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Christian Seder meal introduces faith connection

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A Passover Seder with a Christian twist was held March 31 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Belle Chasse.

The traditional elements of a Jewish Seder meal – the retelling of the story of the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in Egypt, the serving of symbolic foods, prayers and songs –  were combined with Jesus instituting the Mass at the Last Supper with his apostles before his death.

Carol Becnel, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help with her husband Harold, began coordinating this event  seven years ago. 

“It is a beautiful ceremony,” she said, adding how she has learned a lot about the origins of Christianity and the Old Testament by hosting the Christian Seder annually.

Rituals of the evening

The room was organized in tables of seven, with a head table prepared with an empty seat to represent the coming of Elijah for Jews and Jesus for Christians, Becnel said. 

The evening began with the lighting of the candle at each table symbolizing the coming of the Messiah, the light of the world. Father Billy O’Riordan, pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, blessed the feast and served as prayer leader. The men, who represent the fathers at the head of the table, ceremoniously washed their hands in preparation for the food they were to consume.

With the help of several others, Becnel prepared the symbolic foods for the Seder. During the meal, these traditional foods were served:

 Lamb is served to represent the yearling lamb that Moses, upon instruction from God, told the Hebrews they were to slaughter and then  use the blood to mark their doorposts so their first-born sons would be spared death.  They were to roast and eat the lamb with unleavened bread and wild herbs before they fled Egypt to freedom. They were instructed to hold a “Passover” meal annually. 

• Bitter herbs represented by horseradish to remind the Jews of the bitterness of slavery and suffering in Egypt.

• Haroseth (a mixture of nuts, fruit, sugar, cinnamon and wine) that represents the mortar used by Jews when they built palaces and other structures while enslaved in Egypt.

• Matzo or unleavened bread that represents the hasty flight of the Hebrews from Egypt without time to let the bread rise with yeast.

• A boiled egg to symbolize  new life.

• Green herbs in the form of parsley denotes springtime and thanks to God for the goodness of the earth. It is dipped in salt water to depict  the tears of sorrow in captivity.

• Wine drunk four times during the meal. There is a cup of thanksgiving (Kiddush), the cup of Haggadah, the cup of blessing and the final cup of Melchizedek, the king of righteousness who gave bread and wine to Abraham and blessed him. All four cups symbolize words that God gave to Moses to mean redemption, Becnel said. The wine also is  symbolic to the Hebrews of the blood of the lamb sprinkled on their doorpost so that the first-born son would be passed over and not killed. 

To make it a participatory event, Becnel selected individuals at various tables to do readings and to serve the meal. 

Children involved in the story

The youngest children present asked questions about the meaning of Passover. 

“It is the night the Lord delivered our ancestors from slavery in Egypt,” Father O’Riordan answered, “in honor of God who spared our people and set us free.”

The story of the Exodus was then read for the edification of all present, beginning with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people, and continuing the lineage with his son Isaac, the father of Jacob; Jacob’s son Joseph who was sold into slavery and  became prominent in Egypt before, in later years, the Hebrews were enslaved. Then God chose Moses to lead the people out of slavery. The 10 plagues that God sent to the land of Egypt as foretold by Moses to the Pharaoh were read. As each was recited, participants dipped their spoon in wine and put a drop on their plates in remembrance.

The Seder meal brought the history of the Christian faith  alive for the more than 100 people present.

“It made it more real and brings you closer to what you’re reading in Scripture,” Kay Verdi, an OLPH parishioner,  said.

“I like to keep up the tradition of the Jewish people as related to our religion,” parishioner Mary Anne Riley said. “It makes you appreciate others’ heritage.”