The Seder Meal

Page 28 in 'Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church'
Catherine Fournier

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Please note: This article is published in "Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church" by Peter and Catherine Fournier. It is available in the Canadian Amazon store but not in the US or other stores. We aren't sure what went wrong but we're working on it. Canadians can order the book by clicking here.

Haggadah means Book of Remembrance. It is the book, or liturgy, that tells the Jewish people how to celebrate the Passover seder, which means meal.

Christ, mysteriously both the Son of God and a faithful Jewish man, chose to use the Passover seder to institute His new meal of salvation and redemption, the Eucharist. Celebrating this seder highlights our common ancestry with our Jewish brothers and sisters and remembers the meal Jesus celebrated with his Apostles in the upper room. (See CCC 62-64, 1096, 1363-64.)

This messianic Passover meal should be celebrated on Holy Thursday. It is a wonderful close to the Lenten season and complements the Holy Thursday liturgy at your church. The meal can be eaten when the family returns from church.

The instructions for the seder meal that we give here have been adapted for Christian use. Though they seem very long and complicated, even difficult to follow, once you try them, you will see that they all lead from one lesson to another quite naturally. If you like, you can print out the various parts for everyone to say and give each participant a copy to follow.

Passover Seder Preparations

Jewish tradition and Jewish law are meticulously detailed. Every aspect of daily life and celebrations is specified. Everything supports and reinforces the belief of the Jewish people that they are set apart as God's people, the Chosen Ones. The preparations are all important to the ceremony.

Spring Cleaning!

Traditionally, the entire house, including storage areas and other non-living spaces, are meticulously cleaned to ensure that not even a crumb of leavened bread remains or is brought into the residence for the duration of the eight-day Passover holiday. Interestingly and ironically, it was this practice of cleanliness that caused the Jews to be blamed for the bubonic plague in Europe. Their spotless and crumb-free houses were, as a result, also free of rats with their plague-carrying fleas. Jewish households, therefore, tended not to fall ill as often as their neighbors. Unjustly, they were suspected of causing the plague as revenge or punishment for persecutions.

At the very least, the kitchen and dining area should be spotless and crumb-free before your seder meal.

Table Preparations

Set the table with your finest tablecloth and best dishes. In the center of the table, place:

  • Floral centerpiece;
  • Two taper candles and matches;
  • Pitcher of ice water for drinking;
  • Plate holding a small bowl of water and a washcloth, for washing;
  • Wine in an easy-pour bottle or carafe (or juice as well for the children); and a
  • Large plate with several matzos (wrap the top three sheets together in a white napkin).

Set a place for each participant (plus one extra empty chair and place setting) with:

  • A large dinner plate with a smaller plate on top;
  • Glass for wine;
  • Glass for water;
  • Knife, fork, and spoon;
  • Napkin (as you will see as you read further, a paper napkin would be best); and
  • A cushion or pillow to sit on or lean against.

At or near the head of the table, put the Seder Plate, a plate or platter large enough to hold five small shallow bowls. Five items must be on the Seder Plate:

  • Fresh parsley, one sprig for each participant, plus an extra sprig to remain on the Seder Plate;
  • Horseradish, fresh sliced or pureed from a jar, about one teaspoon per participant;
  • Haroset, about one tablespoon per person (recipe, page 36);
  • A shank bone, or other representation of a lamb (small picture or statue of a lamb, chicken leg bone, etc.); and
  • A roasted (hard-boiled) egg, plain or decorated for Easter.

In addition, place a small bowl of salt water nearby on the table.

Passover Seder Dinner Menu

After the cleaning of the home, the preparation for the Passover meal, seder, takes place. This is based on the directives given in Exodus 12. God told the Israelites the Passover shall be commemorated by eating lamb roasted over the fire, unleavened bread called matzo, and with bitter herbs, usually horseradish. There have been other elements added to the meal, including green vegetables, a roasted egg, haroset (an apple, nut and wine mixture that symbolizes the brick and the mortar that Israel's enslaved ancestors had been forced to make in Egypt), a bowl of water for washing the hands after each part of the meal, a dish of salt water, and four cups of wine.

All of the foods are placed on a special Passover plate, which is placed over the three ceremonial matzos. The matzo is placed in a linen pouch called the matzo tash. Within the matzo tash are three different sections. One piece of matzo is placed in each section, individually set apart yet united in the one container.

The meal is in two parts: the ceremonial foods: the matzo, horseradish, roasted meat, haroset, and other items, which are eaten first, and then the feasting foods: soup, lamb, or some other meat, vegetables, and dessert.

