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Celebrating Holy Week in the Home

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 25, 2021 | In The Liturgical Year

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week for 2021. A year ago most of the world was in quarantine and lockdown. We celebrated our Holy Week and Easter in the confines of our home, attending the Holy Triduum virtually. This year we find ourselves able to worship in churches. We will be able to attend Mass in person. I realize that’s not a universal situation, and so I will keep praying that all our churches can reopen fully.

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Last year was also a difficult time for my own family, as my youngest brother was suffering his last weeks from ALS and died on April 20. It is said that the first year is the hardest. We will definitely be walking with Christ on Calvary regarding this memory.

This post is an adaptation of previous years on our Holy Week traditions. It is an overview of preparation for our home and the liturgical celebration of Holy Week. I include some alternatives and ideas for supplementing at home if you cannot attend Mass or services in church. The text is divided into each day of Holy Week to make it easier to navigate.

ON THE GENERAL TO-DO LIST:

  • Where will we attend the Triduum? I am happy to know that I will be at our parish church this. But for those that cannot attend, where can we find churches that are posting recordings or live-streaming of the Triduum and prayers such as the Stations of the Cross, Adoration, Tenebrae or Divine Office?
    • First try the local parishes. One blessing of the COVID is most churches are offering livestream Masses.
    • Mass-Online.org is one resource our family used to discover many parishes around the world.
    • Go to different monasteries or dioceses to get their broadcasting schedules.
  • Clothing and Personal Grooming: This year we do need new clothes for Easter.
  • Easter Baskets: Even though my sons are now teenagers, the Easter basket full of candy is a tradition they still love.
  • Grocery Shopping: The Triduum is a time that I usually like to do more baking and cooking than the entire year, even more than Christmas. There are certain traditional recipes that I make only during this time of year. Each day of Holy Week has its special significance and symbolic foods. Please note that I have linked to recipes within Catholic Culture, but I sometimes use other sources for some of the recipes. I have one son with food allergies to wheat, dairy and tree nuts which means tweaking a recipe for the whole family, or provide a safe version for him.
  • Music: Our family usually attends our local parish for all the liturgies of the Triduum, so most of the music is repeated from year to year. That provides a sense of tradition and expectation for all of the family. My sons really enjoy the sacred music, and during the last two weeks in Lent they are practicing the psalms and hymns that will be sung.
    • OPChant channel by the Dominicans on YouTube has recordings of liturgical chants of Holy Week.
  • Liturgical Preparation: My family’s personal reading takes a shift to focus more on the events in the life of Christ and liturgy of the Triduum during this week. I provide both chapter and picture books to read. When my sons were younger I would bring these books to church. We also watch the televised liturgies from the Vatican during Holy Week and discuss what will take place on each day of the Triduum.
    This is also a week of more prayer, repentance, and preparation for Easter. We usually go to Confession before the Triduum. Before we enter into Holy Week, we take a stock of our extra prayer material.
    We want to create areas in our home that are conducive to prayer, that have visual and physical reminders of the events and liturgy of Holy Week.

Some extra prayer and reading materials for the Week:

UNFOLDING OF HOLY WEEK:

Fifth Sunday of Lent also known as Passion Sunday in the Extraordinary Form:

Liturgical Color of the Priest Vestments: Violet/Purple

Liturgical Notes:

Activities:

  • Our family continues to work on our pysanky. Our whole family enjoys decorating Ukrainian eggs. We leave the pysanky supplies out during Lent and Easter and work on the eggs during slower afternoons and evenings. This is our family creative time.
  • There are some pysanky coloring pages to get a taste of the design.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion:

Liturgical Color of the Priest Vestments: Red

We recall Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with people laying down cloaks and waving palm branches shouting, “Hosanna!”

Unique Parts of the Liturgy:

Blessing of Palms:

Most of us will not be receiving blessed palms this year, so this is a time of thinking of different ideas for your palms to use during Mass on Sunday.

