Holy Week v. Passover

April 4, 2007 | 45 comments
By

Kristine is trying to get everyone reved up for Holy Week over at BCC. I wish her well, but I suspect that she isn’t going to succeed on this one. There is too much low-church Puritanism in the Mormon DNA, I suspect, for the kind of High Church pagentry that Anglican-envying Mormons like Kristine or Lutheran-envying Mormons like Russell would like to see. I have never really encountered much in the way of organized Mormon aping of Holy Week. On the other hand, I have seen lots of stake activity committees, Institute teachers, and BYU professors organize Passover feasts. Indeed, other than Kristine’s plea to the internet, I have recieved no Mormon invitations to Holy Week activities. I was asked, however, if I would be at the local Institute’s passover celebration.

There is, I think, a deep point about Mormonism lurking in this dicotomy. Holy Week is ultimately about participation in the ritual of the Church universal and catholic (small ‘c’). To be sure, Holy Week is about genuine devotion to Christ, but it is devotion mediated through the liturgical year of the Middle Ages and its after life in various forms of High Church christianity.

To the extent that one is looking for pre-Restoration spiritual ancestors for Mormonism, however, this is not the place to go looking. Rather, one should look to low church and Puritan movements in England, and even (if John Brookes is to be believed) among the radical, ultra-Puritan fringe of revolutionary England like the Ranters and the Quakers. There is much about the folks ways and worship habits of these groups that finds its way into Mormonism. Other than our willingness to celebrate Christmas, however, there just isn’t that much Anglicanism there.

The Puritans and other dissenting English sects, however, were more than simply “not High Church.” They were judiasizers. Rather than harking back to the integrated world of the universal medieval church, they looked to ancient Israel. Mormonism takes this strand of Reformation thinking and radicalizes it even further. The Seperatists who landed at Plymouth rock invoked the language of Israel and Exodus, but ultimately their theology was rooted in the Augustinianism of John Calvin, and in that sense they remained firmly within the grasp of the universal church of the Middle Ages.

The Mormons whose exodus carried them to the banks of the River Jordon, however, had left Calvinism behind, and embarked on judiazing project — polygamy, temples, prophets, and law over grace — that would have made Bradford or Winthrop blanche at the heresy. It is also the reason why — the aesthetic merits of High Church services aside — one is far more likely to find Mormons engaged in Passover rituals rather than Holy Week rituals this time of year.

Tags: ,

45 Responses to Holy Week v. Passover

  1. Russell Arben Fox on April 4, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    I’d like to dispute parts of your analysis here, Nate, but really I can’t. It’s a very smart observation, one that links together fundamentals of our theology and our self-understanding with our daily practices and relationships. The sense that we are Israel, and that therefore the practices and homeland and rituals of Israel have relevance for us, is not a huge theme in modern American Mormonism, but it’s certainly a lot larger than borrowed influences from High Church Protestantism or Catholicism.

    That being said, I doubt people like Kristine and I are seriously “looking for pre-Restoration spiritual ancestors for Mormonism”; we’re just borrowing stuff we like. I suppose we could try to cobble together a kind of genealogy, since if you really dig down deep into roots of the radical Reformation and the Puritans, you find echoes of Middle Age mystical devotion, like the Brethren of the Common Life and Thomas Kempis, who mingled (and thus, some would argue, recovered the truth of) formal liturgy with radical pietism. But that’s a pretty weak connection with aggressive Low Church reformers Cotton Mather and John Wesley, to say nothing of Joseph Smith.

    As for what Mormons should think of the Jews themselves and their Passover, well, I’ve written before, they’re a special case.

  2. Frank McIntyre on April 4, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    We ate a Passover meal in our ward a couple weeks ago. Victor Ludlow led it, and I guess he does several of these a year. It was very interesting. It was also four hours for those who stayed until the end.

