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Monday, March 07, 2011

Seder It Ain't So

So, I'm at Mass yesterday and the FSSP priest's homily is about Catholic participation in seder meals.
He's agin' it.
And I agree with him - it's simply stupid.

The desire to participate in the seder once is, perhaps, understandable. People who don't know or understand much about their own Catholic ritual think that doing a seder meal will somehow help them understand the Mass more fully - a laudable goal. Everyone should desire to understand and participate more fully in Mass.

However, the desire to engage in the seder repeatedly, year after year, in order to somehow "more fully celebrate Easter" is so stupid as to border on dangerous. it demonstrates an abiding misunderstanding of the relationship between the seder and the Mass. It also demonstrates that modern Catholic liturgy is a thin gruel that Catholics feel the inchoate need to augment by bringing in rituals from other worship systems.

That desire for authentic ritual in itself is not sinful - it is what we are made for. But the paucity of Catholic worship which creates such a desire certainly is sinful - a glaring set of omissions. If there is any single, telling aspect of just how emasculated the Novus Ordo rite is, one need only look at the explosion of alternate ritual among Catholics since Vatican II, whether it be Judaism's seder meal, a New Age centering prayer, Hindu trantric yoga or the Wiccan wonderland. The Novus Ordo is perfectly valid, definitely licit, it's just not particularly bright. It is, to put it bluntly, a wasteland.

So, I understand where the priest is coming from - typical Catholics really shouldn't spend time at seder meals any more than they should regularly spend time at Protestant worship services. Ok. No argument there. And if that was all he had to say, I would have had no problem with it.

But that was just the beginning.

The Seder Meal is Mortal Sin?
He starts by quoting Thomas on false worship, and points out that early Christians refused to throw a pinch of incense into the fire because everyone knew it meant you thought Caesar was a god. Participation in non-Catholic ritual can be mortal sin. He points out that Thomas agreed Jewish rituals were ok for the Jews because they were looking forward to the Messiah, but such rituals would be sinful for Christians because we already know the Messiah is here.

Alright. I'm good with all that.

Then he says that participation in the seder meal constitutes false worship and, while he's not judging interior dispositions, he says it is "objectively a mortal sin." He repeats this several times.

Now, I begin to be puzzled.

How on earth do you not judge interior disposition yet still judge an action "objectively a mortal sin"?

I can see judging an action objectively evil.
I certainly agree that this particular action is objectively stupid.
But is it objectively a mortal sin?

Given that mortal sin requires fully informed consent, what is his statement - "it is objectively a mortal sin" - except a judgement of the interior disposition which generated the necessary consent?

Is Eating Dinner A Mortal Sin?
As for evil of a ritual action, doesn't context have something to do with it?

After all, we burn incensed candles before the saints, but the burning of incense to honor someone does not automatically incur the pain of mortal sin, no matter what Caesar once required.

Similarly, the popularity of "re-enactments" is well-known. Indeed, many priests of my acquaintance (including FSSP priests) have attended the local Medieval Times restaurant, where you get dinner and a floor show in which real men dress in real armor with real weapons that do real damage and they watch a joust, apparently without incurring mortal sin.

Now, keep in mind that the actors involved in this presentation really do hurt one another. A common complaint of these actors is precisely that they cannot avoid injury during the performance, but their medical coverage is so lousy that they are often paying for the injuries out of pocket.

Also, keep in mind that the Church has condemned jousts and duels (they were considered essentially the same thing) as precisely mortal sin for almost a thousand years. In 1884, She went so far as to say that any witness to a joust or duel communicated in the sin to such an extent that a Catholic doctor who was not present at the duel could not even knowingly agree beforehand to treat the patients whose wounds resulted from a duel lest he become entangled in its evil.

So, if participation in a seder meal is "objectively a mortal sin", then what about witnessing a joust? Even a faux joust? And given that we know the Messiah has come, how does a faux joust differ from a seder meal, especially - as is so often the case - a seder meal put on entirely by Catholics?

But our good priest isn't done.

When Did The Rabbinate Start?
He goes on to say rabbinic Judaism was invented in the first or second century AD after the destruction of the Temple, and that modern Judaism is no longer really Jewish, but something entirely different because the Temple sacrificial system is gone. His argument is that the destruction of the Temple "extinguished the Jewish priesthood" - I guess because the priests could no longer offer sacrifice, although he didn't really say. His point was that the Mass is the only valid "Seder meal" now. In a minor point, he said the real Jews of the first century were pro-Catholic, while "fake Jews" are anti-Catholic.

While I don't disagree with his point about the Mass being the only real Seder, and I've often pointed out that Judaism post-Temple is a substantially different way of being Jewish than Judaism pre-Temple, it is simply wrong to say that the destruction of the Temple extinguished the Jewish priesthood.

It didn't.

If it had, the Jewish priesthood would have been extinguished along with the First Temple in 586 BC, well BEFORE the Incarnation, which would create all kinds of problems for Catholic theology. From 586 BC to 515 BC - a period of roughly 70 years - the Jews had no Temple and for much of that time they weren't even allowed to live in the land of Israel.

