The Family Meal at Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Eucharist was established within the Passover meal by Jesus with His Apostles. A wonderful way to bring home the richness of this feast is to imitate the Last Supper by recalling some aspects of the Passover meal, and a foot washing ceremony with the family in imitation of Jesus. This a wonderful tradition to start in the family. If things are rushed on Holy Thursday, move the meal sometime before Holy Thursday (Wednesday night, for example) so that the whole family can participate in imitating Christ at the Last Supper. I went into deep detail in this post, so for this one I’m only using excerpts and focusing our menu and traditions. I also found pictures from last year that I haven’t posted.

We do not try to recreate a seder meal or imitating an element of Judaism. We are only imitating Christ at his Last Supper as He was following the description in Exodus. Elements of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, such as the Mass readings and foot washing, are included to prepare us for participation at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. Incorporating the various senses in this meal really helps active participation, particularly for children.

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Holy Thursday is one of the biggest feasts in the Church year, since it commemorates the institution of Holy Orders and of the Holy Eucharist. Our table is beautifully decorated, with a white tablecloth (in imitation of the white vestments used at Mass) and the good china, silver and crystal. I was inspired by this section of In This House of Brede to add flowers at each place, although last year I forgot.

We serve dessert (since this is a special feast day, no Lenten abstaining here) sometimes a cake in the shape of a lamb (there are numerous types of lamb molds available at craft stores or baking supply stores). Before or during the dinner, Exodus 12:1-20 is read —- the story of the first Passover. Then the New Testament reading about the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist is read from either Matt 26:17:30; Mark 14:12-26 or Luke 22:7-20.

Outline of Menu Suggestions:

These foods loosely follow the instructions in Exodus, “A lamb…a year-old male lamb without blemish…That same night they shall eat its roasted flesh with unleavened bread and bitter herbs….”

  • Bitter Herbs: Cooked spinach and raw celery sticks dipped in salt water, mixed green salad (the greens also incorporate the “Green Thursday” tradition)
  • Unleavened bread: Crackers or store-bought matzohs, pita bread or homemade unleavened bread
  • Wine: red wine and/or grape juice
  • Lamb: Leg of lamb, or roast lamb, lamb chops, or meatloaf baked in shape of lamb (use a lamb cake mold)
  • Haroset: Applesauce with raisins, reminding of the bricks and mortar the Jews laid in Egypt. (This is an additional element we have added.)

Our Holy Thursday Dinner Menu:

  • Roast Beef (Reminder of the Passover Lamb, and Christ the Paschal Lamb)
  • Mashed Potatoes (allergy free, made with dairy free spread, chicken broth, salt and garlic powder)
  • Cooked Spinach (reminder of the bitter herbs)
  • Mixed Lettuce salad and raw carrots (because we want them)
  • Applesauce (reminder of the Charoses, the bricks and mortar in Egypt)
  • Bread (reminder of the Unleavened Bread and the Eucharist)
  • Grapes (reminder of the wine of the Last Supper which becomes the Blood of Christ)
  • Dessert (Because it’s a festive day in the eyes of the Church)

Since we leave for the Mass that evening, we usually don’t have wine, but I will serve grape juice, and everyone has the nice crystal to drink a toast.

Our family doesn’t like the taste of lamb, so I’m actually serving roast beef. It looks similar to lamb. It seems Holy Week has extra constraints, so while I want to make a festive meal, sometimes time, energy, (and nowadays) and budget is lacking. One year my mother actually made a meatloaf in the lamb cake mold pan. Definitely memorable.

We’re saving the lamb cake for Easter, and I will choose a dessert that won’t have leftovers to taunt us during Good Friday. Depending on my time, I might make unleavened bread, following Maria von Trapp’s recipe. If I use regular bread it will be small individual loaves at each place setting. For my son with food allergies, I will serve gluten free bread sticks. Another alternative is serving Hot Cross Buns, again, like Maria Von Trapp.

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Before or after eating, the family gathers for the “Washing of the Feet”, which I’ve described here in a previous post.

The boys are reminded that this meal is different than what the Jews celebrate because Christ already died and saved us, so we are not still awaiting a Messiah. We are not obliged to follow the directives for the Passover meal, we are merely doing it in imitation of Christ, so we can use all of our senses to know, love and serve Christ. While eating  Exodus 12: 1-20, the story of the First Passover, is read aloud. This is the same first reading at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

The meal is simple, joyful, and family-friendly, and wonderful preparation to enter more deeply into the liturgy of the Sacred Triduum.

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