Sunday, March 20, 2005

Seder with the Haverim

Back in the spring of 1989, my husband helped with an RCIA group and attended a "Seder" that was held with the catechumens and candidates -- by way of showing them the link between Jewish tradition and Catholic tradition.

Wow, look at all that jargon. "RCIA" stands for Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. That is, the rituals through which an adult becomes Catholic. RITUALS. When I was a kid, and someone wanted to become Catholic, they attended "classes" with a priest and usually were given some kind of book to read that consisted of what they should and shouldn't do as a Catholic. Was it effective? I suppose it was, in its own way, but it was dispirited. Kind of like putting in time in order to become a certified card-carrying Church member. Done properly, the RCIA draws the initiate more deeply not into a book, but the strange and mysterious world of the spirit, acknowledging the Unseen, allowing one to encounter the Mystical Body of Christ while becoming acquainted with the other people who comprise the local community of believers. RCIA in parishes ranges from unenlightened "classes" to vibrant encounters with spiritual awakening. In 1989, that RCIA group was led by a well-meaning but uninspired nun. The Seder was something she'd seen cobbled together somewhere, and it was fashionable at the time, so she put it together.

"Seder" is a word that means "order" and the "order" is in the telling of the Haggadah -- The Story. It's a most important story for Jews and Christians alike, as it recounts how God made Himself manifest in rescuing the Israelites from Egypt, from their slavery and persecution to a nation singularly blessed by the presence of the Most High. Passover.

"Catechumens" are the unbaptized. "Candidates" have been baptized already into a Christian faith but have not completed the initiation.

Rituals have a way of speaking for themselves. When my husband ended up in charge of the RCIA a year later, he was greatly in favor of celebrating Passover again, and convinced me to join him. We've "sat Seder" almost every year since.

Jesus Christ, on the night before he was crucified, was with his apostles, celebrating the Passover meal. He would have drunk the four ritual cups of wine: the Cup of Blessing, the Cup of Memory, the Cup of Redemption, the Cup of Hope. The last one was the one about which he said, "This is the Cup of my Blood, of the new and everlasting covenant. Do this in memory of me."

The Seder is a celebration of love. It's for family, for close friends. We recount the story of the Exodus, we sing loudly and enthusiastically; we tell the story for the sake of the children in our midst and watch their faces go from puzzlement to enjoyment; we remind ourselves that we are more than individuals -- we are a People Who Believe, a People God Has Embraced. We laugh. Sometimes we cry a bit. And we laugh some more, and end with more singing, and follow up with more personal chattering and perhaps a dessert and coffee.

Last night was Seder. One of our "table fellows" died last fall; it was hard on us not to see him walk in the door, laden with food and his wife's seltzer water. She didn't attend this year, either, having suffered a compression fracture of one of her vertebrae. Some of the kids who have been kids in the past -- aren't kids anymore. A new generation of kids is taking over. But the story-telling still has an impact: this ritual telling speaks for itself, making comparisons in the mind between the Passover and the Catholic Mass, the deliverance of Israel and the redemption by Christ.

Last night was Seder, and it was good.


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