Holy Week Preparation
This post was originally written for 2014. The links have been updated for this year.
Holy Week is one of the busiest weeks of the year for our family. Preparing for Christmas, especially when we have to plan celebrations for both sides of the family and possible travel is also busy, but it never reaches the level of planning as Holy Week. I think the main difference is that we are participating in the liturgy of the Church throughout the whole Triduum, so there is less time at home to “do” things.
My father was in the Carmelite seminary in his younger years and has always remembered being exhausted by the end of the Triduum. Every aspect is intense, with the preparation, decoration, and the liturgy. Walking with Jesus through the final hours of the Redemption is emotionally draining, too. By Easter Sunday there still wasn’t a sense of relaxation because it was part of the Triduum with much liturgical celebration. Easter Monday became the day for personal relaxation and enjoyment of the Easter glow.
I have often thought of this perspective during Holy Week. It IS intense and very full. As a mother I have to remember that I set the tone for the family. We are joining the Church to celebrate this holy time. Am I viewing it as a holy period with the outward preparations being reflections of the interior reflections and growth during this Triduum and the Feast of Feasts? Or am I allowing my list of things-to-do overtake those times that are to be thoughtful and prayerful?
Before we start the week, my husband and I discuss our plans together. He always urges me to not make it a one-woman show (which definitely won’t happen this year, being only a few months after open heart surgery) There are traditions and foods he ranks higher on the list, but he prefers having store-bought treats and a messy home and a calm mother than a frazzled, tired, grouchy mother with a sparkling and decorated house, perfectly baked goods and a family feeling completely neglected.
This is long, but it’s an overview of the whole week. Think of it as “Holy Week in the life of...”
ON OUR TO-DO LIST:
- Clothing and Personal Grooming: We plan for 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. This year we are not following the old tradition of new clothes for Easter, imitating the white garment of the newly baptized, but we will make sure everyone wears their Sunday finest and sport new haircuts.
- Easter Baskets: We do not go overboard on goodies for the baskets, but planning and purchasing all the items takes some balancing and planning.
- Grocery Shopping: I probably do more baking and cooking during the Triduum than any other time of the year. There are certain traditional recipes that we make only this time of year. Each day of Holy Week has its special significance and symbolic foods. My annual recipes are retrieved and scoured for the ingredients to make the list. Please note that I have linked to recipes within Catholic Culture, but I do use other sources for some of our recipes. I have one son with food allergies to wheat and dairy, but thankfully outgrowing eggs, and so I either tweak a recipe for the whole family, or have a special version for him.
- Music: We usually go to 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 us. Our sons really enjoy the music, and during the last two weeks in Lent they are practicing the psalms and hymns that will be sung.
- Liturgical Preparation: Our readings take a shift to focus more on the events in the life of Christ and liturgy of the Triduum during this week. We 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. And some time during the week, 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 times. Our family has adapted various recipes from various cultures, but we are not following old family recipes. It would be helpful to know how the women did all the cleaning and baking during Holy Week. I hold one theory that they did not attend all the liturgies of the Triduum, so that gave them more time in the kitchen. I have also wondered how many days in advance did they bake the Easter breads and cakes? I’m not always sure they keep for a week, so I prefer baking closer to Holy Saturday. I would love to have a baba or babushka or nonna or oma for at least a week so they could share their secrets and experience! Ideally, the house should be clean and everything baked by Good Friday, especially so we could have everything ready for the Easter Basket Blesing, 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.
- Daily Life and Those Unexpected Extras: Holy Week is set with the backdrop of “life regularly scheduled”. The daily meals in the early part of the week need to stay simple and easy.
UNFOLDING OF HOLY WEEK:
5th Sunday of Lent formerly known as Passion Sunday: The Church gives the option to cover images, and some years we have done this at home, but this year we did not.
We like to attend the Pysanky Workshop at the Ukrainian Shrine in Washington, DC, but this year we stayed home and had our own home pysanky workshop. Our whole family enjoys decorating Ukrainian eggs. We leave the pysanky supplies out during the next few weeks and work on the eggs during slower afternoons and evenings. This is our family creative time.
Palm Sunday: 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 we recall Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem...and then weep over his betrayal, passion and death. One of our sons is newly reading. He is practicing the responses during the reading of the Passion. We talk about how the Passion this Sunday will be from the Gospel of Matthew. (Every year the accounts rotate from Matthew, Mark and Luke, but always from John on Good Friday.) We bring 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 recognize the words.
- 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 meals except in rare special occasions. So this room is our art studio and where we keep our seasonal displays. Our crown of thorns stayed here during Lent, with other Lenten reminders. Now the room will have displays of the Passion scene, the Tomb of Christ, and other events. We 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 we might serve pease porridge (split pea soup with a ham bone) today. It 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.
- 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 his 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.
- 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. Besides the house, there is laundry and ironing and baking to begin. Tablecloths and napkins are ironed and ready for Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday, and the dress clothes are all prepared.
- In the Kitchen:
- Last Supper Meal: We do not have a seder meal, but we do have a meal that is in imitation of 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.
- Our menu, which does not 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) and carrots
- Applesauce (originally inspired by haroses, which was to remember the brick and mortar in Egypt)
- 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 does not 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 on Catholic Culture alone. Even with all those choices, we will try another recipe that is wheat and dairy free.)
- 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 we 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.
- 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.
- Change of decorations: White tablecloths, Psyanky, Alleluia on mantle, and crown of thorns because Easter a 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.
- In the Kitchen:
- 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 (Lamb Cake, for one).
- 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 grandchild, 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 the 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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