Matzo is unleavened bread, hard and crisp. It is available at some grocery stores and specialty stores. If you cannot find it, you could substitute hard crackers. The other items on both menus are easily obtained at any well-stocked grocery store:

  • Gefilte fish (seasoned fish in a sausagelike casing); pickled herring, fish aspic, or any other fish appetizer could be substituted;
  • Chicken soup with dumplings;
  • Roast leg of lamb;
  • Roast chicken;
  • Roast potatoes and vegetables of your choice;
  • Honey cake-a moist and dense spice cake made with honey (see one recipe on page 36).

The Messianic Passover Haggadah

Father (or oldest man): "The Passover and Easter stories have been told for thousands of years, stories about miraculous change from misery to peace, slavery to freedom, sin to grace. One of the last things Jesus did was to celebrate Passover and retell the story to them. It is no coincidence Jesus chose the Passover meal for what the Church now celebrates as the Mass and Eucharist. God gave us the Passover celebration, and He used the same celebration to teach us even more about His love. God cared for His people, our ancestors, long ago, and He cares for His children today. Tonight we will be able to see, hear, and taste the great love God has for us!"

We Light the Candles

Father: "As we light the candles, we pray for the light of the Spirit of God to bring the special meaning of Passover and Easter to each and every one of us."

Mother (or oldest woman; lighting the candles): "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has chosen each one of us out of all the people of the world and made us holy by Your Word, and in whose Name we light these celebration lights."

Father: "As the light for the celebration of redemption is lit by a woman, we remember that Jesus, our Redeemer, the promised Light of the world, came into the world through the obedience of a woman, too, who has become the Blessed Mother of us all." (Father pours everyone a first cup of wine or juice.)

The Four Cups of Wine

Father: "God told Moses, `Now you will see what I will do' (Ex 6:1), and He made four promises about how He would save his people."


"I will bring you out of Egypt ...

"I will free you from slavery ...

"I will save you by My own hand ...

"I will take you to be My own people, and I will be your God . . ."

Father: "To remember these four promises, we drink from our cups four times."

The First Cup: The Cup of Sanctification

Father: "When Jesus joined His disciples for His last Passover supper, He knew that during that dinner He would be establishing a new covenant between God and His people. This new covenant brings redemption, sanctification, and new life to us all. Let us hold up our first cup together and bless the Lord, our God!"

All: "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine." (All drink.)

Ritual Washing of Hands

Father (washes the hands of the person to his right and gives him the cloth and small bowl of water): "The Scripture says only the person who has clean hands and a pure heart can stand in God's presence (Ps 24:3-4). When we wash each other's hands, we remember how Jesus, on the night of His last Passover supper, poured water into a bowl and washed the disciples' feet for them, like a servant.

"He asked them, `Do you understand what I, your Lord and Teacher, have done for you? Now in your hearts you should be willing to do the same kinds of things for each other' "(Jn 13:12-14). (Each washes the hands of the person to the right.)


Father: "Why do we celebrate Passover? God commands His people to celebrate certain special holidays every year forever."

(Holding up the parsley): "The Passover/Easter holidays come in the spring, when the earth turns green with new life. Only God creates life and keeps it alive. This green parsley is the sign of life

(Holding up the salt water): "But while the Israelites were still slaves in Egypt, their life was miserable. The salt water stands for their tears. We know our life can be miserable and full of tears when we live in Satan's world.

"We dip our parsley in the salt water and eat it to remind us of our ancestors' tears and of how miserable our own sin makes us. We also remember how God parted the salty Red Sea to lead His people to new life."

All: "Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the earth." (All eat the dipped parsley.)

The Four Questions

Youngest Boy (or girl, if no sons present; standing): "Why is this night so different from all other nights?

"On all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread. On this night why do we eat only unleavened bread?

"On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables. On this night why do we eat only bitter ones?

"On all other nights we do not dip our vegetables even once. On this night why do we dip them twice?

"On all other nights we sit on our usual seat. On this night why do we sit on soft cushions?"

The Answers

Father: "It is a special duty and a privilege to answer the four questions of Passover and tell everyone the great things God has done!"

The First Answer – the Matzo

Father: "On all other nights we eat any kind of bread, but on Passover we eat matzos, unleavened bread. When our ancestors left E pt, they were in such a hurry they did not have time to let their dough rise. Instead, they baked it flat. The Scriptures use leaven as a symbol of sin" (see Mt 16:6, 11).

All: "Yes, just a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough. Get rid of the old yeast so that you may be like a new batch of dough without yeast-as you were created. For Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Cor 5:7).

