Someone I know who works at a busy Catholic parish told me about the time she got invited to a Thursday night Pampered Chef party by another parishioner. Turns out the date was bad for her—and for the Catholic hostess, too, had she been paying attention. The designated evening was Holy Thursday. While there was surely some food preparation involved at the Last Supper, commemorating Holy Thursday is best done in worship as a community—not by witnessing the wonders of a gourmet garlic press.
The story reminded me of someone in my extended family who made a tradition of using Good Friday as a day to go shopping with her mom at an upscale mall. My mother-in-law was aghast and tried with each passing year to convince the young woman of the inappropriateness of hitting glitzy stores on the same day Jesus died on Calvary.
So what does Holy Week deserve from us Catholics? How can we best observe the days and draw our children into the mysteries of our faith that we celebrate during this week? Here are the basics:
Holy Thursday. Significance: Remembrance of the Last Supper and, by extension, the Eucharist.
Subplots: Jesus shows his disciples how to lead by washing their feet; Jesus experiences “the agony in the garden” as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, awaiting his betrayal and arrest later that night.
How Catholics typically celebrate: Attend Holy Thursday services at which, in many churches, parishioners wash one another’s feet as Jesus did. In commemoration of the Last Supper, the Mass especially emphasizes the Eucharist, and worship concludes with a quiet time to sit meditatively before the Blessed Sacrament.
Ways to celebrate Holy Thursday as a family:
•Eat a simple meal together before Mass. Perhaps read the Bible story of this night aloud beforehand.
•Be a servant. Family members can make an effort to serve others in the family that day, by taking on another’s chores or doing something special for them.
•Go to Holy Thursday Mass together, lingering afterward for quiet adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Good Friday. Significance: Remembrance of Jesus’ trial, his suffering and humiliation on the way to crucifixion, and ultimately his death upon a cross.
Subplots: Jesus accepts his fate like a lamb—the Lamb of God—led to slaughter; Jesus’ last words include “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
How Catholics typically celebrate: The day is observed as a subdued day of fasting and solemn contemplation, including Good Friday services in which Catholics listen to the story of Jesus’ Passion and venerate the cross by touching it, kissing it, or bowing.
Ways to celebrate Good Friday as a family:
• Honor the somberness of the day by fasting and choosing quiet, prayerful, or selfless activities. Some families observe a “no TV or radio” rule as they spend quiet time together at home. Others choose community service. Take time in the afternoon to participate in the Stations of the Cross.
•Go to the Good Friday service together, then stay afterward for quiet contemplation near the cross. Some communities organize a “Walk for Justice” prayer pilgrimage in which different Stations of the Cross are represented by modern-day institutions like the courthouse or city jail.
Easter, vigil or morning. Significance: Celebrating Jesus’ glorious Resurrection from the dead—and the promise that it awaits us, too.
Subplots: At night, waiting in darkness for word of the Resurrection; in the morning, stories of Jesus’ followers finding the empty tomb.
How Catholics typically celebrate: Easter Vigil, the most lavish celebration of the church year, begins in darkness and ends in light. New Catholics are welcomed into the church on this most holy of nights; water and the Easter candle are blessed, symbols of our own Baptism in Christ. During vigil and morning services, Catholics renew their baptismal promises as they are sprinkled with Holy Water; they also pray for the church and world.
Ways to celebrate Easter as a family:
•Roll out of bed and get outside to watch the sunrise together, the time of day the Resurrection was discovered. Celebrate Easter joy with a lavish breakfast and a table decorated with colorful symbols of new life—fresh flowers, succulent fruit, colored eggs.
•In addition to Easter Mass, drop in on an ecumenical Easter Sunday service to celebrate with our Christian brothers and sisters. Any opportunity to worship with non-Catholic classmates and neighbors during Holy Week will be a powerful witness to your children of the Christian unity to which Jesus calls us.
By Mary Lynn Hendrickson, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the Best in Class award in 2014 from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for four years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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