Passover: ‘Once We Were Slaves—Now We Are Free’
Today, April 13, is the last day of Passover 2023. This Jewish feast commemorates the Angel of Death passing over the houses of the Jews enslaved in Egypt. That night, the firstborn of all Egyptian households died, but the Jews ate the lamb and unleavened bread in the manner prescribed by the Lord God, and spread the lamb’s blood on their doorposts, and so were spared. After that, tyrannical Pharaoh finally let the Israelites go free to seek the land the Lord promised to them.
While I am Catholic, I have Jewish family members, and Christianity is rooted in and dependent on Judaism—Jesus and his apostles were Jews, and the Old Testament is as essential to our faith as the New Testament. The Passover lamb itself with its blood protecting from death is a prefigurement of Jesus, the Lamb of God, dying for men’s sins. And Jesus instituted the Eucharist at his last Passover meal with his apostles. As Pope Pius XI said, “Spiritually, we are Semites.” In honor of Passover, therefore, and all those celebrating it, I would like to share the story of the first Passover night from the Bible (Exodus 12:1-17, 29, 36, 51):
“And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall be to you the beginning of months: it shall be the first in the months of the year. Speak ye to the whole assembly of the children of Israel, and say to them: On the tenth day of this month let every man take a lamb by their families and houses. But if the number be less than may suffice to eat the lamb, he shall take unto him his neighbour that joineth to his house, according to the number of souls which may be enough to eat the lamb. And it shall be a lamb without blemish, a male, of one year: according to which rite also you shall take a kid.
And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month: and the whole multitude of the children of Israel shall sacrifice it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood thereof, and put it upon both the side posts, and on the upper door posts of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh that night roasted at the fire, and unleavened bread with wild lettuce. You shall not eat thereof any thing raw, nor boiled in water, but only roasted at the fire: you shall eat the head with the feet and entrails thereof. Neither shall there remain any thing of it until morning. If there be any thing left, you shall burn it with fire.
And thus you shall eat it: you shall gird your reins, and you shall have shoes on your feet, holding staves in your hands, and you shall eat in haste: for it is the Phase (that is the Passage) of the Lord. And I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and will kill every firstborn in the land of Egypt both man and beast: and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. And the blood shall be unto you for a sign in the houses where you shall be: and I shall see the blood, and shall pass over you: and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I shall strike the land of Egypt. And this day shall be for a memorial to you: and you shall keep it a feast to the Lord in your generations with an everlasting observance. Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread: in the first day there shall be no leaven in your houses: whosoever shall eat any thing leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall perish out of Israel.
The first day shall be holy and solemn, and the seventh day shall be kept with the like solemnity: you shall do no work in them, except those things that belong to eating. And you shall observe the feast of the unleavened bread: for in this same day I will bring forth your army out of the land of Egypt, and you shall keep this day in your generations by a perpetual observance…
And it came to pass at midnight, the Lord slew every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharao, who sat on his throne, unto the firstborn of the captive woman that was in the prison, and all the firstborn of cattle…And the Lord gave favour to the people in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them: and they stripped the Egyptians…And the same day the Lord brought forth the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their companies.”
As is said during the Passover Seder meal, “Once we were slaves—now we are free.” God bless all those completing their celebration of Passover!
Pro Deo et Libertate is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.