  3. Nate Oman on April 4, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    “The sense that we are Israel, and that therefore the practices and homeland and rituals of Israel have relevance for us, is not a huge theme in modern American Mormonism”

    Speak for yourself! Being part of Israel and God’s chosen people is what gets me in the pews on Sunday. I am not in this gig to get some warmed over version of Methodism thank you very much.

  4. Adam Greenwood on April 4, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    Interesting, Nate O.

    And Mormons won’t go the Christmas route with Holy Week because General Conference interferes with Palm Sunday and Easter some years, Fast Sunday interferes with Palm Sunday and Easter on others, and there’s just not a secular American Easter that serves as a halfway house to full-on embrace of the holiday. Thats partly because there’s not nearly as much secular Easter stuff as there is with Christmas and partly because what secular Easter stuff there is is purely secular and doesn’t have the already partly religious peace-on-earth, goodwill-to-men vibe that secular Christmas stuff does.

  5. Margaret Young on April 4, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    I will be heading to SLC tomorrow to find Matzoh and a lamb shank, since I can’t find any in Provo. Passover is a major event at my home, one that my children eagerly attend. We keep the haggadah pretty short (not the four hour version), and then talk about the symbols on the seder plate. I will also be doing a Passover for my SS class. I do it every year.

  6. Russell Arben Fox on April 4, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    “Speak for yourself! Being part of Israel and God’s chosen people is what gets me in the pews on Sunday.”

    Interesting, Nate. I’m mostly there for Jesus myself, but really, whatever gets your home teaching done works for me.

    “There’s just not a secular American Easter that serves as a halfway house to full-on embrace of the holiday. Thats partly because there’s not nearly as much secular Easter stuff as there is with Christmas and partly because what secular Easter stuff there is is purely secular and doesn’t have the already partly religious peace-on-earth, goodwill-to-men vibe that secular Christmas stuff does.”

    Adam, that’s a really astute comment. In the complicated business of conceiving of and applying holidays in our lives, we frequently need some sort of hook upon which we can hang our ritualizations. And since Mormonism doesn’t have any explicit Easter Sunday observances, we either have to whole-heartedly incorporate stuff borrowed from other churches (doable, but very hard to justify theologically), or try to get to Easter Sunday through what American culture offers (difficult, since America’s secular Easter traditions are mostly crap about a bunny). It definitely makes it a harder holiday to align oneself with as a Mormon than Christmas.

  7. Rosalynde Welch on April 4, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    For Primary sharing time on Sunday I’m going to start out dramatizing the story of the disciples seeking Jesus on Easter morning, and then liken that to the easter egg hunt ritual, which I’m going to use as my frame for singing time. Not an authentic marriage of myth and ritual (I don’t think), but one does what one can.

  8. bbell on April 4, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    RAF,

    In your exp what does happen on Easter in the typical LDS ward?

    My exp is that its usually pretty “He is Risen” focused. Maybe I have lived in the right wards and somewhere out there congregations are having talks on Easter about food storage?

  9. Nate Oman on April 4, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    I suspect that one of the real reasons that holidays have fallen out of favor is the creation of the weekend. My understanding is that, for example, in ancient Rome the expectation was that one would work every day that wasn’t a holiday. There were no weekends. On the other hand, if you had a very busy holiday calender it provided for frequent collective breaks. (There is a prisoner’s dillema involved in the economic incentives for taking breaks that norms around holidays solves.) I don’t know the history here, but I suspect that it would be pretty easy to tell a story about how the medieval liturgical calender was simply a Christianized version of the Roman holiday calender. Once one has a Sabbath — and then a weekend to go with it — some of the economic imperitive for an elaborate liturgical calender lessens. (Or perhaps not; this is all rank imagining on my part.)

  10. Margaret Young on April 4, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Rosalynde–my favorite Easter egg hunt took place in a cemetery in Laie, Hawaii. It was a moving experience, taking place around one very fresh grave (a BYU prof, Joe Nichols, who had died suddenly at age 38 of a heart attack) and an older one (Mike Palmer, poet and teacher, who had died some years before of a brain tumor). The children thoroughly enjoyed the hunt. For the adults, the setting brought home some serious contemplation of why we stop for a moment to look at pretty eggs.

