Seder celebration builds community and connects past to present

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic

April 12, 2017

A traditional Seder plate which includes charoset, bitter herbs, egg, matzah, lamb, a piece of vegetable, and salt water. St. Ann Parish in Burleson celebrated a Passover Seder April 6. (NTC photo/Susan Moses)


BURLESON — Steve Gats is making his grandfather proud. Jewish by birth, he converted to Catholicism 13 years ago, and he honors his Jewish heritage by hosting a traditional Passover Seder each year at St. Ann’s Parish in Burleson.

“The Seder has been celebrated for 3,500 years,” said Gats. “People come and find out that this is what Jesus was doing with his disciples on Holy Thursday.”

Each year, the St. Ann’s feast has grown larger and more detailed.  At the fourth annual event on April 6, guests numbered near 175. Many attendees hailed from other parishes, and several represented other Christian denominations.

As the event expanded, Gats enlisted the help of his fellow Knights of Columbus to cook the matzah ball soup according to his grandfather’s recipe. The Daughters of St. Ann’s prepared the charoset, an apple and nut mixture resembling the mortar used by the enslaved Jews.

Steve Gats lights the candles to start the Seder meal. A Catholic convert from Judaism, Gats has shared the Passover traditions with St. Ann's for four years.  (NTC photo/Susan Moses)


Seder means “order” in Hebrew, and the Passover remembrance follows a prescribed regimen of symbolic foods and prayers. Authenticity commenced at St. Ann’s when the guests arrived and each donned a kippah, the brimless cap worn by Jews during prayer.

After Gats began the Seder by lighting candles, he read the traditional prayers and blessings in Hebrew, followed by Father Mel Bessellieu, pastor of St. Ann’s, who read the English translations. Gats said that when guests hear the English, “People recognize the blessings.”

He continued, “They get the connection between Passover and Holy Communion. It’s exciting to understand where our traditions come from. When you understand the connection, your faith grows even more.”

According to Fr. Bessellieu, the Passover celebration is “the skeleton on which the skin of the Mass is built.” Jesus celebrated the Passover with his apostles on Holy Thursday, when He instituted the Holy Eucharist.

Many rituals of the Seder correspond to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, including handwashing, blessing of the wine, and breaking of the bread.

“This is the foundation of our beliefs in the Church. All Christians need to be a part of this,” said St. Ann’s parishioner Wanda Henry. “When you see the Passover remembrance, you understand the tremendous love God has for us in making his Son the Paschal sacrifice.”

Todd and Amanda Roschetzky, parishioners of St. Ann's, wash their hands and say the benediction before eating. (NTC photo/Susan Moses)


Henry has attended all four years, and this year she brought nine friends from outside the parish to the Seder supper. “Maybe I’ll bring 20 next year,” she said with a smile.

According to Donny Scott, the music director of St. Ann’s, each year the music ministry delves deeper into Passover traditions. He and pianist Melanie Wright research Passover music and learn songs in Hebrew, teaching everyone the simpler songs.

Other Seder suppers are celebrated around the diocese, too. Father Carmen Mele, OP, director of the St. John Paul II Institute, recently hosted its eighth annual Seder for the students. He also planned Seder suppers in the 1980s for members of the Peace and Justice Ministry.

“The service is a joyful experience. There’s a sense of learning new things, the Jewish customs. Because it’s a communal experience, with people singing together, there is learning plus joy. It brings people together and builds community.” Fr. Mele explained.

Seder suppers feature symbolic foods, such as matzah, the unleavened bread of Passover; bitter herbs to remember the suffering of slavery; a lamb shank representing the sacrificial lamb of Passover; a green vegetable to symbolize spring; and an egg to recall the Temple sacrifices.

The Jewish people celebrate the Seder each year to remember the miraculous events of Passover. The ritual retells the story from Exodus of the ten plagues in Egypt and the release of the Israelites from slavery. 

BURLESON — Steve Gats is making his grandfather proud. Jewish by birth, he converted to Catholicism 13 years ago, and he honors his Jewish heritage by hosting a traditional Passover Seder each year at St. Ann’s Parish in Burleson.

Published (until 12/27/2035)
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