For a very long time now, thanks to the efforts of my wonderful mother, our family has had a symbolic, prayerful meal on Holy Thursday (almost always before Mass), one that evokes some of the old basic elements of a Jewish Seder, but most certainly Christianized (for lack of a better term). I would say we’ve been having one for nearly ten years; it is very much a part of my mind when I think of Holy Thursday, and something I hope to continue whenever I’m blessed with a home of my own.
Originally sourced from a Catholic Culture article, our Holy Thursday meal has morphed and been modified several times over the years, but this year–our second Holy Week after beginning to attend Latin Mass–, Mom felt it called for another more considered overhaul in light of the traditions of our Faith that we are continually learning of. Today was the day for that “tweaking” and I thought I would post it here for anyone interested in catching a glimpse of what we do. I really do hope to take pictures of it, as well, although I can’t promise . . .
The elements of our meal include pita bread (heated and wrapped in a clean cloth), horseradish, parsley sprigs, salt water, applesauce, roasted meat (lamb this year, for the first time ever!), wine and juice, another starch (usually mashed potatoes), a vegetable (usually green beans), and a white cake (or cupcakes, as it will be this year).
The table is set with a white tablecloth, candles, and our best dishware. There is an aura of solemnity, reverence, and yet excitement, since it’s our most singular family meal of the entire year.
The questions and answers are arranged for the number of people at our meal this year, but this can easily be changed depending on the size of the family. Also, if the children are younger (my baby sister is almost 13!), the reflections could, and should, certainly be simplified to make it more accessible to the family!
And while it’s a reverent meal, talking between the reflections isn’t disallowed by any means 😉
A Holy Thursday Meal
All stand quietly around the table. The mother of the family, who supervised the making of the meal and the beautifying of the kitchen, now lights the candles, which symbolize the Light of Christ.
All make the Sign of the Cross as the father of the family, standing at the head of the table, begins the Introit for the evening’s Mass:
Father: “But it behooves us to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in Whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection; by Whom we are saved and delivered. May God have mercy on us, and bless us: may He cause the light of His countenance to shine upon us; and may He have mercy on us. But it behooves us to glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ in Whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection; by Whom we are saved and delivered.”
Then he leads his family in the Blessing Before Meals:
All: Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
All sit. The father unwraps the pita bread from the cloth and passes a piece to each family member.
Father: Why do we eat unleavened bread tonight?
Mother: We eat unleavened bread to recall the Passover, in which the Israelite slaves ate unleavened bread before their flight from Egypt. We eat it to recall Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the Passover through His Passion and Death, and through His institution of the most Holy Eucharist: the Bread of Heaven which gives life to our souls.
We see the absence of leaven, and we contemplate Christ’s meekness and humility. We look at the stripes on the unleavened bread, and we contemplate Christ’s bloody scourging. “He was wounded for our transgressions: He was bruised for our sins, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him.”
All taste a small bite of the pita.
Father: Why do we eat horseradish tonight?
Child/Person # 1: We eat horseradish to recall the bitterness of the Israelites’ slavery to Pharaoh, and of mankind’s slavery to sin, out of which Christ redeemed us by His Precious Blood. He took the bitterness of our sins upon Himself during His Agony, Passion and Death.
We taste the bitterness of the horseradish and renew our desire for a pure life. We resolve to go frequently to Confession, that we may always be free from sin.
All taste the horseradish.
Father: Why do we eat bitter herbs tonight, and why do we dip them twice?
Child/Person #2: We eat bitter herbs to recall how the Israelites, on Passover, used hyssop branches to mark the lintels of their doorposts with the blood of the lamb. We recall how Christ, on the Cross, took His bitter last drink on a hyssop branch. We are reminded of how hyssop represents, to us, new life. “Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow.”
We dip the herbs once in salt water to recall the tears shed by the Israelites in slavery, by mankind in sin, and by Our Lord and His Blessed Mother during His sorrowful Passion.
All dip the herbs in salt water and taste.
Child/Person #3: We dip the herbs in sweet applesauce to recall the sweetness of Christ’s ransom for us. Mankind fell by the fruit of a tree; and yet mankind was redeemed by Christ, the Fruit of Mary’s womb, Who hung upon the Tree.
As we work out our salvation in fear and trembling, we hope in Christ’s infinite goodness and promises.
All dip the herbs in applesauce and taste.
Father: Why do we eat lamb tonight?
Child/Person #4: We eat lamb to recall that Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world. Through His Passion and Death, He perfectly fulfilled the prefigurement of the unblemished Passover Lamb.
“He was offered because it was His own will, and He opened not His mouth. He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter and shall be dumb as a lamb before His shearer, and He shall not open His mouth.”
“Blessing and honor, glory, and power unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, Who hath redeemed us to God by His blood, for ever and ever. Amen.”
All taste a small bite of the lamb. Then the other foods are served.
Mother: We eat these remaining foods to also remember Christ’s Passion. The potatoes are bruised and mashed, just as Christ was crushed and bruised for our sins; and yet they are hearty and give us strength, just as Christ’s Passion gives us strength for our spiritual warfare. We drink wine and juice to recall the shedding of Christ’s Precious Blood, and to remind us that He is the Vine, and we must bear fruit in Him. These vegetables give us nourishment and strength, just as Christ’s Passion teaches us to strive for virtues with perseverance and courage.
Everyone eats and enjoys the full meal. Finally, the father asks:
Father: Why do we eat round, white cakes tonight?
Child/Person #5: We eat round, white cakes to recall the marvelous gift of Christ’s institution of the Holy Priesthood at the Last Supper. The cakes are small, because Christ humbled Himself in washing His disciple’s feet, giving us an example of meekness and servitude.
Our holy priests impart to us the sweetness of Eternal Life through the Holy Mass, through the Sacraments, and through a life of heroic virtue, sacrifice and purity.
“He shall purify the sons of Levi, and shall refine them as gold and as silver, and they shall offer sacrifices to the Lord in justice. And the sacrifice of Juda and of Jerusalem shall please the Lord, as in the days of old and in the ancient years: saith the Lord almighty.”
Father: Let us pray for our holy priests.
A moment of silence. Then, the father prays aloud the Collect from the morning’s Chrism Mass:
Father: Lord God, Who dost use the ministry of priests in regenerating Thy people: grant us persevering subjection to Thy will, so that Thy people who have been consecrated to Thee may by the gift of Thy grace increase in our day in merits and in number. Through Our Lord.
All: Amen. O Lord, grant us priests. O Lord, grant us holy priests. O Lord, grant us many holy priests.
All enjoy the cakes. Afterwards, the father leads his family in the final prayer:
All: We give thee thanks, Almighty God, for all Thy benefits, Who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.
Father: Eternal rest give unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
All: May they rest in peace. Amen.
Father: A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, saith the Lord. Blessed are the undefiled in the way: who walk in the law of the Lord.
All: May God have mercy on us, and bless us: may He cause the light of His countenance to shine upon us, and may He have mercy on us. Amen.
God bless you all! 🙂