Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Liturgical Highlights: Holy Week and the Sacred Triduum

By Jennifer Gregory Miller ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 25, 2024 | In The Liturgical Year

The holiest week of the Year began on Palm Sunday. Lent was a busy time for us and I feel more unprepared for Holy Week than in other years. Even this post is coming out much later than I had planned. This is an adaptation of previous writings on our Holy Week traditions. It is an overview of preparation for our home and the liturgical celebration of Holy Week. The text is divided into each day of Holy Week to make it easier to navigate.

Please note, I do not accomplish everything on this list. The following is our outline of what we have done and would like to accomplish, but so many factors change each year. My sons are older, with one in college and the other in high school. Their prayer life is more private and personal, and some traditions they have outgrown.

Planning the To-Do List:

The first step is the To-Do List. The more “busy” work I get done beforehand allows me to more peacefully and prayerfully enter into the Triduum. This year things will be a bit tighter on the timeline, cramming most of my preparation and errands into Wednesday.

  • Calendar Planning: I try to make sure I have accounted for all our commitments and make our plans for Holy Week. Our college son will be home during the Triduum and returns to school on Easter Monday. My youngest son is serving all through the Triduum, and he will have some extra rehearsals to add to the calendar.
  • Liturgy and Life: What will this week look like since we will be attending liturgies during the Sacred Triduum? When is downtime? Ironing, dressing, eating…arriving early enough to get a seat…that’s an area we need to plan. When do I fit in baking and other cooking?
  • Housecleaning: This week is all about making everything tidy and neat, particularly the dining room.
  • Clothes and Shoes: We did a clothing and shoe check for our dress clothes for all the liturgical celebrations and other events.
  • Easter Baskets: I bought some candy but will need a bit more for the Easter baskets.
  • Holy Week Cuisine: Besides our regular eating habits of providing three meals a day, I need to think of snack foods for teenage sons and our special meals we have during the Triduum. I need to plan for grocery store runs, recipe retrieval, and making extra time in the kitchen. What do we need for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday? How much shopping is required? My lamb cake recipe is a must do.
  • Holy Week Reading and Listening: With some extra time for spiritual reading, particularly on Good Friday, I try to prepare some books for my sons. I have shared our past reading when my sons were younger. Now I am finding other books that they can read about the Passion of Christ, even if it’s just an excerpt.
    • past Holy Week Reading
    • Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ
    • Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection
    • Don’t miss Mike Aquilina’s podcast Mother of All Vigils, going into detail about the Easter Vigil. It’s so marvelous!!
  • Holy Week Decorations and Supplies:
    It’s time to take inventory of my tablecloths and napkins, silver, china, crystal, candles and decorations for the Triduum and Easter. Wash, iron, and polish if necessary.

It’s not always possible to have all the members of one’s family attend the liturgy of the Triduum. We follow the different seasons of life and needs of the family members. But the children do recognize how special and different this week is and really love it all.

Over the years as a catechist to 6-12 year olds, I talk about Jesus during Holy Week and how the different parts of the Triduum follow Jesus. The children get excited to attend. This is also my approach at home. All the family traditions we do during the Triduum try to bring both walking in Jesus’ steps and greater participation in the Liturgy of the Triduum.

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 center 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 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 use some bags of chocolate silver coins (Hanukkah gelt) to remind us of the 30 pieces of silver.

Tenebrae

The Latin word Tenebrae means ‘darkness.’ Tenebrae refers to 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. Silver is polished, crystal is washed, tablecloths and napkins are ironed and ready for Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday.

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. 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. Our cathedral is currently under construction, so the Chrism Mass is actually at our parish; I’m disappointed that I’m unable to attend due to other obligations.
  • 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)
    • The Arlington Diocese shared a 7 Churches Pilgrimage Prayer Guide and suggested churches for different regions of the diocese.
  • 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:

Our family does 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.)

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”);
    • 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 2024.
  • 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:

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:

  • Easter Egg Hunt: Inspired by Florence Berger’s account, we have had the tradition of the “Alleluia Egg” for our egg hunt.
  • 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!

I’ve been writing over the years about our Holy Week plans, including what we serve for Holy Thursday. I’m sharing my previous posts for further details and inspiration:

Holy Week Overviews:

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion:

Holy Thursday:

Good Friday:

Holy Saturday:

Easter:

Jennifer Gregory Miller is a wife, mother, homemaker, CGS catechist, and Montessori teacher. Specializing in living the liturgical year, or liturgical living, she is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org’s liturgical year section. See full bio.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

  • Posted by: heidimarieb9337176 - Mar. 28, 2024 7:02 AM ET USA

    Thank you! This was wonderful to read and full of many good ideas!

  • Posted by: edward.caron2084 - Mar. 27, 2024 10:23 AM ET USA

    Thanks so much for sharing your inspirational way of celebrating Holy Week!