I won’t forget the first time the whole churchful of us washed one another’s feet at Our Lady of Mercy Church on Holy Thursday. Some sat cemented to the pews, determined that no one have a chance to snicker at their bunions, their ugly toenails. Others took off shoes and socks and walked haltingly, bare toes on marble, up the aisles, to where someone washed their feet and they, in turn, washed the feet of the person behind them. The choir began to sing.
A white-haired man knelt and took my 7-year-old daughter’s foot in his huge hands. Singing to her all the while, he poured water over her foot and tenderly dried it. “En la arena he dejado mi barca,” he sang, looking her in the eye, smiling, “junto a Ti buscaré otro mar.” (“All I longed for, I have found by the water. At your side, I will seek other shores.”) I pondered stealing the foot towel to dry my tears.
I saw one woman, whom I had heard mutter, “I’m not getting my feet washed,” watching her neighbors return smiling to their seats. At last she sighed, unzipped her knee-length boots, and made her way out into the aisle. Jesus’ boat had apparently pulled alongside, and she had decided to climb in after all.
Give your kids the gift of Holy Week this year. Consider it a long weekend: Instead of soaking in a hotel swimming pool, they can soak in the essence and the drama of being Catholic. No more complaints that Mass is “always the same, week after week,” as Holy Week bursts with once-a-year moments.
The Holy Thursday procession with the three oils for anointing the sick, the baptized, and the confirmed this year. The foot-washing, and later the stripping of the altar and procession with the Eucharist to where it will remain, candle-lit, until midnight. Can you return with your kids to pray late in the night? Try asking them whether they have what it takes to stay up with the Lord, after they’ve just heard the gospel of the disciples nodding off this very night when Jesus had asked them to stay awake with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Or climb into the car and set off for some late-night prayer visits at neighboring churches.
On Good Friday, the only day of the year without a Mass, we line up to kiss and embrace the cross. Young and old, we bring our sins and sorrows to the feet of our Savior. Can your family try a day without TV today? Perhaps you can find a living Way of the Cross, too.
Holy Saturday: Watch the priest place symbols of Christ on the new Easter candle: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, alpha and omega, all time belongs to him, and all the ages!” he proclaims, before the candle leads us into the dark church for the Easter Vigil. Cheer for the newly baptized, who stand before us beneath a downpour of water and grace and are hauled in, dripping wet, by Christ, who still knows how to fish even though his dad was a carpenter.
We’re not just recalling history here either, not just hearing the tale of a man called Jesus, crucified and raised long ago. “I am with you always,” said Jesus (Matt. 28:20). Christ in our miscarriages and our cancers, in our births and deaths and in one more macaroni and cheese dinner. “Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism, Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event,” said Pope Benedict XVI a few years back. Amen. Let’s use Holy Week to help our children fall in love with Christ.
By Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the archives of At Home with Our Faith newsletter
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