  11. Nate Oman on April 4, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    “I’m mostly there for Jesus myself, but really, whatever gets your home teaching done works for me.”

    Christ gets me to Church too, but I am not sure that Jesus does much for me at all.

  12. Adam Greenwood on April 4, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    All right, you two. Lay off.

  13. Russell Arben Fox on April 4, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Ah, Nate and I are just needling each other, Adam. It’s all in good fun. We actually get along very well. I’m sure, after the final judgment, one of us will go visit the other in the Terrestial Kingdom on a fairly regular basis.

  14. Adam Greenwood on April 4, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    So you believe in progress between Kingdoms?

  15. Kevin Barney on April 4, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    I find *both* Passover celebrations (I’m toward the phil-Semitic end of Mormon thought) and high church holy week celebrations (as RAF says, just because I like them) fascinating.

    Speaking of Victor Ludlow conducting a seder, he did that at BYU when I was a student there, circa 1980 or so, and there was an article about it in the Universe. As part of the seder, he christianized the interpretations of things, and his understandings were reported. A Jewish student at BYU wrote a letter to the editor very upset that a BYU professor was christianizing the seder; she thought that was an abomination.

    So here’s a question for you: are Mormon attempts at holding seders, for want of a better word, kosher? Are they ok if they just follow a haggadah without commentary? Are they ok with Christianizing (or Mormonizing) commentary? Or are they in poor taste altogether, sort of playing at someone else’s religion?

  16. Sam B on April 4, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    We held a Seder dinner, our first, this year. I looked at a number of haggadahs, but wasn’t comfortable with a Christianized one—I didn’t want to appropriate anything, just to celebrate. And, frankly, the unfiltered Jewish longings were touching in a very cool way.

    On the other hand, as I understand it, the haggadah is a very flexible ceremony (document?). I’ve been told that secular Jews can emphasize socially-progressive ideas, while more religious Jews can focus on the religious significance of the Passover. Assuming that to be true, I would like to slowly assemble my own haggadah, which would involve not only Moses and Abraham, but my LDS ancestors. (Not so much to Mormonize it, but because every one I read said, in telling the story of Passover, to tell it in the first person, so that it’s you, not as a history.)

    This year, we read the Moses story from my one-year-old’s board-book Bible, though, because the haggadah’s I read also suggest tailoring the telling to the youngest present, and she was by far the youngest.

  17. A. Nonny Mouse on April 4, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    “So here’s a question for you: are Mormon attempts at holding seders, for want of a better word, kosher? Are they ok if they just follow a haggadah without commentary? Are they ok with Christianizing (or Mormonizing) commentary? Or are they in poor taste altogether, sort of playing at someone else’s religion?”

    So, maybe one potential answer (though snarky) would be: how would we feel if non-mormons dressed up in temple clothing and performed temple ordinances every once in a while because they liked the significance of them, though didn’t believe in their ritual efficacy?

  18. A. Nonny Mouse on April 4, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    Oh, and I expect there’d be a wide variety of answers amongst faithful temple-worshiping Mormons to that question…

  19. Rosalynde Welch on April 4, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    Kevin, I’m not sure how to see Christianity as anything other than a wholesale appropriation and wresting/reinterpretation of pre-existing religious materials; Mormonism, in particular, is a “synthetic” tradition, and appropriation/reinterpretation seems to have been Joseph’s preferred mode of revelatory religion-making.

    I don’t know how to answer the question about ethics, but if it’s wrong, well, we’re in a lot of trouble!

  20. Russell Arben Fox on April 4, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    “So you believe in progress between Kingdoms?”

