How is tonight different from other nights?This is the question the Jews have asked in celebrating Passover for nearly four thousand years! Whereas Abraham is the Father of the Jews - Moses is the Father of Judaism. Passover celebrates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, specifically - the Tenth Plague which Pharoah brought upon the Egyptians because of his hardened heart - but this Tenth Plague took the first born from everyone in Egypt who did not paint their door sills with the blood of a sacrificed lamb. On this night God sent the Angel of Death over the land and for those whose doorposts were marked with the blood, the angel "passed over" but to every household which did not have their doorposts so identified, the angel went in and took the life breath from the firstborn of each household - including Pharoah's own son. Pharoah was so grieved, he finally relented and told Moses to take his people and whatever spoils they could carry with them and get out of Egypt.
So, tonight they eat quickly and pack everything they can, and all the spoils of Egypt they can, and make a hasty exit. They don't sit for a "normal meal" for "tonight we are like royalty and we recline to the left in the manner of kings and queens." Though they reclined like kings and queens, they were also dressed for a trip, for they were leaving Egypt in the morning - for the rest of their lives. This is why they use unleavened bread, for there was no time to let the bread rise. It had to be prepared and eaten quickly.
"You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:8)
The FootwashingThis is not part of the Jewish practice - but is an important part of the Catholic tradition. Jesus, the Leader and Chief Shepherd, humbles Himself and takes a basin of water and a towel and washes the feet of the Apostles who have reclined for the Passover celebration. Peter at first refuses, but after Jesus explains this is necessary - he over-responds and asks that Jesus not only wash his feet, but bathe him completely. The feet are enough, Peter!
The Four CupsIt is not certain when the use of the Four Cups began, but certainly it was before Jesus was celebrating the Passover on this Holy Thursday night. The use of the Four Cups is taught in the ancient writings of Judaism, (Pesahim 10:1). The Cup being taken on Holy Thursday is the Third Cup - the Cup of Redemption or the Cup of Blessing. The irony of the Catholic tradition began by Christ here - He gets up and goes off into the night before the Fourth Cup! The Fourth Cup, the "Cup of Hope," therefore, in the Catholic tradition is that cup which Jesus prayed about at Gethsemane - and pray that this cup be removed from Him, unless it be the Will of the Father that He endures this cup. This cup therefore is our Hope for salvation - it is the Sacrifice of Calvary.
Holy ThursdayIt begins with Jesus washing the feet of the Apostles and ends in the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. Jesus is arrested and by this time tomorrow - He will be dead and buried. As we go into Good Friday, let us be mindful of what Jesus was enduring in these last hours of His natural human life.
(Passover this year actually begins at sundown on Holy Saturday, 15 Nissan).
A Jewish explanation of the Passover Seder: http://www.jewfaq.org/seder.htm
The Fourth Cup, transcript of Dr. Scott Hahn's talk on the Passover of Holy Thursday: http://zuserver2.star.ucl.ac.uk/~vgg/rc/aplgtc/hahn/m4/4cp.html