A volunteer lights the candles, as Fr. Dominic Qin watches, to begin the Passover celebrations at Chinese Martyrs parish. Photo by Michael Chen

Seder meal takes catechumens to faith’s roots

  • April 3, 2015

MARKHAM, Ont. - As they prepared for their baptism at Easter, adult catechumens at Chinese Martyrs parish got a taste of the Old Testament by participating in the Jewish ritual of the Passover Seder.

The catechumens were among a group of about 150 people of all ages joined with Fr. Dominic Qin to explore the historical roots of Christianity by experiencing first hand the ancient Jewish custom of the Seder meal.

Organized by the parish’s spiritual formation team, the event was held on March 21 and was conducted using booklets written in Cantonese and Mandarin.

The catechumens received a 30-minute lesson on the significance of the Seder dinner, which marks the start of Passover week and the celebration of the Israelites’ attainment of freedom from Egyptian slavery.

Then they were served a traditional Seder dinner.

First, they ate lettuce (karpas literally meaning a fresh raw vegetable) dipped in saltwater,  which is meant to arouse the curiosity of the Seder night. Then they consumed bitter herbs (maror) to represent the bitterness of the hard labour and struggle Israelites experienced in Egypt according to the Jewish Haggadah text. That was followed by eating pieces of unleavened flatbread or matzo, a “poor man’s bread” representing freedom and humility. Then participants made a traditional “sandwich” out of the bitter herb wrapped between two pieces of matzo that was dipped into applesauce, the charoset, meaning “clay,” which is a reminder of the mud used to make bricks for the Egyptian rulers.

Finally came the lamb shank, or zeroa, representing God’s mighty hand freeing the Jews from Egypt, as well as the lamb sacrificed in the Jerusalem Temple. It was served with salad and chicken.

As part of the Seder tradition, a child asks the ma nishtana (the four questions), meant to represent children’s curiosity about the ritual. At Chinese Martyrs, a youth volunteer was selected to ask:  Why on the Passover night is the food dipped twice? Why is meat roasted for the Seder and not on any other night? Why is unleavened bread eaten as opposed to leavened bread? And why are bitter herbs served?

Throughout the night, volunteers distributed the traditional four cups of wine with grape juice, representing God’s four promises of deliverance to the Israelites: to bring them out of Egypt, to deliver them from slavery, to redeem them and take them as His people.

Jenkin Mok was among those attending their first Passover meal.

“All of us that took part could laugh and talk to one another as a Jewish family would during this time of the year,” he said. “It was a way for us all to celebrate our own personal stories.”

For Mok, the pouring and drinking of wine at the Seder brought home the cultural and religious connection between the Jewish custom and Christ’s death.

“(Jesus’) death represented the freedom that comes with the conclusion of the Passover,” Mok said.

This year, the Jewish Passover begins April 3 and ends April 11.

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