Not every church uses palms for their Liturgy. Here is a quote from a book, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs by Father Francis Weiser that explains that palms are not the only branches that can have been used:

The various names for the Sunday before Easter come from the plants used—palms (Palm Sunday) or branches in general (Branch Sunday, Domingo de Ramos, Dimanche des Rameaux). In most countries of Europe real palms are unobtainable, so in their place people use many other plants: olive branches (in Italy), box, yew, spruce, willows, and pussy willows. In fact, some plants have come to be called “palms” because of this usage, such as the yew in Ireland and the willow in England (palm willow) and in Germany (Palmkätzchen). From the use of willow branches Palm Sunday was called “Willow Sunday” in parts of England and Poland, and in Lithuania Verbu Sekmndienis (Willow Twig Sunday). The Greek Church uses the names “Sunday of the Palm-carrying” and “Hosanna Sunday.”

Centuries ago it was customary to bless not only branches but also various flowers of the season (the flowers are still mentioned in the first antiphon of the procession). Hence the name “Flower Sunday,” which the day bore in many countries—“Flowering Sunday” or “Blossom Sunday” in England, Blumensonntag in Germany, Pâsques Fleuris in France, Pascua Florida in Spain, Virágvasárnap in Hungary, Cvetna among the Slavic nations, Zaghkasart in Armenia.

The term Pascua Florida, which in Spain originally meant just Palm Sunday, was later also applied to the whole festive season of Easter Week. Thus the State of Florida received its name when, on March 27, 1513 (Easter Sunday), Ponce de Leon first sighted the land and named it in honor of the great feast.

Today churches can order palms and the branches are sent from all over the world, so we mostly see palms for Palm Sunday, but they aren’t native in all countries.

There are some online coloring pages to make your own palm substitutes:

Liturgical Discussion and Preparation:

Before Mass, we talk about the events during Holy Week. On Palm Sunday the Church recalls Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem...and then weeps over his betrayal, passion and death. The Passion this Sunday will be from the Gospel of Mark (Year B). Every year the accounts rotate from Matthew, Mark and Luke, but always from John on Good Friday. We also discuss that the palms are blessed and therefore are sacramentals, not playthings, and need to be treated with respect. Psalm 22 is the Responsorial Psalm, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” which Jesus says from the Cross. We ask our children if they heard these words elsewhere.

Decorating and Craft Ideas:

Jonah Project:
One of my family’s favorite Holy Week traditions is the Jonah Project inspired by Mary Reed Newland. (I shared more details from our family on my personal blog.)

Scenes of Holy Week:

We set aside a place to do a “liturgical display,” separate from the family prayer table. My sons and I have created displays of the Passion scene, the Tomb of Christ, and other events. My sons have recreated buildings of Jerusalem and scenes of Holy Week with blocks, Playmobil and Legos, and every year there are new creations and additions.

In the Kitchen:

Passion Sunday in the Extraordinary Form is the 5th Sunday of Lent. In parts of England it was known as Carling Sunday, and so peas were served on this day. The Missal of the Ordinary Form combines Passion and Palm Sunday, so we might serve pease porridge (or split pea soup with a ham bone).

This is also known as Fig Sunday because of the tradition that Jesus ate figs after His entry into Jerusalem. The Gospel of Matthew records Christ cursing the Fig Tree shortly after His entry.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week:

Liturgical Color of the Priest Vestments: Violet/Purple

We recall the different events during the early part of the week before Holy Thursday. Most centered around the betrayal by Judas.

Unique Parts of the Liturgy:

  • Follow the Mass readings:
  • We dwell on the changing tones in the readings. Everything is building up to Good Friday. The first readings of Monday through Wednesday are three of the four Suffering Servant Songs from Isaiah, with Good Friday having the final Song.
    • Monday: Isaiah 42:1-7 (He will bring forth justice to the earth.)
    • Tuesday: Isaiah 49:1-6 (He was selected from his mother’s womb to proclaim salvation to Israel.)
    • Wednesday: Isaiah 50:4-9a (The servant endures suffering at the hands of his enemies.)
    • Good Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (His innocent suffering will bring justice and blot out their offenses.)

Judas the Traitor:

We discuss how the Gospels focus on Judas.