Father: "During this Passover/Easter, let us break our old habits of sin and selfishness and begin fresh, new, and holy lives."

(Holding up the plate of matzos): "This is the bread of suffering that our ancestors ate. The three matzos in one napkin show us the special unity of the Lord God, the Messiah, and His Spirit. The Holy Trinity, three-in-one. The matzo itself is a symbol of the promised Messiah, Jesus. See how it is striped, as Jesus' back was marked by the scourging before his Crucifixion."

All: "He was wounded for our sins, bruised for our sinfulness: He suffered to bring us peace; and by His stripes our sin is healed" (Is 53:5).

Father: "See how the matzo is pierced with holes, as God's only Son was pierced by the nails and the soldier's lance."

All: "I will pour out My spirit of grace and prayer: and they will see Me whom they have pierced, and they will cry with sadness as for an only son" (Zech 12:10).

Father (taking the middle matzo and breaking it in half): "Just as this middle piece of the bread of suffering is broken, the Son, Jesus, also suffered. We save half for after the meal. It is wrapped in a white cloth just as Jesus' body was wrapped for burial.

(He wraps the matzo half) "

Children, please hide your eyes ..."

(Hide the matzo half somewhere in the room.)

"Just as I have hidden the broken matzo, Jesus' body was put in a tomb, hidden for a little while. But just as the special piece of matzo will come out again to finish our celebration, Jesus rose from the dead, alive again to take us to heaven when we finish our lives. Now we share this piece of bread made with no yeast a sign of Jesus, who has no sin and who said, `I am the bread of life."' (Pass the other matzo half around the table.)

All: "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth." (All eat a piece of the matzo.)

The Second Answer –The Maror—Bitter Herbs

Father: "On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables, but on Passover we eat maror, bitter ones, to remember how bitter life was for our ancestors in Egypt."

(Holding up the horseradish): "But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they made the people of Israel serve with rigor, and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field; in all their work they made them serve with rigor.

"Scoop some maror onto a piece of matzo and let the bitter taste bring tears to your eyes. Remember with compassion the tears our ancestors cried in their slavery long ago, and remember the bitterness of our own slavery to sin when we do not allow Jesus to set us free."

All: "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has set us apart by His Word and commanded us to eat bitter herbs." (All eat matzo with horseradish.)

The Third Answer—The Haroset—The Second Dipping

Father: "On all other nights we do not dip our vegetables even once, but tonight we dip them twice. We have already dipped the parsley in salt water."

(Holding up the haroset): "The Israelites worked very hard to make brick and clay to build cities for Pharaoh. We remember this in a mixture called haroset, made from apples, cinnamon, honey, ground nuts, and wine. Now again scoop some maror onto a piece of matzo, but this time, before eating it, dip it into the sweet haroset."

All: "We dip the bitter into the sweet to remember that even the most bitter things in life can be sweetened by our hope in God."

(All eat the matzo with horseradish and sweet haroset.)

The Fourth Answer—Tonight We Recline

Father: "On all other nights we eat sitting on regular seats, but tonight we relax on soft cushions. The first Passover was eaten in haste by a people enslaved."

All: "Once we were slaves, but now we are free!"

Father: "The Israelites were told to eat the Passover quickly, their coats ready, their walking sticks in their hands, their sandals on their feet, ready to leave the bondage of Egypt. Today we all may relax and freely enjoy the Passover seder."

All: "The Messiah said: `Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"' (Mt 11:28).

The Story of Passover

Father: "The story of Passover is a story of miracles, a story of redemption, a story of the mighty power of God to overcome

Reader 1: "The Lord had promised the land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet here were their children living in Egypt. The Pharaoh feared them. These foreigners in our midst are prospering and have grown numerous, he thought. Suppose they join with our enemies and turn against us! Pharaoh decided to control this foreign people, imposing harsh and bitter slavery upon the Israelites. Still, God blessed His people in strength and number."

Reader 2: "Pharaoh grew more frightened and ordered every baby boy among the Israelites to be drowned in the Nile River. One Israelite couple hid their little boy for three months. Finally, entrusting his future to God, they set him in a waterproof basket and placed him upon the river. Coming upon the basket, Pharaoh's daughter took pity on the child and chose to raise him as her own son. She called him Moses, meaning drawn from the `water'."

Reader 3: "Moses grew to be a man. He became aware of the sufferings of his people. One day, in a rage, he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. Fleeing the palace and the eye of Pharaoh, Moses became a shepherd in the land of Midian, far from the cries of his suffering brothers."

