I am new to the Catholic Church, through the RCIA. I noticed in our parish bulletin a “Blessing of Easter Foods” scheduled on the Saturday before Easter. This is new to my family and me and I wonder where that comes from and what it means.
In the earliest days of the Church, the Eucharist often was celebrated in the homes of members of the community. The connection of the Lord’s Table with the home and the family table was visible and important. Over the centuries, the Church continued to value and promote that closeness. In many parts of the world, each village or settlement had a church at the center of its life. The church, the worship that occurred there and the family home were the source of what people valued most in their lives.
In Eastern Europe especially, that relationship remained through the ages. Families sought to connect their first Easter meal with the Eucharist of the Lord’s Pascal mystery celebrated at church. They did that by means of seeking a special blessing for the food that they would eat at home.
The selection of the foods they chose to bring to church for a blessing reflected the Lenten fast and abstinence, which was rather strict. Since meat and even dairy products were largely excluded from Lenten meals, people placed great emphasis what they ate at the first meal which broke that fast.
Most of what was contained in their food baskets had a special meaning related to the religious significance of Easter. The egg, for example, has long been a symbol of Christ’s resurrection because the chick breaking through the shell at birth reminded the Christian of the Lord breaking forth from the tomb to win new life for us all.
The horseradish is a reminder of the bitter herbs of the Passover meal eaten by Christ and his disciples on the night before he died. Salt is often included in the basket as it was an ancient Christian symbol of healing.
Lamb figures prominently as an Easter food. The actual meat (or butter or cake in the form of a lamb) is often included in the basket of blessed food as a reminder of the Passover lamb whose blood marked the doors of the Israelites.
Ham is frequently included as well. This most likely originated as a substitute for lamb as a symbol of the new law promulgated by Christ and its distinction from the old law that forbade the eating of certain meats. In some ethnic traditions, sausage links also symbolize the teaching that Christ broke the chains of death once and for all.
Bread of course is also very important among the Easter foods. It is not only a symbol of the Eucharist instituted by Christ but also recalled that the earliest disciples came to know Jesus in the “breaking of bread.”
Lastly, wine often is placed in the basket of blessed foods. Its symbolism originates in the wine of the Passover meal and a Biblical sign of rejoicing.
Father Bober photo by Dena Koenig Photography