Our priest apparently forgot about the Babylonian Exile, the destruction of the First Temple, and the ensuing interregnum which established the rabbinical system. Rabbis came into use during the Exile. The extinguishment of the Levitical priesthood did not occur as a result of the destruction of the Temple, rather, it was extinguished by Christ Himself at the Last Supper when He established the new priesthood in His blood.

The presence or absence of a Temple and it's sacrificial system has exactly NOTHING to do with the status of the Levitical priesthood. That priesthood, like the priesthood Christ established, exists because God established it. In both cases, it gives the priests the capacity to offer sacrifice, but the inability of the priests to offer sacrifice (due to, say, the lack of a Temple or the lack of elements to consecrate) does not strip either Jewish or Catholic priests of their respective priesthoods. Only God can do that.

In other words, the only way you can reach his conclusion is if you don't know the history of the rabbinate and you confuse the physical ability to offer sacrifice with the ontology of being a priest.



Catholics, don't bother with seder meals.
They're stupid.

I will reiterate the good priest's final point: If you want to participate in a Catholic seder meal, go to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. It has all the ritual anyone could need, and infinitely more Godhead. Don't accept imitations.


Flambeaux said...

So, Steve, are you planning to take this up with him?

Posting here is one thing. But, in this instance, charitably challenging, even just to ask for clarification, seems to be in order.

He is, in my experience, a remarkably clear-headed thinker and preacher. And he has announced corrections before when presented with the necessity of them before.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

I have tried asking him about things privately in the past, and the conversations have been non-productive.

He is a good priest, and I really like the liturgies. I don't know what to do with it, honestly.

Flambeaux said...

Sorry to hear that private discussions have been non-productive.

I expect this is one of those situations where one just has to pray, shake one's head, and keep moving.

The Western Confucian said...

I once tried to talk to a Jewish friend about all that "elder brothers in the faith" business, and he corrected me that Rabbinical Judaism was actually an altogther new religion. Turned out he was a follower of Karaite Judaism.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Yeah, it's a mistake to think that Judaism is in any way a united bloc. It's as fragmented as Protestantism, and has been for a long, long time.

Even the Gospels witness to the Pharisee/Sadducee split, and we know that wasn't the only theological split in Judaism at the time.

boanarges_catholic said...

You are attacking a straw man here. Your understanding of the term "objective mortal sin" is absolutely incorrect. I do not find this to be sinful at all, personally. But, a sin is objectively mortal if it is a grievous offense against the Law of God.
That same objective mortal sin can subjectively be a venial sin if you do not sufficiently reflect or do not do it on purpose. Your beef is with your own ignorance of the term, not with what Padre was actually saying.

boanarges_catholic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
boanarges_catholic said...

I did not mean that last post in an antagonistic way. I re-read it, and it sounds antagonistic… that is not my intent ;-)

dcs said...

Boanerges_Catholic is correct. The term "objective mortal sin" does not imply a subjective judgment at all. For example, eating meat on a Lenten Friday is objective mortal sin but there are subjective circumstances that excuse one from mortal sin in this case and even venial sin.

Matheus F. Ticiani said...


I may be wrong, but from what I remember, for a sin to be a mortal sin it has to fulfill both the objective ("grave sin") and subjective ("full knowledge and will, etc.") characters, doesn't it?

Then, what you seem to have meant with your example was that eating meat on a Friday of Lent (in the US) is a grave sin (that is, potentially mortal), but may or may not be mortal depending on the subjective character.

It seems to me that Steve is indeed correct, because the way you phrased your example, the sin mentioned may be an "objective mortal" sin, but at the same time not be a mortal sin, which doesn't make much sense, does it?

dcs said...

It seems to me that Steve is indeed correct, because the way you phrased your example, the sin mentioned may be an "objective mortal" sin, but at the same time not be a mortal sin, which doesn't make much sense, does it?

Matheus, that is simply what "objective mortal sin" means.

Marie said...

This priest is an extremely HOLY priest. Writing this on this page is backbiting and a sin itself - you ought to be ashamed of yourself. While you may not name him, sufficient information is provided for it to be classified as the sin of backbiting. He is far wiser than you, has greater theological training, and has far more grace to shepherd a flock because he was ORDAINED TO TEACH! You would do better to submit to him in humility and learn from him.

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Thanks, Marie.

I didn't know you were the judge of who is and isn't holy, what is and isn't sin, who has and hasn't committed it, and all those related matters.

Now that I do, I will hasten to submit myself to your authority. Or was it a fallible priest I'm supposed to submit to? I did take vows to do one or the other, after all. I may not remember when I took vows of submission, but I must have, because I apparently sinned against them.

By the way, which priest am I supposed to submit to again? There's several at local parishes who are all ordained, and they tend to say different things... one nearby likes women's ordination, for instance, and I believe he is just as much a priest as the one telling me participation in a seder meal is "objectively mortal sin."

Of course, I could be wrong about all that. You would know better than I. You're my judge, after all.

scotju said...

This priest is right, Christians should avoid Passover seders. The old passover was a prophecy about the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. We now have the fullfillment of that sacrifice, and the representation of it in the Holy Mass. The Jewish Passover is now a dead ritual since it no longer points to anything but a false hope and a false messiah. The Jews rejected Jesus as Christ come in the flesh in 33AD, so their Passover can only point to the anti-christ. So why should catholics even bother with a so-called "Christian Passover Seder"?