Have you ever experienced a Passover seder? For many Catholics, seder meals are not a common part of their typical Holy Week traditions, but author and Jewish convert Meredith Gould believes they should be. In her wonderful book Come to the Table, she provides a thorough explanation and layout of Catholic Passover seders and the ties between Jewish traditions and Catholic liturgical traditions. Her mission is to get Catholics to understand and appreciate the Jewish roots of Christianity. She wants to make it clear, however, that her book is not about teaching Catholics how to have a Jewish seder meal. The instructions, prayers, and actions included in the book have been altered to make them appropriate for Catholics - the basics of a Jewish seder are there, but the Catholic seder is based in a belief of Jesus as our Savior. Some aspects of an authentically Jewish seder are simply not possible for Catholics because of the differences in beliefs between Catholics and Jews. Gould's book reflects this fact.
"I suggest we pay closer attention to what Catholics already share with Jewish people regarding ritual and meaning. Come to the Table does this by offering a Passover seder that draws inspiration and structure from, but does not replicate, the Jewish seder. Our belief in Jesus as Christ makes simply using the traditional Jewish seder not only inappropriate, but also impossible - we are Christians. So here, you'll be invited to draw upon core Christian precepts to deepen your appreciation of Passover as the historic antecedent of our Holy Week." (Come to the Table, pg. 13)
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Gould about her book. It was a long process for her to ensure that the book, with the necessary adjustments and considerations taken into account, would be respectful of the Jewish religion and traditions, as well as being useful for Catholics.
The journey to create Come to the Table began after Gould had converted to Catholicism and realized how little many Catholics understood about the links between Jewish traditions and our own traditions, and the lack of connections Catholics tend to make between Passover and the seder meal, and the Last Supper and Holy Communion. She set out to make these connections easier for Catholics to see.
"Initially, I knew I wanted to take the traditional form of the seder and recalibrate it for Christians," said Gould. She worked for seven years trying to do this correctly. "I realized that I needed to be very careful, because there's not a one-to-one correspondence between a traditional Jewish seder and what would go on in one that Christians celebrate."
After being received fully into the Church, she noticed more clearly the similar aspects shared between the Jewish seder and the Catholic liturgy, such as the blessing of the bread. Along with these similarities, though, there are also aspects of the traditional Jewish seder that simply cannot be included in a Catholic seder; for example, it is customary to proclaim "Next year in Jerusalem" in a traditional Jewish seder. However, it would be inaccurate and disrespectful to Jews if we were to import that into a Catholic seder, as it is a reference to the longing for the Messiah finally to come.
As a convert from Judaism, Meredith Gould has a vested interest in having Christians participate in seder meals. She believes in the importance of understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity. She wants to ensure that these seders are done correctly with regard to Christian versus Jewish beliefs. "I have fairly strong reservations about offering a church-based seder without having a clear goal of the experience," she said. If a church is doing this simply in some attempt to experience something "authentically Jewish," or without understanding that Christians cannot celebrate a seder the same way and with the same understandings that Jewish people do, this would not be the correct approach.
As Gould said, "This book is a catechetical tool - it includes all the history about Catholic-Jewish tensions, and provides a whole background of understanding what the seder means for Jews separate and apart from what it means to Christians."
A Catholic seder should offer an experience that informs, educates, and inspires Christians to understand the Passover relative to the Triduum. It is a way to help Catholics understand that Jesus was a Jew, and lived in a particular time and place - which included celebrating the Passover. Come to the Table helps us understand this historical context.
This book makes a wonderful resource for any Catholic wanting to learn more about how Jewish traditions have been adapted and used in the Christian liturgy. Gould pointed out that it can also be especially helpful for interfaith families, such as parents whose child is marrying a Jewish man or woman and want to show the person coming into the family that they have some respect and understanding of the Jewish tradition.
Gould is very clear about the distinction between a Jewish Passover seder and this Catholic seder that she has adapted for our use. It is her mission to help Catholics learn about their Jewish history and family, because, as a convert from Judaism, she can see first-hand that more education is necessary. With extensive notes, commentary, and explanations about where certain parts of the meal have Christian ties, Come to the Table succeeds in opening the door to some great discussion about our Jewish roots, and what we still retain today from traditional Jewish practices.
Come to the Table is easy to read and is full of useful information that can be used any time of the year. Much of the book is devoted to the readings, prayers, and order of the Catholic Passover seder, with explanatory footnotes for many of the actions and prayers. She also includes, at the end of the book, a helpful checklist for churches that would like to host a Catholic Passover seder meal, including how far in advance to plan, what needs to be included, and what food should be included on the Passover menu.
Get your copy today to ensure that you have plenty of time to plan your seder meal, either at home with your family or some friends, or at your parish. We also carry Meredith Gould's book The Catholic Home: Celebrations and Traditions for Holidays, Feast Days, and Every Day, great for celebrating as a family throughout the liturgical year.
Visit Meredith Gould's blog here, to learn more about this fascinating and wonderful person.
If you are interested in other sources about Jewish history and its importance to Christianity, check out the books Salvation is from the Jews, which traces the role of Judaism and the Jewish people in God's plan for the salvation of mankind, and Honey from the Rock, which shows the links between Judaism and Catholicism through the stories of sixteen Jews who became "fulfilled Jews" with their journey into the Catholic Church. These books were both written by Roy Schoeman, a Jewish convert to Catholicism.
In the three-hour DVD The Jewish Roots of Catholicism, Brother Bob Fishman, also a Jewish convert to Catholicism, shows us the deep meaning behind the religious Judaism of Jesus, and helps us appreciate the heritage that we share with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Similarly, convert Rosalind Moss explores the Jewish Roots of Our Catholic Faith in an engaging 3-CD set.