Holy Week in the Home
By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 19, 2016 | In The Liturgical Year
Holy Week is aptly named because it is the holiest week of the Liturgical (and calendar) year. But it is also one of the busiest weeks of the year for our family, so I annually review my plans and revise according to our changing needs. There is more time spent in church due to the Triduum liturgies, so planning takes a little more precision because I am not home as much. The following is a revised version of my annual Holy Week plans.
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Every year I have to remind myself of the intensity of the Liturgy and how full our week will be. As the mother of the family, I am the one who sets the tone for the family. I have to help maintain balance, providing physical preparations that encourage interior growth and contemplation, instead of being overwhelmed by all my to-do lists during this Triduum and the Feast of Feasts. I don’t want “busyness” to overtake the spirit of the Liturgy.
In 2014 I was recovering from open heart surgery. Last year I had more energy, but this Lent I have some other physical struggles which will again limit how many extras I can accomplish. So I’m looking at prioritizing, paring down, and seeing what areas my sons can step in and do more.
This post is long, but it’s an overview of our whole week. Think of it as “Holy Week in the life of...” I’ve often wished that I could have had a grandmother who followed her cultural traditions and she would pass down her timeline of Holy Week. Since I don’t, I’ve had to try and whittle out what works best for us.
ON THE GENERAL TO-DO LIST:
- Clothing and Personal Grooming: I try to plan having dress outfits (or time to do laundry) for 4 days: Holy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper, Good Friday service, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday family celebration. Easter usually bears the tradition of new clothes for Easter, to give a reminder of the white garment at Baptism. Not all the family’s clothing will be new, but I have checked to see if suits and dress shoes still fit, shoes polished, clothes clean and ironed, socks clean and matched and all hair is trimmed. Both sons have had a growth spurt, so our family did the clothes shopping last week.
- Easter Baskets: Easter candy, books, toys...all that has to be purchased or made. I try not to wait for the last minute, especially because one son has food allergies which limit his choices.
- 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 do use other sources for some of the recipes. I have one son with food allergies to wheat and dairy which means tweaking a recipe for the whole family, or have a special 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.
- 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 during quiet time andt also bring to church during the Triduum. We also watch the televised liturgies from the Vatican during Holy Week and discuss what will take place on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. On Tuesday night we will go to Confession.
- Baking: Balancing baking in my timetable is the most difficult task, because it requires longer times at home for rising and baking. Our family has adapted various recipes from various cultures, but we are not following old family recipes. Ideally, the house should be clean and everything baked by Good Friday, especially so we could have everything ready for the Easter Basket Blessing, which is bright and early on Holy Saturday for our parish. That is my goal, but I have spread out the baking schedule to reflect our life. I’ve kept in my usual schedule, but because I can’t stand for long periods, I’m paring down and doing minimal baking this year.
- Daily Life and Those Unexpected Extras: Holy Week is set with the backdrop of “life regularly scheduled.” Family members still need to eat, the house needs daily upkeep, and laundry still needs to be tackled. Plus, I usually brace myself that someone will get sick during Holy Week. It always seems inevitable. That or appliance breakdown. I am waiting for two different repairman on Monday alone.
UNFOLDING OF HOLY WEEK:
5th Sunday of Lent formerly known as Passion Sunday: The Church gives the option to cover sacred images, and some years we have done this at home, but this year we did not.
We continue working 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.
Palm Sunday of the Passion of our Lord: Beginning the evening before the house is cleaned and decorated for Holy Week.
- Liturgical Preparation: Before Mass, we discuss the events during Holy Week. Today the Church recalls Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem...and then weep over his betrayal, passion and death. My husband and I talk about how the Passion this Sunday will be from the Gospel of Luke. (Every year the accounts rotate from Matthew, Mark and Luke, but always from John on Good Friday.) Our family brings extra books to Mass that depict the events of the Gospel reading of the Passion so the children can enter more closely. 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 the children if they heard these words elsewhere.
- Jonah Project: One of our 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: Since our dining room is carpeted, we do not use it for daily meals just special occasions. So this room is our art studio and where we keep our seasonal displays. Our crown of thorns resided here during Lent, with other Lenten reminders. Now the room will have displays of the Passion scene, the Tomb of Christ, and other events. I leave a wide margin for creativity. 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 was traditionally the 5th Sunday of Lent and known as Carling Sunday, and so peas were served on this day. The current missal combines Passion and Palm Sunday, so traditional foods are pease porridge (split pea soup with a ham bone). This is also known as Fig Sunday because the tradition is figs were eaten after the entry, and tied in with Matthew recording Christ cursing the Fig Tree shortly after his entry into Jerusalem.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week:
- Liturgical Preparation: 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.)
We discuss how the Gospels focus on Judas, first the anointing of the Jesus’ feet at Bethany by Mary, where Judas objects that the ointment should 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.
Around Christmas time I nabbed some bags of chocolate silver coins (Hanukah gelt) from Aldi to use to remind us of the 30 pieces of silver. I kept them in a prominent place (instead of that special hiding place) so I wouldn’t forget to bring them They won’t be eaten until Easter, but the “coins” will be on display during Holy Week..