    I’m agnostic on that particular point, Adam. However, I’m sure Nate will be able to take the escalator down to visit me on occasional weekends. (I hope he’ll brings some fresh bagels; I hear everything is Terrestial is fast-frozen and shipped in.)

    On a more serious note…

    “So here’s a question for you: are Mormon attempts at holding seders, for want of a better word, kosher?”

    Melissa and I actually decided at a certain point that Passover just wasn’t something we felt comfortable adapting to our family traditions. The Passover celebration is overwhelmingly about a story–the haggadah–that in our minds resisted the sort of adaptation that we thought would have been necessary. We aren’t Jews. I’ve attended seders, and I hope my children have a chance to attend one; there’s a lot to learn from that story, and there are many ways to be spiritually moved by it. But as Christians, as Mormons, we didn’t feel like it was something we should “take over” for our own purposes, not without some sort of real ethnic/religious connection there. I realize that the seder, as conducted by Jews around the world, is in practice an extremely flexible ceremonial meal, but still, that was our feeling.

    I also admit it may be an arbitrary feeling. After all, we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, and that’s one of the High Holy Days. Still, we feel like that’s a matter of acknowleding Jewish culture and the legacy of Israel, by celebrating for one day in accordance with their calendar. It’s like celebrating Chinese New Year (which we also do). Going beyond that point in one’s use of Jewish holidays may work for some people, but it’s not for us. (By contrast, my wife’s brother and his active LDS family honors several Jewish holidays. But then his wife, Melissa’s sister-in-law, is Jewish on her mother’s side.)

  21. Kevin Barney on April 4, 2007 at 5:31 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts on Christianizing/Mormonizing a seder. (I’m not sure what to think about it myself, which is why I asked.)

    If it helps put this in more concrete terms for you to react to, I vaguely recall that one of Professor Ludlow’s commentaries was that the breaking of the afikomen into three pieces represents the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

  22. John Bryan on April 4, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    It is difficult to find references to Holy Week in our early church history, but it does surface notably in 1836, with the events surrounding the dedication of the Kirtland temple. Many are aware that the appearance of Elijah, Moses, et al occured on Easter Sunday, April 4. The actual dedication, on the other hand, took place a week earlier on March 27: Palm Sunday. The Hosannah Shout and the singing of The Spirit of God (“Hosannah Hymn”) echo those who celebrated Christ’s triumphal entry to Jerusalem — a true Palm Sunday celebration.

    While the written histories never explicitly makes the connection, it is difficult to imagine that it is a coincidence that these Hosannah traditions were initiated on Palm Sunday.

  23. Keith on April 4, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    I find both the Holy Week and the passover service enjoyable and meaningful. (In graduate school I was at a Seder service hosted by the Rabbi who taught the course on Judaism I was taking. At the moment the door was opened for Elijah to enter and take his place at the chair reserved for him, the pay-phone right outside the door rang. We all laughed. A clever guy answered the phone: “Hello. Is this Elijah?”) There are interesting things watching and participating to the degree we feel comfortable.

    Maybe LDS folks could do a few things in conjunction with the week that might fit nicely. What if, to commemorate the washing of the feet, one were to go do initiatory work? What if, to commemorate the time when, after the crucifixion but before his resurrection, Christ organized the preaching of the Gospel in the spirit world, one were to be baptized for the dead, or participate in other temple ceremonies? I grant that one can do these anytime, but it seems to me to be a good time to connect these things to the founding events.

  24. Adam Greenwood on April 4, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    What if, to commemorate the washing of the feet, one were to go do initiatory work? What if, to commemorate the time when, after the crucifixion but before his resurrection, Christ organized the preaching of the Gospel in the spirit world, one were to be baptized for the dead, or participate in other temple ceremonies?

    That’s an amazing good suggestion. Wow.