  • Monday is the anointing of the Jesus’ feet at Bethany by Mary, where Judas objects that the ointment should have been sold and the money given to the poor.
  • Tuesday recalls the Last Supper with Judas dipping his hand in the same dish and leaving to make his deal with the chief priests.
  • ​​​​​​Wednesday is known as Spy Wednesday, for this Gospel records the agreement to hand over Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. There is a tradition of making a special knotted bread (in hangman’s knots) called “Judases“ for this day. We discuss Joseph of the Old Testament as a Type of Christ and prefigurement of Jesus’ betrayal. I find my sons have a particular fascination with Judas. They have righteous anger at his deeds, but like to recount the story. My sons shake their heads in disappointment when they recall his choice of suicide.
  • I saved some bags of chocolate silver coins (Hanukkah gelt) to remind us of the 30 pieces of silver. I kept them in a prominent place. They won’t be eaten until Easter, but the “coins” will be on display during Holy Week.

Tenebrae

The Latin word Tenebrae means ‘darkness.’ Tenebrae is the ancient prayers in the Church which takes place during the evening, or at darkness on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Holy Week. There are candles that are snuffed one at a time during the prayers. For families with young children one could adapt the Tenebrae to be done with the Stations of the Cross. This would help retain the symbolism of Christ our Light.

Housecleaning and Other Preparations:

Spring cleaning at this time of year is a tradition that springs from the Jewish preparation of the Pasch, according to Father Weiser. Tablecloths and napkins are ironed and ready for Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday.

In the Kitchen:

  • Bake some Judases.
  • Mix the Pascha (sweet cheese mold) on Monday or Tuesday so it can drain and get firm. I purchased some molds from Amazon and had more success in drainage.
  • Make (or purchase) a butter lamb.
  • On Wednesday bake Paschka (Ukrainian bread). (I’m probably skipping this year since the stores are lacking yeast.) I purchased a ready-made Columba Pasquale (Easter Dove).

Decorating and Craft Ideas:

This part of the week can be dedicated to preparing. The children can be more involved in helping decorate. As I mentioned earlier, the children can recreate scenes out of materials.

The Empty Tomb:
There are numerous examples of crafting an Empty Tomb. The older children might want to research how to recreate an accurate Jewish tomb from the time period.

Resurrection Eggs:

Inspired by a book called Benjamin’s Box, creating Resurrection Eggs is another way to follow the events of Holy Week through tangible ways.

Holy Thursday:

Liturgical Color of the Priest Vestments: White

We recall today the Last Supper of Jesus with his Apostles. This was the institution of the Eucharist and also of Holy Orders. The other events of Jesus during this day included being betrayed and arrested.

Unique Parts of the Liturgy:

  • Read or listen online at USCCB: Chrism Mass and Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
  • Chrism Mass in the morning at the Cathedral—Either on the morning of Holy Thursday or earlier in the week, each parish of a diocese is represented at this Mass where the chrism oil for the sacraments is blessed and distributed. Both this Mass and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper honor the Sacrament of Holy Orders, with each priest recalling their ordination.
  • Mass of the Lord’s Supper—In each parish there can only be one Mass in the evening of Holy Thursday.
    • The Gloria is sung, and bells are rung during the singing. After that, there is no more bells or Gloria until the Easter Vigil.
    • Washing of the Feet is an option during Mass, but it is suspended during this quarantine time.
    • After Mass there is no final closing prayer, but the Blessed Sacrament is transferred to the Altar of Repose.
    • The song for the procession is Pange Lingua. My sons often practice it beforehand, as it is one of their favorites.
  • There is a tradition of visiting Seven Churches.
    • The Roman tradition for the Seven Churches is enter the church, visit the altar of repose, kneel, make the sign of the cross, read the appropriate scripture reading for each ”station,” ending with five Our Fathers, five Hail Marys and five Glory Bes. After a few minutes in private prayer and adoration to Jesus in repose, move on to the next church. The seventh church will end the pilgrimage with a holy hour, to ask for preparation during this Sacred Triduum.
    • This Holy Thursday pilgrimage reflects the seven stops or “stations” during the night of Jesus’ arrest:
      1. Jesus in the Garden in Gethsemane where He was arrested (Luke 22: 39-46)
      2. Jesus taken before Annas (John 18: 19-22)
      3. Jesus bound and taken before Caiaphas, the High Priest (Matthew 26: 63-65)
      4. Jesus taken before Pilate, the Roman governor (John 18: 35-37)
      5. Jesus goes before Herod (Luke 23: 8-9, 11)
      6. Jesus returns to Pilate (Matthew 27: 22-26)
      7. Jesus is scourged, crowned with thorns and led to His crucifixion (Matthew 27: 27-31 or John 19: 1-16)
    • This is a printable prayer guide that could be used for the Seven Churches.
  • After a short time keeping our Lord company, the day is ended. Our moods have shifted from the joyous celebration of the feast, to remembering Christ in prison, in front of the Sanhedrin, and by early morning in front of Pilate.