- 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. We will clean our house, but not intense spring cleaning. Tablecloths and napkins are ironed and ready for Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday, and the dress clothes are all prepared.
- In the Kitchen:
- Mix the Pascha (sweet cheese mold) on Monday or Tuesday so it can drain and get firm.
- Make (or purchase) a butter lamb.
- On Wednesday
bake Paschka (Ukrainian bread). (I’m probably skipping this year.)
- 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 and 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 beefFlank Steak (we don’t like the taste of lamb, so this is our substitute)
- Mashed potatoes
- Spinach (bitter herbs)
- Celery (bitter herbs) and carrots
- 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)
- Our menu, which doesn’t vary too much from year to year:
- 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. And this year I won’t be making any Hot Cross Buns.)
- Liturgical Preparation: We attend Mass of the Lord’s Supper as a family in the evening. Our parish is rather large, so we need to arrive early. Again, we bring certain picture books so that the children can be less distracted and think about the events in the life of Christ and help our children walk in Jesus’ steps. This Mass is in commemoration of the Last Supper, which celebrated both the institution of the Eucharist and also the priesthood. As part of that celebration, the vestments are white, the Gloria is sung, and all bells are rung for the last time until the Easter Vigil. At the end of Mass is the transfer of the Blessed Sacrament into the Altar of Repose. All week my sons have sung the Pange Lingua in preparation for this moment. After a short time keeping our Lord company, we go home. 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.
Good Friday: This day has a somber mood. Technology is “unplugged.”
- Liturgical Preparation: In the afternoon we 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 parts: The Liturgy of the Word which includes the Solemn Intercessions (which has the “Let us Kneel—Let us Stand” that they enjoy); the Adoration of the Holy Cross; and Holy Communion. The final Suffering Servant Song is read, and the Passion according to St. John is the Gospel. We bring our books again to church for quiet contemplation. 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.
Our sons look forward to the hymns sung today, and remember that there is no accompaniment for the music.
We do not strictly observe the Three Hours (from 12-3), but we remind the boys that at this time Jesus would be hanging and dying at this time and we should have a prayerful attitude.
- Family Prayers: During the day, we will pray the Stations of the Cross, the rosary, and begin Divine Mercy Novena.
- In the Kitchen:
- Boil the Easter eggs for decorating.
Bake German Easter Sweet Bread. Purchase Italian Easter bread.
- Liturgical Preparation: Most of the day is looking forward to the Easter Vigil at 8:30 pm. We discuss the Easter Vigil, particularly the Exultet 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 watch the televised Mass with the Pope at the Vatican as we dress for the Vigil. Again, we bring several books to help the children not be distracted, particularly when we have to arrive so early. It takes so much for all of us to not sing the “Alleluia” before the Vigil. It is difficult to have wiggly children at long liturgies, but there is so much for the senses that is different for that night that we agree it’s worth the sacrifice.
- Easter Basket Blessing early in the morning. We try to include our wine and breads and a few pysanky for the blessing.
- Make a home Paschal Candle, either from scratch or a Quick Paschal Candle for 2016.
- Change of decorations: White tablecloths, Psyanky, Alleluia on mantle, and crown of thorns becomes an Easter victory crown with lilies and butterflies.
- 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 two Easter Lamb cakes (one allergy free).
- A big part of this day is decorating Easter Eggs. Using crayons, we decorate with various symbols of the Resurrection before dyeing.
- Liturgical Preparation: Our family doesn’t usually attend the second Mass on Easter morning. We begin the Fifty Days of Rejoicing by incorporating Easter prayers for our meal blessings, pray the Regina Caeli, sing Easter hymns, and pray the Stations of Light. For the octave we sing the Victimae Paschali Laudes (Easter Sequence).
- In the Kitchen: Because this is the “Feast of Feasts” I will be in the kitchen minimally, only doing the finishing touches on foods to bring for the family meal (this year will be the Lamb Cake, veggie and fruit tray, maybe 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 becomes 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 Dinner: We don’t have a set menu, and the main dish has changed over years, from Leg of Lamb or roast beef, or steak or ham. The most important part is sharing the meal together as a family.
- Foot Washing: Before there were so many grandchildren (there are 31 and counting), we use to get together for both Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday. My mother decided to move the feet washing to Easter Sunday when we are all gathered as a sign of our charity for each other.
- 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!
This is our general overview of my family’s Holy Week. Every year has a similar pattern, but there are always changes and omissions. God is in control, so there might be an unexpected illness, or unplanned errand or activity which means prioritizing plans and eliminating extras. Our first priority is remembering we are joining the Church to celebrate this Sacred Triduum. Even without the special baked goods we will still enter the liturgy. We will still celebrate Christ’s resurrection even if the white tablecloth is not ironed and the Alleluia is not placed on the mantle. And so as we enter into Holy Week we pray for clarity and balance and patience, and ask to accompany Mary during these Paschal mysteries.
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