Holy Week is the most sacred time of the year. It is a time for preparation. It is also when we observe Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
It begins on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. At Mass on Palm Sunday we receive blessed palms to remember how the people from Jerusalem paid homage to Jesus by laying down palms on the ground in front of Him as He entered into their city on a donkey. With some of our palms we make crosses to remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We also place a couple palms behind the crucifix that hangs over our front door.
On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week we deep clean and organize our home, and give away things that our family no longer needs or uses. This outward sign of cleaning symbolizes the internal preparations being made in our hearts and minds, making them clean for Jesus as we lead up to the most important feast day of the liturgical year.
On Wednesday of Holy Week, also known as “Spy Wednesday,” we hide thirty quarters to represent the thirty pieces of silver Judas received for betraying Jesus, and the children find them.
This year we also added in a family Tenebrae (Latin for “darkness”) Service where we light fifteen beeswax candles – fourteen darker ones to represent Jesus’ followers and one white one to represent Jesus. We read special prayers and blow out the candles one by one until only the white candle is left, representing all of Jesus’ followers abandoning Him. The white candle is then hidden and we make a loud bang by stomping on the ground. The white candle is then brought back to represent Jesus being the Light of the World. All of the details and materials for this ancient tradition can be found here on Kendra’s blog.
On Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, it is customary to visit seven different churches. We’ve never done this, but we do hope to do this in the future! I think this would be wonderful to do with your family if you’re able to. It’s also when we wash each other’s feet in remembrance of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. It starts with the father washing the mother’s feet, then the mother washing the oldest child’s feet, and so on until it gets to the youngest child who in turn washes the father’s feet, if possible. We do a somewhat modified washing of the feet where we pour water over our family members’ feet and then dry them with a towel.
After the washing of the feet we have a Christian Seder meal in remembrance of the Passover meal Jesus and His disciples ate at the Last Supper. For our Holy Thursday meal we eat steak to represent the Sacrificial Lamb (traditionally lamb is eaten but we substitute this with steak), cinnamon applesauce for the haroset, spinach for a bitter herb to represent Judas’ betrayal, pita bread for unleavened bread, and red grape juice for the wine. Although we haven’t done this, many Catholic families also make a lamb cake for dessert using a cake mold in the shape of a lamb.
After the meal we read the Bible readings about the Last Supper including Exodus 12:1-20 (the story of the first Passover) and the institution of the Eucharist from Matthew 26:17:30; Mark 14:12-26 or Luke 22:7-20.
Since Good Friday is the day Jesus suffered and died, we try to keep this day as reverent as possible, which of course isn’t always easy to do with young children! Some of the activities we do include listening to solemn music (such as the “Lent at Ephesus” album by Benedictines Of Mary, Queen of Apostles), read about Jesus’ Passion, and paint or color pictures of Jesus on the cross. Between noon and three o’clock we try to stay as still and quiet as possible and we pray the Stations of the Cross. (See the Stations of the Cross Banner we made here.) In the evening we watch part three of “Jesus of Nazareth” as a family.
On Holy Saturday we decorate the house for Easter, dye Easter eggs, and read books about Easter. Our favorite is “The First Easter” pictured below. The illustrations are so beautiful!
On Holy Saturday night we read this amazing excerpt from an ancient homily about Jesus’ descent into the afterlife as we await His glorious Resurrection.
And finally, we celebrate Easter Sunday by enjoying the things left in the Easter baskets by the Easter bunny; having an Easter egg hunt that includes a golden egg with twenty dollars inside of it; eating a big feast with ham, carrots, rolls, green bean casserole, and broccoli cheddar rice; enjoying the company of loved ones; and most importantly attending Easter Sunday Mass where we receive Our Risen Lord’s body, blood, soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist as we rejoice and give thanks to Jesus for His loving and selfless sacrifice for our sins!
How do you observe Holy Week? Let me know in the comments below!