The Feast of Passover is celebrated yearly in Judaism to remember their survival and resilience. It comes from the book of Exodus and is a central liturgical element of their religion. Now, since it’s part of the Old Testament, does this mean that Catholics celebrate it too? Find out in this article.
Catholics don’t celebrate Passover but it is related to Easter. For one, Jesus died around Passover. In the New Testament, he also took on the image and symbol of the paschal lamb when he sacrificed himself and saved us from our sins – replacing the sacrificial lamb, which was vital in Passover.
So the next time you wonder why Passover and Easter happen so close together and sometimes even overlap, then you have an idea why. But how exactly are these two, very different religious holidays related? Continue reading to find out.
What Is Passover?
Passover is a Jewish holiday that commemorates their freedom from slavery in Egypt. It is held every 15th to the 21st of the month of Nisan (March or April). Its origins can be traced back to the Old Testament, particularly in the Book of Exodus (Exodus 12).
According to the Bible, Moses went to the Pharaoh of Egypt to ask him to set the Israelites free. As we all know, the Pharoah refused, prompting God to send 10 plagues. These were: turning water into blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. The last of these was the Angel of Death, which swept through Egypt and killed all firstborn children, regardless of their status and position in society.
To be saved from the last plague, God told Moses to tell the people to kill a lamb and eat every last bit of it. They were also ordered to use the lamb’s blood to put a cross on top of the doorframe of their homes. This will serve as a sign of which houses the Angel of Death will pass over and whose children were to be saved. It was through this that the Israelites finally escaped Egypt and slavery.
How is Passover Related to Easter?
Passover is a Jewish feast while Easter is a Christian feast. In terms of purpose and ritual, these two are very different. Passover marks and celebrates the story of how the Jews and Moses escaped the pharaoh and slavery in Egypt with the help of God. This can be found in the Old Testament. On the other hand, Easter commemorates Jesus Christ’s resurrection, which is told in the New Testament.
So how are these two feasts related? Well, for one, Jesus was said to have been executed around the time of Passover. Secondly and most importantly, the image and symbol of the lamb are significant in both celebrations.
In the Old Testament, the people were told to smear the blood of the sacrificial lamb on their doors. This way, the angel of death would know which homes to pass over. Now, the New Testament referred to Jesus as the “paschal lamb”. This can be found in 1 Corinthians 5:7, which says: “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.”
So in Passover, the lamb and its blood were used as a sign of which households were to be saved. Like how these lambs were sacrificed, Jesus – as the paschal lamb – also saved us from death when he was crucified. In both cases, they symbolize and bring about redemption.
If you think about it, Passover and Easter do go hand in hand. In Judaism, Passover is a sign of freedom from the pharaoh. Meanwhile, in Christianity, Easter symbolizes freedom – only this time it’s from our sins.
Was the Last Supper Passover in the Catholic Tradition?
One common question Catholics ask about Passover is whether or not the Last Supper was a Passover meal. The confusion comes from the authors of the New Testament, who have different accounts of when the Last Supper happened.
To be specific, the Gospels of Luke, Mark, and Mattew say that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. On the other hand, the Gospel of John indicates that the Last Supper was held before sacrificing the lambs for the Passover feast. This can be found in John 19:14, which states: “Now it was the day of preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, Here is your King!” So who got it right?
Well, there’s no way to know this for sure, which is why there’s been a lot of debate around such a topic. Some would say that since Jewish holy days begin at dusk the previous day and because Passover was a Saturday during that year, this meant that the Jews would have prepared on a Friday and ate their Passover meal on Friday evening.
However, Jesus was already condemned and crucified by Pilate on Friday. The Gospel of Mark says that “chief priests, with the elders and scribes, and the whole council” took Jesus to Pilate as “soon as it was morning” (Mark 15:1). By the third hour (9 AM), he was crucified (Mark 15:25). Then after suffering on the cross, Jesus died that afternoon at the ninth hour (3 PM) (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46, Luke 23:44).
That said, Luke 22:15-16 states: “And he said to them, I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” So it was important for Jesus to eat a Passover meal with his disciples before suffering. Thus, we can assume that with his authority as the son of God, he could have chosen to have their meal a day earlier even before the traditional start of the Jewish feast. Therefore, Jesus did celebrate Passover – his own, new Passover on a Thursday evening.