  25. Marjorie Conder on April 4, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    I posted this last month on FMH
    I think it is unreasonable to assume that Passover does, or even should, only belong to the Jews. Any people who accept the Old Testament as scripture have a claim on this tradition. it is also interesting that when I was first considering doing a Passover, I got an armful of books from the library. There was a wide variety of ways that Jews were celebrating this event. There were of course some similarities also, such as the questions and the symbolic foods. As I set out to create a ceremony for our family I tried to follow as closely as possible the Old Testament account. (Of course neither we, nor anyone else I know, Jewish or not, personally kills a lamb and puts its blood on their doorposts. That is our major departure from the scriptural account.) Conversely, the “real” Jewish Passovers we have attended seem to have taken more liberties with the actual scriptural account than we do. For example, Moses said participants were to be fully dressed with their shoes on ready to leave and they were also to eat in haste (thus the unleavened bread.) Also, our Jewish friends had a very fancy meal and basically lounged around, to symbolically prove they were no longer slaves. The had also, in their scripts, completely forgotten that there are 11 other tribes of Israel. The other major change in the Jewish Passovers we have experienced is that turkey, not lamb was served. That frankly seemed odd. So given all that I have had no problems with writing my own Passover ceremony which has evolved into a frankly Latter-day Saint event–with no apologies to those whose traditions have evolved differently.

    Tomorrow night is Passover for us. We always do it on the Thursday before Easter (to better commemorate the Last Supper.)

  26. Tatiana on April 4, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    Hey, RAF, no dissing the bunny!

  27. Jordan F. on April 4, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    This has been a very interesting thread to read. Thanks!

  28. Sarah on April 5, 2007 at 5:57 am

    If you’re worried about the kosherness of LDS Passover ceremonies, bear in mind that there’s almost nothing we could do to the seder that would be more upsetting than the extreme stuff some Reform types get up to. Hillel at my university — technically a Reform/Conservative organization, but rather conservative in our area — sponsors an annual chocolate seder, which doesn’t always sit well with some of the Chabad House (which tends to attract the more Orthodox types) kids. Given the extreme diversity within Judaism (you think we have a problem with inactive people calling themselves ‘Mormon’? Hah!) it usually strikes me as really quite silly for anyone to get up in arms about these admittedly not-by-the-handbook observances. Especially given the number of Jewish organizations whose mantra seems to be “even if you don’t believe a word of the Torah, try to remain Jewish by performing mitzvahs!” And, it’s one of the most “educational” and “for people who don’t quite know what’s going on” celebrations I know of. Seders are supposed to be both confrontational and a little bizarre. What’s more bizarre (for both participants and observers) than a Mormon seder?

    Of course I’m also biased, since in my home with my father and grandmother we celebrated anything Catholic or Jewish we could, and split the difference (because my Orthodox-raised grandfather was dead) by eating pork, but feeling guilty about it.

  29. Frank McIntyre on April 5, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Kevin,

    “I vaguely recall that one of Professor Ludlow’s commentaries was that the breaking of the afikomen into three pieces represents the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

    This is an idea he puts forward, and frankly it fits reasonably well. The middle piece of the 3 is broken and handed out. The Patriarch must then redeem it for a price and then it is shared by everyone. No smoking gun, but a reasonable fit.

    I think the Seder can function very nicely in a Mormon context for those interested in adding that to their family.

  30. danithew on April 5, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    I just want to say that I’m celebrating Passover in a special way – I’m not eating any of the special foods or anything – but I get four days off from work.

  31. Kiskilili on April 5, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Is there a popular perception within Mormonism that, while Christianity has “apostatized” from the truth, Judaism has remained static and “pure” and diachronically uniform (reinforcing our tendencies to seek legitimation in Judaism rather than in Christianity)?