Reader 4: "The Lord, however, saw the affliction of the children of Israel and heard their prayers. He decided to raise up a deliverer to lead them out of bondage. It was then that He appeared to Moses in the midst of a bush that burned with fire, yet was not consumed. Moses listened as God told him to go to Pharaoh. Fearful and reluctant, Moses agreed to bring God's message to the king of Egypt, `Let my people go! "

The Second Cup: The Cup of Plagues

Father: "Moses went to Pharaoh with God's command, `Let my people go!' But God warned Moses that Pharaoh would not easily agree. The Lord sent plagues, one by one, but with each plague, Pharaoh refused and made his heart harder against God. With the tenth and most awful plague, God broke through Pharaoh's hard heart."

All: "The Lord said, `For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will smite all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD" (Ex 12:12).

Father (pouring cups of wine or juice for everyone): "We fill our cups a second time now. A full cup is a sign of joy, and we are certainly filled with joy that God has set us free. But we should also remember how much that freedom cost. Many lives were lost to save our people from slavery in Egypt. But an even greater price was paid to save us from slavery to sin-the death of Jesus, God's only Son. When we say the name of each plague, dip a finger into your cup and let a drop fall onto your napkin, making the cup of joy a little less full as we remember the cost of our freedom."

All: "Blood, Frogs, Lice, Wild Animals, Cattle Disease, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness, Death of the First-born!"

The Passover Lamb—The Shank Bone

Father: "In telling the Passover story, three things must be mentioned: the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, and the Passover lamb."

All: "We have eaten the matzo to remind us how quickly our ancestors left Egypt. We have tasted the bitter herbs to remind us of the bitter life they lived there."

Father (holding up the shank bone): "This bone stands for the lamb whose blood on the Israelite houses was a sign to God. God told Moses, `Your lamb shall be without blemish', and when it is killed, `take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses. ...[E]at the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. ... In this manner you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's passover. ... The blood shall be a sign for you, upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall fall upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt' (Ex 12:5, 7-8, 11). We are reminded by Moses that it is the Lord Himself who sent the plagues, who freed our people from Egypt, and who redeemed our ancestors from slavery.

"So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders (Deut 26:8).

"On that same night I will pass through Egypt ..."

All: "I, and not an angel,"

Father: "and strike down every first-born—both men and animals—”

All: "I, and not an archangel,"

Father: "and I will bring forth judgment on all the demon gods of Egypt";

All: "I, and not a messenger,"

Father: "I am the Lord."

All: "I Myself and none other."

Father: "Since Jesus has become our perfect Passover Lamb, God has allowed the Temple in Jerusalem to be destroyed. Now no more lambs need to be sacrificed. This bone reminds us of the lamb sacrificed for the Israelites and of the Sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

The Egg

Father: "Last on our seder plate is the egg. It is called hagigah, a name signifying the traditional offering brought as a symbol of mourning, reminding us of the destruction of the holy Temple in Jerusalem. The hardness of the shell also reminds us of the hardness of Pharaoh's heart-and of every heart that would not accept God's love. But the egg is also a sign of new birth and eternal life, since the shape of it shows no beginning and no end. God wants us to break the sadness and hardness of our hearts and be born into new life, everlasting life with Him. We will share the egg later, during the seder meal."

It Would Have Been Enough

Father: "God is so good to us! For even one little blessing we should be able to respond, Dayenu! It would have been enough!

"If the Lord had merely rescued us, but had not punished the Egyptians . . ."

All: "It would have been enough!"

Father: "If He had only destroyed their gods, but had not parted the Red Sea . . ."

All: "It would have been enough!"

Father: "If He had only destroyed our enemies, but had not fed us His food in the desert ..."

All: "It would have been enough!"

Father: "If He had only led us through the desert, but had not given us His holy day of rest ..."

All: "It would have been enough!"

Father: "If He had only given us His Words and Commandments, but not a Promised Land forever ...

All: "It would have been enough!"

Father: "But the Holy One, the Lord, blessed be He, provided all these blessings for our ancestors. And not only these, but so many more, and so many for us, too!"

All: "Blessed are You, O God, for You have given us everything we need. You have given us Jesus our Messiah, forgiveness for sin, life with You now in our hearts, in Your Word, and in Your Eucharist, and the promise of life with You forever!"

The Third Cup: The Cup of Joy

Father: "Everyone drink the third cup now, the Cup of Joy, and we will have dinner!" (Remove seder plate from the table. Serve the rest of the meal. Everyone feasts.)

The Hidden Matzo

Father (returning seder plate to the table): "It is time to share the afikomen, the hidden matzo. Who can find it?" (Children search for the hidden matzo, and one gives it to Father.)