Last Supper Meal:

We do not have a seder meal, but we do have a meal that is in imitation of Jesus at the Last Supper. Our meal incorporates some symbolic foods similar to Jesus’ time. This is a high feast, so the tablecloth and napkins are white and we use our fine china, silver and wine glasses (adults’ filled with wine, the boys’ glasses with grape juice).

  • Exodus 12:1-20 (which is read at Mass) is read at dinner.
  • We then wash each other’s feet, reading the Gospel of John 13:1-17. We do this in imitation of Christ, showing Christian charity to our closest family members. See Mandatum: Love One Another for more details.

I like to set each place setting with a small bunch of flowers (grape hyacinth if they are in bloom), roll or matzo and small bunch of grapes. That visual reminder of the elements of the Eucharist has impressed my sons over the years.

  • Our menu, which doesn’t vary too much from year to year:
    • Roast beef (we don’t like the taste of lamb, so this is our substitute)
    • Mashed potatoes
    • Spinach (bitter herbs)
    • Celery (bitter herbs)
    • Applesauce (originally inspired by haroses, which was to remember the brick and mortar in Egypt). We keep ours plain.
    • Bread (we have used both leavened and unleavened) A small roll at each place, and unleavened bread or matzos to share.
    • Small bunch of grapes at each serving
    • Wine and Grape juice
    • Dessert (since this is a feast)
  • In the Kitchen: Besides preparing tonight’s early celebratory meal, the Hot Cross Buns for Good Friday need to be prepared. (Note: there are nine versions of recipes on CatholicCulture.org alone. Even with all those choices, our family needs a recipe that is wheat and dairy free.)

As an option, the family can plan a Last Supper Reenactment with this booklet. It is written that children can do the planning and execution.

Good Friday:

Liturgical Color of the Priest Vestments: Red

We recall today the Passion and Death of Jesus, including the Scourging, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, the Crucifixion and Death. His body was removed from the Cross and placed in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea.

Liturgical Preparation:

  • In the afternoon we usually attend the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. Before the liturgy we discuss how this is not a Mass, and this is the only day of the Church year that does not celebrate Mass.

  • There are three sections to the Liturgy:
    • The Liturgy of the Word which includes the Solemn Intercessions (which has the “Let us Kneel—Let us Stand”);
      • And there will be a new Intercession “For the afflicted in time of pandemic.”
    • The Adoration of the Holy Cross;
    • and Holy Communion.
  • Readings:
    • The final Suffering Servant Song is read, Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (His innocent suffering will bring justice and blot out their offenses.)
    • The Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 31, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Again, these are the words said by Jesus on the cross, and so we ask if they recognize the words.
    • The Passion is according to St. John.
  • Music:
    • Our sons look forward to the hymns sung today, and remember that there is no accompaniment for the music.
      • O Sacred Head Surrounded
      • Were You There?
      • What Wondrous Love Is This?
      • Adoramus Te Christe
      • Stabat Mater
      • The Reproaches

Family Activities and Prayers:

  • The house is quiet. This day has a somber mood. Technology is “unplugged.”
  • We do not strictly observe the Three Hours (from 12-3), but we remind our sons that at this time Jesus would be hanging and dying at this time and we should have a prayerful attitude. There may be some recorded or live Seven Last Words that we will “attend.”
  • During the day, we will pray the Stations of the Cross, the rosary, and begin the Divine Mercy Novena.

In the Kitchen:

  • Boil the Easter eggs for decorating.
  • If Hot Cross Buns weren’t made the night before, they would be made today.

