Work On Two Liturgical Books Nearing Completion

Episcopal News Service. February 26, 1979 [79055]

New York -- The Standing Liturgical Commission has completed most of its work on two major publications. One is The Book of Occasional Services, a revision and expansion of The Book of Offices last revised in 1960. The other is a revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, last revised in 1973. The new edition will also include collects and readings for weekdays of the Fifty Days of Easter, as well as for the weekdays of Lent.

This material is now in the hands of the Commission's Editorial Committee and is being prepared for the printer. Both books will be published in a preliminary form by The Church Hymnal Corporation in time for presentation to the General Convention of 1979.

The question whether a form of the Seder meal should be included in The Book of Occasional Services was discussed at some length. The Commission decided to recommend that a Seder meal should not be celebrated on Maundy Thursday, the day in Holy Week on which Jesus' institution of the Holy Eucharist is generally commemorated.

The Commission felt that since the Seder is a solemn Jewish meal celebrating the deliverance of the Jewish people from bondage, Christians who celebrate it on Maundy Thursday "are not truly respecting the integrity of Jewish Passover expectancy." The Seder looks both backward to the Exodus and forward to the coming of a Messiah. Christians believe that the fulfillment of a new Exodus was accomplished by the death and resurrection of Christ.

The entire season of Lent is the preparation for this event, intensified in Holy Week, and brought to a joyful climax in the Great Vigil of Easter. Thus, it is the Vigil, rather than Maundy Thursday, "which most nearly corresponds to the Passover Seder of the Jews." The Commission considers that the integrity of both Jewish and Christian beliefs is best respected by not confusing the Seder with Maundy Thursday.

The Book of Occasional Services will contain directions and appropriate blessings for a Christian Agape, or communal meal, on Maundy Thursday for those who wish to hold such a meal following the Eucharist of that day.

Among other matters relating to its report to the General Convention, The Commission decided to recommend the establishment of a full-time permanent Office for Liturgy at the headquarters of the national Church. The ten-year period of preparing the Proposed Book of Common Prayer uncovered a felt need for a center for liaison and information within the Church.

The Liturgical Office would also serve as the Secretariat of The Standing Liturgical Commission in carrying out such work as the General Convention is expected to assign to the Commission. During the period of Prayer Book preparation, staffing for the Commission was provided by two professionals who served on a part-time basis: the Rev. Leo Malania, vicar of St. David's Church, Cambria Heights, N.Y., Coordinator; and Captain Howard Galley of the Church Army, serving as Editorial Assistant.

The Commission intends to recommend that if the General Convention adopts its plan, Captain Galley be appointed as full-time Liturgical Officer, assisted by one full-time secretary.

The Commission's next meeting will be held on March 19-22 at the Cathedral Center for Continuing Education and Pastoral Concern, St. Matthew's Cathedral, Dallas, Texas.

A copy of the Standing Liturgical Commission's statement, "Why a Seder is not appropriate on Maundy Thursday," is available from the Diocesan Press Service on request.

Statement By The Standing Liturgical Commission
Why a Seder is not appropriate on Maundy Thursday

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in celebrating a Passover Seder on Maundy Thursday. Sometimes the meal is thinly Christianized; sometimes a traditional Jewish Seder is used without any change. (The word seder means order). Although this practice grows out of an understandable desire to reproduce the circumstances of the Last Supper, and so to participate more vividly and intimately in one of the central events of Holy Week, it is a questionable practice for several reasons:

  1. There is a serious disagreement within the New Testament itself as to whether the Last Supper was in fact a Passover Meal. The first three Gospels clearly describe it as such; but the Fourth Gospel declares that the crucifixion occurred on the "day of Preparation" (John 19. 31), and thus the Last Supper fell on the night before the Passover.
  2. For another thing, a true Passover Seder is a highly festive occasion, inappropriate during the Lenten fast.
  3. But most important, every aspect of the Jewish religion has been transformed for Christians by the death and resurrection of Christ. Even Maundy Thursday is not simply a historical reconstruction of the institution of the Lord's Supper. Although our attention on Maundy Thursday is fixed on the scene in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, nevertheless our primary act of worship on that day is a full Christian Eucharist, during which we proclaim, as we do throughout the year,

    "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again."

Thus, even on Maundy Thursday, Christians worship in the power of the resurrection. On the Passover, Jews remember their deliverance from Egypt, and thereafter from all the enemies of their historical existence. But Christians, in their worship, remember their deliverance from "the last enemies", sin and death. We say "Christ our passover is sacrificed for us" because we believe that Christ, through his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter, has brought the fulfilment of God's promised deliverance. It is the death and resurrection of Christ, rather than the Last Supper, which most nearly correspond to the Exodus from Egypt; and thus the Great Vigil of Easter which most nearly corresponds to the Passover Seder of the Jews.

Christians who celebrate a Jewish Passover on Maundy Thursday are not truly respecting the integrity of Jewish Passover expectancy, for Christians believe that Jewish expectations have already been fulfilled in Christ. (Christians can truly worship only by expressing that conviction, as in the Eucharist. For them to participate in Jewish worship requires a degree of mental reservation: a temporary setting aside of their distinctive Christian identity. ) Also, they are failing to recognize that the fulfilment of those Jewish expectations in Christ is through the whole paschal mystery, through his death and resurrection, rather than in the Last Supper, which was a preliminary anticipation of that hope.

It is a right instinct to celebrate the Lord's death and resurrection at this time of the year in a more intimate and familial way than usual. The holding of agape meals during Holy Week, especially on Maundy Thursday after the celebration of the Eucharist, is to be encouraged. But these meals should be simple, even austere, in keeping with Lenten fast. They should point forward to the great paschal fast, which begins after the liturgy of Maundy Thursday, is intensified on Good Friday, continues through Holy Saturday, and is concluded by the reception of Easter communion.

Part of the pressure for observing a Passover Seder may arise, even unconsciously, from our desire to experience transition or passage to a new life. Of course, it is the celebration of Holy Baptism within the Great Vigil, and the Lenten preparation for it, which constitutes for Christians our passage to new life, our "Exodus." When Christian initiation is better understood, and its practice becomes a dramatic part of our celebration of the Easter mystery, the desire for a Christian observance of a Passover Seder may pass away.