LITTLE CHUTE — Middle School students at St. John Nepomucene School will be learning more about the rich Catholic tradition surrounding Easter and its roots in Judaism when they sit down for a Seder meal on March 24.
The school has a tradition of having a Seder meal on the morning of Holy Thursday to help students “connect the Old Testament with the New Testament and cement in students’ minds the coming of the Messiah,” said Principal Sarah Muraski. It demonstrates how the coming of Jesus and his life and death are the fulfillment of the Scriptures, and “connects us to our brothers and sisters in Judaism. They make the connection that he is the one true God,” she said.
The Seder meal, which in the Jewish tradition is the ritual meal that marks Passover, the feast of redemption and liberation, commemorates the Israelites’ deliverance from bondage in Egypt, as described in the Book of Exodus. Families gather together around a table in a home, sharing their food and faith. The meal is a festive occasion that combines prayer and commentary about the Exodus story.
In the Christian tradition, the Passover Seder is also a time to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist. It marks the time Jesus gathered his disciples, broke the bread and shared it with them.
“The Seder meal has been part of our Lenten tradition for years,” Muraski said. “This year, there is no school Mass that day.” Middle school students attend the Seder meal in the morning and all the students are encouraged to attend the Holy Thursday Mass with their families in the evening. “We encourage that so they can understand our rich tradition around the Passion and Resurrection,” she added.
While a Seder meal is not a regular part of the Catholic observance of the Easter Triduum, it has the blessing of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who wrote in a 1988 document, “God’s Mercy Endures Forever”: “It is becoming familiar in many parishes and Catholic homes to participate in a Passover Seder during Holy Week. This practice can have educational and spiritual value.”
The St. John Seder is taken from the booklet, “The Passover Celebration” by Rabbi Leon Klenicki and Myra Cohen Klenicki, published by Liturgy Training Publications of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Anti-Defamation League.
Middle school religion teacher Julianne Hargarten organizes the annual project. She said the small meal has all the symbolism of a Passover meal, but is not followed by a large meal, as in a Jewish celebration. The meal lasts about an hour.
“Sixth graders study the Old Testament, which has the Passover, and seventh graders study the New Testament, which has the Paschal Mystery,” she said. “The Last Supper was part of the (Pesach) meal. So, our meal is for grades six and seven, and we invite the eighth grade to join us.”
The Seder meal is part of the school’s “Lent Aboard the Ark” project, led by Hargarten.
Other aspects of the Lenten project are:
- The sacrament of reconciliation is scheduled for students in grades three through eight;
- Stations of the Cross are led by students in grades five through eight on four different days;
- The Spiritus team from Mt. Tabor in Menasha led a retreat for all students on March 2;
- Weekly Mass collections are designated to help programs such as the St. John Food Pantry; provide children’s books for St. Elizabeth Hospital; personal care items for Harbor House; and help the Humane Society and the Builder’s Club Shoe Drive.
During Lent, students also participate in the World Mission Services collection under the direction of the Catholic Foundation for the Diocese of Green Bay. They raise money to provide food and education sources and support life skills and employment in Franciscan Missions.
Hargarten also plans yearly Advent projects, one of which has been presenting a day in the life of Jesus. Her seventh graders researched the economics, education, trade and social climate as it was in Jesus’ time and presented it for the whole school.