Holy Saturday:

Liturgical Color of the Priest Vestments: White

We recall Jesus’ body in the tomb, with the stone rolled in the entrance and Roman soldiers guarding. His apostles and friends are grieving. Early before sunrise, the stone rolled back and Jesus rose from the dead. The Light of the World returns, conquering death and sin forever.

Liturgical Preparation:

  • Read or listen online at USCCB.
  • Most of the day is looking forward to the Easter Vigil. It is usually at 8:30 pm for our parish. We discuss the Easter Vigil, particularly the Exsultet and the Liturgy of the Light. We discuss the Old Testament readings, including the Creation accounts, Abraham and Isaac, and Exodus.
  • We also discuss Baptism—the new catechumens who will be baptized, and recalling our baptism. The candles and renewing our baptismal promises bring us deeper into this beautiful feast.
  • We usually watch the televised Mass with the Pope at the Vatican for his Easter Vigil, which is six hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time.
  • There is usually an Easter Basket Blessing early in the morning at church. We try to include our wine and breads, eggs, and a few pysanky for the blessing.

Family Activities and Prayers:

  • Make a home Paschal Candle, either from scratch or a Paschal Candle for the Home 2021.
  • If you cannot make the Easter Vigil or Easter Mass, try to have a small candle for every member of the family to light from the Home Paschal candle when you attend Mass, either for the Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday. The Hispanic section in most grocery stores has glass candles, tall and short. I purchased four short candles to hold during the Easter Vigil, and a tall one to decorate for our Paschal Candle.
  • Changing of seasonal decorations: Lenten colors are replaced with white or festive tablecloths. Colorful pysanky decorate the table. There is an Alleluia on the mantle, and the crown of thorns becomes an Easter victory crown with lilies and butterflies. Peacock feathers and Easter lilies further symbolize that Jesus is risen!
  • Before going to bed after the Easter Vigil, my husband and I hide the Easter baskets and remove Jesus from the tomb and roll back the stone.

In the Kitchen:

  • Bake Easter Lamb cake. I bake two, one Cream Cheese Pound Cake and the other one is allergy free for my son.
  • A big part of this day is decorating Easter Eggs. Using crayons, we decorate with various symbols of the Resurrection before dyeing with PAAS egg dye.
  • A wonderful tradition for younger children to do is the Empty Tomb or Resurrection Cookies, which are one of the last things to do before going to bed.

Easter Sunday:

This is the day the Lord has made, alleluia, alleluia!

Let us be glad and rejoice in it, alleluia, alleluia!

Liturgical Preparation:

  • Easter Mass
    • Read or listen online at USCCB.
    • Beginning on Easter Sunday we sing the Victimae Paschali Laudes (Easter Sequence) through the Octave which ends on Divine Mercy Sunday.
    • The Creed is omitted if the rite of Renewal of Baptismal Promises is done.
  • Our family doesn’t usually attend the second Mass on Easter morning since we up so late for the Vigil.
  • Lent is over but that does not mean our praying ends. We shift into celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus.

In the Kitchen:

Because this is the “Feast of Feasts” I will be relaxing and celebrating, which translates as minimal cooking. Our Easter dinner will be ham, mashed potatoes, asparagus, rolls, salad, and deviled eggs.

Family Activities:

My parents and five of their seven children live in the local area and most of us try to get together for Easter Sunday.

  • Easter Egg Hunt: Inspired by Florence Berger’s account, we have had the tradition of the “Alleluia Egg” for our egg hunt. Everyone brings their best decorated eggs and the most beautiful egg is chosen as the “Alleluia Egg.” The one that finds the “Alleluia Egg” wins the grand prize, with other prizes to most found, least found, etc. Awarding the prizes has become a ceremony on its own, awarding the “Golden Jacket” (in imitation of the Green Jacket of the Masters Golf Tournament) and the wooden box with the prize. All the winners for each year are listed on the box.
  • Easter Meal and Desserts shared with family.
  • Basking in the Easter Joy: In our “down” times today we will just relax and celebrate the Resurrection. We can sing Alleluia to our heart’s content!

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, mother, CGS catechist and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

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