    Lumping together temple worship and polygamy and Passover seders (“sdarim”) perhaps speaks to such an assumption, although, ironically, the seder likely developed as a way of compensating for the *lack* of a temple. There’s no solid evidence for a “seder” as such before the Mishnah, which was compiled about 200 AD/CE, and many aspects of the Haggadah now considered virtually essential were medieval accretions–the cup of Elijah, the afiqoman, etc. Of course there’s precedent within Judaism for regarding the afiqoman as symbolic of the Messiah, but strangely enough, in the Mishnah, it’s unclear what afiqoman meant, but whatever it was was expressly prohibited from the Passover meal! Conversely, the instructions for observing Passover and the associated Matzah festival in the Old Testament (Exodus 12 and Deuteronomy 16) already contradict one another and bear only a passing resemblence to the seder as it crystalized in late antiquity and the Middle Ages.

    On the Christian side, Easter liturgy was crystalizing and developing at the same time, and in explicit connection to Passover, out of which it (the Last Supper in the synoptic gospels is after all a Passover meal, whereas in John Jesus is slain the same time the paschal lambs are being slain). “Quartodecimans” were early Christians who celebrated Easter on Passover itself.

    Ironically, what Mormons who eschew High Church services may be missing is that Easter liturgy still very much self-consciously hearkens back to Passover, recounting a story of redemption from bondage in which the blood of the Paschal Lamb plays a salvific role.

  32. Kiskilili on April 5, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    Sorry :( “out of which it GREW”

  33. Kiskilili on April 5, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    I’m one who is quite suspicious of Christianized seders, although I find the entire question very thorny. On the one hand, rituals, like any other facet of culture, are passed around and transformed by different groups. Christianity emerged as one sect within Judaism, and it’s only natural for Jewish rituals and scripture to be reinterpreted. On the other hand, a recognizable seder probably only emerged after Judaism and Christianity had parted ways, and we Christians already have our own transformation of Passover in the form of Easter.

    In practical terms, it’s poison to Jewish-Christian relations. Obviously we shouldn’t necessarily shy away from worshiping as we deem appropriate simply because it offends some other group, but the seder is so peripheral already to Mormon thought that it doesn’t strike me as too much of a sacrifice to keep the seder Jewish.

  34. Kaimi Wenger on April 5, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    K,

    We like Judaism because it’s a cypher. There’s so little that most Mormons actually know about Judaism, that we can read a few verses from the OT, claim that Mormons and Jews are theological twins, and go our merry way. No need to deal with actual messy doctrines or Jewish theology. :)

  35. Margaret Young on April 5, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    Passover was celebrated most poignantly by Jesus himself, who uniquely transformed it into Christian ritual with the words “This is my body. Eat.” The sacrament is a reminder of everything on the seder plate.
    I learned to love the Jewish symbols when I taught at a Jewish school–obviously no Christianizing there. In our family’s particular haggadah, instructions are given about to how to approach various “types” of children–rebellious ones, studious ones, etc. One instruction says to personalize the ritual. “What makes this night different from all other nights?”
    “I was once a slave, and God delivered me. He bade the angel of death to pass over my house.”
    How surprised are you that we talk about slavery in my household as we celebrate the “passing over” of the angel of death, and as we taste the bitter herbs?

  36. woodboy on April 6, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Good points in #31.
    High church Easter services are replete with references to Passover, Christ as the Paschal victim, etc. The OT lesson appointed for Easter is the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. I can point you to numerous very common Easter hymns with this type of language. Anthems too (Bairstow’s Sing ye to the Lord comes to mind–one of the most common).

    Personally, I identify more with the Christian narrative than the Jewish, but find them both meaningful and interesting.

  37. Marjorie Conder on April 6, 2007 at 10:15 am

    I absolutely agree that most of what has come to be seen as a “traditional” Jewish Passover has nothing to do with the scriptures found in Exodus and Deut. and as LDS we probably should not be parroting the Jewish model. We do not use the afikomen for example (nor any other late additions to the Jewish custom.) That said Passover does belong to any people who accept the OT as scripture. In General Conference in 1915, Anthon H. Lund a counselor in the FP said, “Passover celebrates the saving of all. . . . Easter is the wrong name–it is still the Passover–a symbol of deliverance.”

