From a reader…
I have a friend who, with his family, observe several of the historical Jewish holidays, including Purim which apparently is this week. In his defense, I don’t know exactly what they do to “observe” the holiday, but I don’t think they go so far as to attend a Jewish temple.
Is it appropriate for Catholics to observe such holidays? In the case of things like Purim and Hannukah, it seems they’re more in the nature of Jewish civic holidays, celebrating the victories of the Israelites over their enemies. But I’m also aware that there are usually aspects of the holidays that anticipate the coming of Christ, aspects that would surely be inappropriate for a Catholic to observe since we believe Jesus was the Christ.
As I write, Purim ends this evening.
Should Catholics observe Jewish holidays? Good question.
Firstly, if there is some Christian feast on the Church’s calendar on some day when a Jewish feast occurs, then that’s a no brainer. We give all things Catholic priority.
That said, our Church and Faith flowed and flows forth from what God in His providence wrought before. I cannot find any reason why Catholics could not, for example, observe some Jewish custom on a Jewish feast day.
The Jewish festivals pointed backward to important events in salvation history and pointed forward to their fulfillment in the Lord’s life and mission.
Take, for example, Purim.
Purim is not one of those major festivals like Passover or Tabernacles, but it was a time of rejoicing, annually celebrated with traditions. Purim celebrates how God, through Esther and her adoptive father Mordechai, saved the Jewish people from the hateful Hamman and the King during the Persian captivity.
It is probable that when the Lord went up to Jerusalem for a “feast of the Jews” in John 5, and when he healed a man at the Pool of Bethesda, it was Purim. Coincidently, today in the Roman calendar for Ember Friday of Lent, the reading for Holy Mass in the traditional rite is about that very incident! How the stars sometimes do line up. I digress.
One of the customs of Purim is to read or sing the whole Book of Esther, which is called “the whole megillah (megillat – scroll)”. Now you know where that phrase comes from. There are several “megillah books”, but Esther is probably the most associated with the word.
During the singing of the whole megillah, when the name of the evil Hamman is pronounced, the people often shout and make noise with noisemakers to blot out his name, a kind of damnatio memoriae. There are some interesting Youtube videos of the singing of Esther that have this blotting out of “Hamman”. For example, HERE, at synagogue in Tampa, they really get into it. Check out about 1:30.
By the way, don’t be puzzled by the seemingly cheerful raucous music that introduce some of these Megillah Esther videos. Purim is a time of serious partying. There is a lot of dressing up in costumes and feasting. We, however, are in Lent, so serious partying might not be how we honor old Purim.
Speaking of feasting, yes, it is Lent, but perhaps you could make Hammantaschen. Today is a Friday of Lent, and an Ember Day to boot. Today is not the best day to make and eat Hammantaschen. However, even in Lent every Sunday is a little Easter. Perhaps a couple of Hammantaschen after the family meal on the Lord’s Day would be in order.
Perhaps at Hanukkah a family might have, after taking care of the proper Christian ornaments and customs for Advent/Christmas a menorah. Then one could explain to the kids about the rebuilding of the Temple and how the Temple represented the whole created cosmos, the lights of the great menorah being the seven known planets, the bronze water basin being the oceans, the great veil adorned with stars being the heavens, etc., and how Christ is the new High Priest in the heavenly temple renewing His offering to the Father so that we can have Mass simultaneously on thousands of altars.
In any event, I don’t see why we can’t take stock, from a Catholic perspective, ceteris paribus, of the Jewish Feasts which the Holy Family observed together.
Finally, knowing about the Jewish feasts, and how the Lord fulfills what they foreshadow is a super enrichment for our faith lives and our participation in our sacred liturgical worship. Knowing, for example, that when the Lord road into Jerusalem before the spring feast of Passover, suddenly the people switched to singing the psalms from the autumn harvest festival of Tabernacles because they thought the Lord was going to go to the Temple as Davidic Priest and offer sacrifice. Knowing that it was after the lighting of the enormous oil lamps, 70 feet tall candelabra, on the second night of Tabernacles is when Jesus, standing in the gold-covered Temple reflecting the flames across the city, said “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), might be an enrichment of our Faith.
We must always give priority to our Catholic Christian identity. But that doesn’t mean that we should be ignorant of or ignore the Jewish heritage of our magnificent God-guided family history.
Here is a singing of Esther from the Synagogue in Rome (Hebrew with an Italian accent). Chapter 3 starts at 12:35 or so and right after is a mention of the hated Hamman.