On Passover and Easter
Faithful Continuity in the Jewish and Roman Catholic Traditions
Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. When you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ And the people bowed down and worshiped” (Exodus 12:21-27).
The Last Supper can be viewed as an example of Seder, which acknowledges and memorilizes the Israelites’ preparation of their journey in the desert commemorated at Passover. The Passover tradition in this understanding forms the very basis of the bread and wine used in the transformative process during Holy Mass of the Eucharist: “Thus the events of the Seder and the form and meaning of Passover can be a very real part of the events of Holy Week and of the central story of the Christian tradition” (Polish). There are however obvious and significant differences among Passover, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and Easter: “Easter reminds us that for Christians, Jesus is the central reality of Christian faith” as Polish concludes.
The celebration of Passover, by contrast, highlights the centrality of the People of Israel itself to Jewish faith. It is the liberation of the People that gives the holiday its central significance. Passover underscores the almost mystical participation of each Jew in the totality of the history of the Jewish people. Unforuntately in Christian European history there existed events which permeated medieval and early modern Europe in which some Christians took it as fact that Jews were involved in a “blood libel,” a myth that during Passover Jews would kidnap a Christian child and use the blood of this sacrificial victim in the preparation of the Passover Matzah.
A practical consequence of this fear-mongering in Christian Europe led to yet another sad chapter of anti-Semitic violence. Polish’s analysis ends on a note of optimism, a “recognition of common roots of faith and practice” between Jews and Christians, especially after the Second Vatican Council promulgated Nostra Aetate. The obvious connection of the Passover ritual to the Last Supper, to the transubstantiation, to the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Holy Mass, stands as a daily example in Roman Catholicism of the linkage of this biblical Exodus story to our Christian faith in practice.
Jungreis-Wolff celebrates the Passover story in Exodus as a constant signal from God that each Jew is precious, a modern renewal of an ancient covenant with God: “We see ourselves as being the ones redeemed at this very moment.” To Jungreis-Wolff, the Seder is a central example of strength: “We are commanded to speak about all that happened that night of leaving Egypt. The events that led to freedom, the bitterness of slavery, the fight for survival, even understanding how we ended up traveling down to Egypt in the first place, are all part of our Seder...Every single soul must be reminded that God redeemed us from Egypt. And just as we have been redeemed in the past, we will once again be redeemed. Seder night is a time of hope.”
The significance of Passover also is a constant reminder to every modern Jew that despite ongoing attempts to subjugate, to discriminate, to destroy the Jewish people, through God’s protection as on the original night of Passover they will survive, and maintain their central identity. Survival of the Jews is a direct result of the exodus: “God led us through the deep sea and the depths of the barren wilderness. Both share the quality of being uninhabited by humans. The message is most powerful.” For Jungreis-Wolff Passover is the ultimate ritual of hope, so that the Jewish people can free themselves from all that “has bogged you down. Raise your Seder plate and lift yourself higher. Celebrate the birth of our people.”
Such is the central significance of the Passover story recounted in Exodus: the liberation of the Jews from captivity; a fulfillment of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant with God; a message of strength, hope, and purpose to the descendants of Abraham and Isaac; and a legacy to the salvific mission of Jesus Christ yet to come in human history.
Jungreis-Wolff, Slovie. “Four Hidden Messages of the Seder.” Aish.com, 24 March 2018, aish.com/h/pes/h/Four-Hidden-Messages-of-the-Seder.html. Accessed 18 May 2022.
Polish, Daniel F. “A Shared Meal: Despite differences, Passover and Easter occupy a similar sacred space.” America: The Jesuit Review, 30 March 2009, americamagazine.org/issue/692/article/shared-meal. Accessed 17 May 2022.