    My motivation to “do” a Passover was to refocus on Christ, thus we always do ours on the Thursday before Easter, regardless of the Jewish calendar. (this also frees up our married children and their families to participate with the other sides of their families who are all doing more traditional Easter things (Easter egg hunts, etc.) Doing it on Thursday puts our Passover in the same relationship to Easter as the Last Supper was. The Last Supper was a Passover meal and it is the event where Christ, the God of the OT for LDS, brings together with particular emphasis the traditional symbols (bread and wine), that have continuing importance for us. Our Passover is very traditional (Old and New Testaments) with some Restoration elements added and not very “Jewish” at all.

    One of the great things about doing a Passover ceremony is that it engages all the senses. Learning theory says that the more senses engaged the more grounded the learning. Since we are trying to reinforce, for our family, the most important event since creation, gounding that learning as solidly as possible is important to us. It is also of some interest that the Sacrament service on Sunday also engages all of our senses.

    We had a great evening last night celebrating this important marker of sacred history with our family and some friends.

  38. Vada on April 6, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Just a note on the original topic — if we do, as a culture, celebrate Passover rather than Holy Week (I’ve personally never celebrated either, really), I suspect it’s purely an American Mormon occurance. We’re currently in Puerto Rico, and all the congregations here have some sort of Good Friday celebration, at least (ours has a sunrise devotional). I suspect this might be the case in Latin American countries as well.

  39. Kiskilili on April 6, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    A few other thoughts about the original post, whose thesis I find fascinating:

    Obviously the relationship already between “mainstream” Christianity and Judaism complexifies the question of whether our orientation is toward one or the other. Not only does Easter liturgy itself hearken back to Passover (in the Romance languages the word for Easter is stilled derived from the word for Passover), but Mormons are certainly not alone among Christians in celebrating Passover–a number of other Christian groups do the same (some Catholics, some Evangelicals, etc.).

    So it interests me that we’ve latched onto Passover specifically. Of the Mormons I know who celebrate their own seders, for example, literally none of them celebrate the seven-day matzah festival (avoiding food with leaven) which is already associated with Passover in the Old Testament. I don’t have enough information to draw conclusions–are there perhaps Mormons who do observe the matzah festival as part of Passover? Similarly, from what I know, other Christians who celebrate Passover also ignore the matzah festival. (Is this the case)?

    And aside the fact that we’ve apparently separated (and dismissed) the matzah festival from Passover (the two may have been different to begin with anyway), I wonder why we never hear of Mormons celebrating Sukkoth, Hannukah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, etc. (Or do we?) Passover seems to be special in that we’ve assigned it a particularly Christian interpretation (we and the rest of the Christian world).

    Additionally, while Passover celebrations are popular among some Mormons, I would venture to say that the majority of Mormons do not in celebrate Passover and the festival has no official status in the Church (outside its transformation into Easter, as the quote Marjorie Condor adduced above illustrates). Easter, on the other hand, has at least a quasi-official status, and is celebrated among Mormons on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This formula, which has no basis in scripture, is, apparently not coincidentally, the very formula used throughout Western Christendom for calculating Easter.

    All of this leads me to wonder: do we take more cues from mainstream Christianity than we’re aware of?

  40. Russell Arben Fox on April 6, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    Some fascinating thoughts, Kishkilili; thanks for sharing. Responding to some of your points in backwards order:

    “Do we take more cues from mainstream Christianity than we’re aware of?”

    I think is absolutely the case. The way we think about the atonement, the way we conceive of the sacrament, the way we resolve certain questions involving priesthood authority…so much of it borrows from longstanding and unspoken debates in Christendom. The fact that we go along, like almost all of organized Christianity, with the dating of holidays like Easter and Christmas is the least of it. (And the fact that we sometimes use the doctrine of the apostacy to suggest that those background assumptions and observances are either accidental or irrelevant is, I think, deeply wrongheaded.)

    “Easter, on the other hand, has at least a quasi-official status, and is celebrated among Mormons on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.”