"Remember, this piece of matzo, made without leaven, is a symbol of the promised Messiah, Jesus. It was hidden, and now it is back. Jesus was buried and rose from the dead. This special matzo is the last food eaten at Passover so that its taste stays with us. It is shared the way the Passover lamb was shared from the time our ancestors were freed from Egypt until the destruction of the Temple, after Jesus' death. Jesus broke the matzo and gave thanks to the Lord."

All: "Blessed are You, O God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth."

Father (breaking the matzo into pieces): "It was here that Jesus added the words: "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19). Jesus changed the significance of the matzo forever and gives us His Body at every Holy Mass. The matzo, like the Eucharist, is broken in small pieces and everyone must eat his own piece, just as each of us must accept Jesus' grace for ourselves. No other person can do it for us.

"Think about Jesus, the Lamb of God, Whose Body we are privileged truly to receive in the Eucharist, our once and forever Passover sacrifice. Eat this piece of matzo now, and let its taste stay with you." (All eat.)

The Prophet Elijah

Father (lifting the cup from the empty place at the table): "This cup is the cup of Elijah the Prophet. Elijah did not see death, but was taken up to heaven alive in a mighty wind riding a fiery chariot. Our ancestors and the Jewish people everywhere hoped that Elijah would come at Passover to announce the coming of the Messiah.

"Before the birth of John the Baptist, an angel of the Lord said, `And he will go on before [the Lord,] in the spirit and power of Elijah ... to make ready for the Lord a people prepared' (Lk 1:17).

"Later Jesus said about John, `He is Elijah who is to come' (Mt 11:14).

"It was this same John who saw Jesus and announced, `Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!' (Jn 1:29).

"The extra cup also reminds us to pray for our spiritual brothers, those Jews still seeking the Messiah, who has already come to them and who waits longingly for them. The empty chair reminds us, and every household observing Passover tonight, that there are still those who are persecuted for their faith or who have not yet discovered the great love of God. We pray that someday soon all may freely rejoice in the majesty of God everywhere in the world. Someone open the door to welcome the Prophet of God to our seder!"

(Someone gets up to open the door. You may leave it open or ajar if you wish.)

The Fourth Cup: The Cup of Promise

Father: "Remember God's promise, `I will take you for my people, and I will be your God' (Ex 6:7). Now let us fill our cups for the fourth and last time and give thanks to our great God. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good."

All: "His love lasts forever."

Father: "Give thanks to the Lord, God of all creation."

All: "His love lasts forever."

Father: "Give thanks to Him who destroyed the demon gods of Egypt."

All: "His love lasts forever."

Father: "Give thanks to Him who destroys the works of Satan today."

All: "His love lasts forever."

Father: "Give thanks to Him who saved Israel from slavery in Egypt."

All: "His love lasts forever."

Father: "Give thanks to Him who saves us from slavery to sin."

All: "His love lasts forever.'

Father: "Give thanks to God, our God, who chose us to be His people."

All: "His love lasts forever."

Father: "Lift your cups and bless the Lord!"

All: "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who creates the fruit of the vine." (All drink.)

Father: "Our Passover celebration is complete, just as God's plan for our salvation through Jesus is complete. Now it is up to us to go and live His Word. Let us wish each other peace."

All: "Peace!"

Recipe: Haroset


  • 4 large firm apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
  • 2 cups finely chopped walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest (optional)
  • ¼ cup sweet red wine or apple juice


Mix apples, nuts, sugar, and cinnamon together in a bowl. Add enough wine or juice to make a smooth mixture and mix in to blend thoroughly.

You may chop the apple and walnuts and mix the haroset in a food processor. Be careful not to overprocess it, though; it should retain a slightly rough texture.

Keep the haroset in refrigerator covered for up to two weeks.

Recipe: Honey Cake


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup strong, cold coffee
  • grated rind and juice of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts


Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or two 9-inch round cake pans. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Bring the honey to a boil in a small saucepan on the stove or in a glass bowl in the microwave. Set it aside to cool.

Sift or mix the flour with the dry ingredients. Combine the coffee with the orange rind, juice, and vanilla.

Cream the butter with the sugar, then mix in the honey. Beat the egg yolks until they are light and blend them into the honey mixture.

Add half the flour to the honey and egg yolk mixture and mix it in. Add half the coffee mixture to the batter, mixing well. Add the remaining flour and the remaining coffee, mixing well between additions. Stir in the nuts.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold them into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans and bake for about 50 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for about 10 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and allow to cool completely on a cake rack.

Decorate with a light dusting of icing sugar.

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