Do you need ideas for observing Holy Week with young children? Cassandra Spellman shares some of her family’s favorite Holy Week traditions.
Holy Week is rich in opportunities to immerse our children in the Catholic faith. The Triduum represents the three most holy days of the entire year! So, what are some ways we can honor this time in our domestic churches? Here are a few of my family’s favorite traditions to celebrate Holy Week.
Before Palm Sunday Mass, we prepare our children for the liturgy by explaining that the Passion narrative we will hear is a preview of what’s to come this Holy Week. We try to match our clothes to the liturgical color of red and display the palms prominently in our home.
“Spy” Wednesday gets its name from the day’s Gospel, which states that Judas “looked for an opportunity to hand him [Jesus] over” (Matthew 26:16). In other words, Judas was spying on Jesus. We like to play “I Spy.” We also play “What’s Missing?”: one player inspects the room and then leaves. The other people take an object away and hide it. When the player returns, he or she must spy to see what the others have removed!
Every Holy Thursday morning we bake unleavened bread together. Visit Catholic Icing for a simple (and delicious!) recipe. As the bread bakes, the children and I gather in the living room for a little prayer service. I read from the Gospel of John about Jesus’s washing the disciples’ feet. After, I play a hymn (such as “What Wondrous Love is This”) and, one by one, we take turns washing each other’s feet. There are always a few giggles, but there is something very moving about this ritual. As a mother, I am humbled by the small fingers that wash my own foot and I am touched watching my children wash each other’s feet.
At lunch time, the children prepare the living room for our Last Supper play. A few years ago, I wrote a simple play based on the Gospel narratives of the Last Supper. The kids love setting the “table” (a large storage container, turned upside down with a tablecloth on top) and placing pillows around it so we can “recline at table.” They gather costumes (usually scarves wrapped like robes around them) and props (such as a stuffed animal rooster). We arrange the parts and put the food on the table (our unleavened bread, grapes, and grape juice). We act out the play, breaking the bread together.
These activities prepare everyone well for the beautiful Holy Thursday liturgy that evening. After Mass, we gather at the Altar of Repose and I whisper to the children to think about Jesus, praying in the Garden that night. What words of love can you say to console the Heart of Christ?
We try to make Good Friday a somber day: no music while we are driving in the van or at home. After breakfast, the children color figures of the Passion, which we download from Catholic Icing. The children love coloring the pictures of Christ, the cross, the soldiers, St. Peter, St. Veronica, and others, which we glue to paper towel rolls. The set even includes a tomb made out of an empty tissue box. There is also a Resurrected Christ and angels, which we promptly hide.
We pray the Stations of the Cross together (our favorite version is this one from Holy Heroes). Then, at noon, one of the children tapes the paper body of Christ on the paper cross. We sing a verse of “Were You There?” At 3:00 PM, the hour that Jesus died, another child removes the paper body of Christ and places it in the tissue box tomb, taping the paper rock over the cover. We sing another verse of the hymn as this happens.
This is a day of waiting and expectation—and preparation! The children color their eggs in the morning and I explain the symbolism of the Easter egg: just as a chick emerges from the darkness of the egg into new life, so Christ comes out of the tomb, risen to life again! We make Resurrection rolls (find the recipe at Catholic Icing). The children love the symbolism of the ingredients: a white marshmallow for the sinless Christ; butter and cinnamon as the oil and spices used to anoint Christ’s dead body; the crescent roll dough wrapped around the marshmallow like Christ’s burial cloths; the oven an image of the tomb. Then, when the rolls are ready and cooled a bit, the children bite into them to reveal that the marshmallow has “disappeared!” Christ is risen!
Before the children awake, I remove the paper rock from our tissue box tomb to show that our “tomb” is empty. I also bring out the Resurrected Christ and angels that the children had colored on Good Friday. Our family uses sacrifice beans every Lent, putting a bean in the jar for every sacrifice offered; these are replaced with jelly beans on Easter morning—a beautiful way of showing how God takes our little sacrifices and transforms them into abounding graces! After Mass and Easter brunch with family, we march outside and dig up the Alleluia signs we buried in the ground, so long ago on Fat Tuesday! Now we can sing, with all the angels and saints, our hearts and souls full of joy, for Christ is raised! Alleluia, alleluia!
What are some ways you celebrate Holy Week in your domestic church?
Copyright 2022 Cassandra Spellman
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