    I wonder what we should make of that “quasi-official status”; indeed, I think it’s revealing that you feel it necessary to describe it that way. I mean, we have Easter lessons in our manuals, we almost always will hear talks on Christ and the atonement on Easter Sunday, maybe they’ll even be flowers in the chapel. Isn’t that “official”? Well, sure…except of course it obviously isn’t, in the same way that no holiday is truly “official” within the order of the church, given that we don’t have any formal, doctrinal or ecclesiastical or cultural means of ordering ourselves around or celebrating such. (Pioneer Day and Christmas, with the Days of ’47 parades and the First Presidency Devotional, are probably as close as we come.)

    “I wonder why we never hear of Mormons celebrating Sukkoth, Hannukah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, etc. (Or do we?)”

    As I mentioned up in #20, we celebrate Rosh Hashanah. But we admittedly do so without the intent of Christianizing/Mormonizing it; we celebrate it the same way we celebrate Chinese New Year, as the opportunity to introduce our children to foods and stories and ideas that characterize a culture and worldview we take seriously. I doubt many other Mormons do the same, just as I doubt very few non-Jews do generally; it’s very much our personal family quirk. I have met several Mormon families that do something for Holy Week, in the same way I have met several Mormon families who make Advent part of their Christmas celebrations (in fact, they are usually the same families). As for other Jewish holidays, whether taken on their own terms or as part of a Christianizing project, the only ones I am aware of are those few Mormons who have either spent a long time studying/living in Israel, or those who (like my sister-in-law) are ethnically Jewish.

  41. Marjorie Conder on April 6, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    We have made some effort the last two years to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall. I’m about where I was 10 years ago with Passover in unpacking this celebration. I have been especially intrigued that among the Jewish Feasts and Festivals only Tabernacles is a required observance in the Millennial World. See Zechariah 14:16.

    Incidently, no one in our family has ever been to Israel, nor do we have any known Jewish ancestry.

  42. Rosalynde Welch on April 6, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    K, Nate will undoubtedly speak for himself, but I don’t think his point is that we take our cues directly from the Jewish traditions, whatever their origin and provenance, but rather that we absorbed from low church Puritanism a particular form of religious authorizing that draws not directly on Jewish practice but rather on a Christian idea of the meaning of Judaism. He then suggests that Joseph took this project beyond anything that had been attempted before, into a grand, audacious, foolhardy literalization of the christian trope of Judaism.

  43. Rosalynde Welch on April 6, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    (He didn’t say that very last part; that was just me.)

  44. Margaret Young on April 6, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Re # 39: Though we as a family do not celebrate the full Hannukah, we do indeed light a Menorrah on Christmas Eve and talk about the idea that God can make all of our offerings sufficient. We do NOT tell the bicycle story, btw.
    Thanks for posting this blog, Nate.

  45. WestBerkeleyFlats on April 8, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    “The Puritans and other dissenting English sects, however, were more than simply “not High Church.” They were judiasizers. Rather than harking back to the integrated world of the universal medieval church, they looked to ancient Israel. Mormonism takes this strand of Reformation thinking and radicalizes it even further. The Seperatists who landed at Plymouth rock invoked the language of Israel and Exodus, but ultimately their theology was rooted in the Augustinianism of John Calvin, and in that sense they remained firmly within the grasp of the universal church of the Middle Ages.”

    I don’t see offhand the antecedents of Mormonism in Calvinist movements so much as movements such as those of the radical reformers and pietists that often diverged from, if not opposed, Calvinism. (The notion of Quakers being “ultra-Puritan” strikes be as a bit odd, if one is referring to theologic or political matters, given their vast differences from Calvinist groups such as Presbyterians in England or Separitists in New England on these subjects.) I think that one could find elements of Arminianism and perfectionism in the soteriology of early church leaders as well as elements of ecclesiology in the early church that invite comparisons to dissenting groups.