The day before Palm Sunday, a few years back, I was in the confessional feeling the weight of my sins and just exhausted from the demands of young motherhood with three little ones under the age of five. I think the priest could hear the weariness in my voice, because he reminded me, “The Resurrection is almost here. During the next week, you get to walk with Our Lord to Easter. You’re in Jesus Time. Don’t give up.”
I’ve thought about this description of Holy Week many times since. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, we get to walk alongside Jesus through death to new life. During the Triduum (Holy Thursday evening through Easter Sunday) we have a special opportunity in the liturgical year to journey in real time through the events of the Passion and Resurrection, or, as the priest in the confessional called it, “Jesus Time.” So how do we remind ourselves of this reality? What can we do in the family, the domestic Church, to participate in this grand adventure? I want to offer a few simple ideas.
As a parent, I’m often reminded of the importance of offering my children a “hands-on” experience to help them understand the truths of the faith. But adults are also sensory beings! This is one of many reasons why our liturgies offer incense to smell and to watch curling in the air, opportunities to kneel and make the sign of the cross with our bodies, and other participation of our five senses. Whether as families or as single people, by engaging our senses with music, food, and traditions as a household in preparation for Easter, we can allow our experience of Holy Week to saturate our home life.
While the beautiful liturgies of the Triduum don’t begin until later in the week, we can spend the beginning of Holy Week doing practical preparation like cleaning up our houses and meal planning for the special days ahead, as Catholic families have surely done for centuries. While undertaking this domestic labor, what about filling our home with music that turns our hearts toward the spiritual reality of this holy season? As a child, my mother always played Handel’s Messiah, which tells the story of God’s love for humanity from Old Testament readings and prophecy to the Annunciation and all the way to the Resurrection. Other beautiful options are Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, or the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles’ album Lent at Ephesus.
The evening Mass of Holy Thursday begins the Paschal Triduum and a series of gorgeous liturgies leading to Easter. In addition to participating in the Mass, which highlights the Last Supper as the first Eucharistic meal and the mandate given to the disciples (and therefore to the whole Church) to love one another, there is a tradition, possibly begun by St. Philip Neri, of visiting seven churches to pray and meditate on what happened to Jesus between the Last Supper and the crowning with thorns. The Seven Churches Visitation would be overly ambitious for my children to attempt after Mass on Thursday night, but we may visit churches for prayer during the day on Holy Thursday or the morning of Good Friday.
On Good Friday, the Church fasts, prays, and mourns the death of Our Lord. Fasting as a family (with adjustments for babies, toddlers, pregnant or nursing mothers, and those who are ill) and praying the Stations of the Cross can point us toward the Passion throughout the day. Holy Saturday, the day of awful silence while Christ is in the tomb, can be difficult to keep quiet if, like me, you live in a full and noisy house. On this day, Easter hasn’t yet arrived, but we are inching closer! It can be helpful to do quiet activities with young children, like completing coloring pages or dyeing eggs for the next day. We try to fast from most screen-time activities, but our family tradition is to watch The Gospel of John if we need to fill some time in a way that prepares our family for the Easter Vigil. (Note for parents, there is a crucifixion scene, but it is not as graphic as The Passion of the Christ.)
Once Easter Mass is over (whether the Vigil late on Saturday or on Sunday morning), family celebrations begin! The grief of the tomb is past and the joy of the Resurrection has arrived. Whether baskets of chocolate, egg hunts, or, as in my household, the ancient and very traditional funfetti cake in the shape of a bunny’s face, there is no more joyous day in the Christian year.
But what’s more important than the details of your household traditions is simply the intention of orienting your hearts toward God in this holy season. If the music we listen to, the food we prepare, the prayers we offer, and the space we create in our homes during the Triduum awaken our imaginations to picture what Our Lord was suffering and how Our Lady and the disciples watched and waited for Easter morning, then those traditions have served their purpose. Without stressing over a Holy Week checklist, remember that this time is a gift from the Church, and rest in the beauty of the Triduum. After all, it is Jesus Time. Though our weary hearts may be particularly heavy after a year of great sorrows, the Resurrection morning is near. The Risen Lord can and will make all things new. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.