Christians Celebrating the Jewish Passover

Christians Celebrating the Jewish Passover

The Book of Exodus is a sacred text for both Jews and Christians. It features prominently in the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover) and the Christian celebration of Holy Thursday and Easter. It tells of the Israelites’ going out (exodus) from the slavery of Egypt into a new life of freedom, a decisive moment in salvation history when the God of the Israelites triumphed over the forces of oppression.

Each year at Pesach, the Jews tell the Exodus story by way of a home-based ritual. This is the Seder meal, involving symbolic foods, prayers and actions laid out in the Haggadah (ritual manual).

Because this story of liberation is also our story as Christians, in the 1980s some schools and parishes began holding a Passover or Seder meal during Holy Week. The practice was also influenced by the release of the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate - The Declaration of the Relations of the Catholic Church to non-Christian Religions which heralded a new era of understanding between people of the Roman Catholic faith and followers of other faith traditions.

In the last few years, however, questions have been raised about Christians celebrating the Jewish Passover Seder. In the spirit of mutual respect and understanding for the religious traditions of other people, every care needs to be taken not to appropriate the Passover ritual which rightfully belongs to the Jewish people.

It is important for Christians to understand that, while Christianity emerged from within Judaism, the Jewish religion is a unique and vital living religion. There are essential differences between the two traditions which must be respected. One such difference is the celebration of the Passover Seder and the Eucharist. The Eucharist commemorates the Last Supper which Jesus celebrated with his disciples. Even if the Last Supper was celebrated in the context of a Passover Meal, it would not have followed the same format as that of the present Jewish Passover Seder.

Both the Passover and the Eucharist are celebrations of remembrance. The Jewish people remember and celebrate the liberation event of the Exodus each Passover while the Eucharist celebrates the liberation that Christians associate with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Over the centuries each of these rituals has developed in its own unique way within its particular religious tradition.

In 2005 the Catholic/Jewish Subcommittee of the Brisbane Archdiocesan Commission for Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations produced a document to assist teachers in schools and parish committees to reflect on the appropriateness of celebrating the Jewish Passover ritual in a Christian context.

The document makes three key points with regard to the preparation of celebrations for Holy Week:
(a) The Passover Seder is a Jewish celebration.
(b) The study of the Passover is best situated within the academic framework of the study of Judaism. ‘Christians can approach the Passover Seder alone or in groups and study its structure, read the text, explain the rites with the help of a competent person sensitive to Judaism.’
(b) Christians may wish to attend a Jewish Passover meal when invited by Jewish friends. One would then truly be guest of the Jewish tradition and faith by which the Church is linked by its very identity.

The full document can be found at

Elizabeth Harrington