekly event, the form of the service maintained a close resemblance to the order of the annual Passover meal.
The blessing of the wine, the blessing of unleavened bread, the mention of the dipping in the dish, and the singing of Psalms which traditionally close the Passover meal, are all included in the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper. Jesus grafted the Sacramental Rites of the New Order which He instituted to this ancient Jewish Festival.
For Jesus and His disciples, all Jews, the Passover was part of their inheritance and way of life. In this way the re-presentation of God's saving of His people from bondage was developed through history into the Final Covenant, the coming of the Messiah, fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
5. The Lamb of God
We remember the Feast of the Passover on Holy Thursday night. We remember how Christ took the bread and wine and said over them, "This is My Body. This is My Blood". Christ offers His life in Sacrifice for the whole world. As the apostles watched Jesus do this they at least understood the title that John the Baptist had given Him, "Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world". As God delivered Egypt from slavery, so would Jesus Christ deliver the world from the slavering of Sin.
The Jewish Passover becomes a rehearsal for the Christian Passover; the Lamb of God, Christ, is sacrificed (the Cross) and eaten (the Last Supper) within the framework of the Jewish Passover (the first Holy Week). Thus He brings Salvation to the world; and the Mystical re-enactment of this Redemptive Act becomes the central features of the Christian Liturgy, organized round the Mass which is at once Sacrifice and Sacrificial Meal.
The Passover Seder is one of the most widely observed of all Jewish customs, and at the center of every Seder is a Seder Plate. Because of the popularity of the Passover Seder, and because of the Seder Plate's central position in its observance, the plate has become a very common outlet for Jewish artistic expression.
Most Seder Plates have six dishes for the six symbols of the Passover Seder. These are:
Some Seder Plates have only five dishes, as there is some controversy among the authorities as to the requirement of Chazeret. Plates with only five dishes omit the second bitter herb (or bitter vegetable).