Well, you’ve done it. You AND your children have, somehow, against all odds, survived through to these last few days of Lent. Though for a while there, it looked like you might succumb to acute lack of coffee / Netflix / Facebook, you’ve made it. And now you need to figure out how to make Holy Week solemn, meaningful, and memorable for your kids. Without a whole lot of effort or advance planning on your part.
So what exactly does Holy Week look like in a faithful Catholic home? Hah! That’s a trick question. There’s no one way to be Catholic, and there’s no one way to do Holy Week. But I WILL tell you what WE usually do and that I haven’t started any of it yet and that it’s worked for us in the past. If I can do it, you can do it!
And . . . as always, please remember that you do not have to do all these things! I am a big supporter of baby steps when it comes to beginning liturgical living in the home, and doing what works for your family. I’ll include links to some Catholic All Year products, in case that’s helpful. But if you haven’t set aside a budget for Holy Week that’s okay too. When I started doing all this stuff with my family fifteen years ago I put everything we used together myself, mostly using things I had around the house.
Monday of Holy Week
Clean the House Part I: Clean out the toys. This is a great time for a BIG toy purge. We did a our first big playroom toy clean out a few years ago, and it was a HUGE blessing in less mess, less cleaning, less yelling, and more family interaction. I can’t recommend it enough.
We use the first three days of Holy Week to do our biggest house cleaning and stuff purging of the year. People talk about “Spring Cleaning”. That’s too open-ended for me. I need more of a “these are the only three days of the year you could possibly do this and it’s for JESUS” feel to make it happen. You can get a holy week cleaning checklist for free to print at home here.
On Monday we clean the living spaces, and specifically clean out toys, desks, and craft supplies. This is a great time for a BIG toy purge. Since I am not naturally a very tidy and organized person, I have found that the BEST thing I can do towards keeping the house clean is to regularly get rid of half of our toys and craft supplies and even books. I just keep the stuff I actually like. It’s revolutionary, I’m telling you. Fewer toys in my house means less mess, less cleaning, less yelling, and more family interaction. I can’t recommend it enough.
I’ll also finish up our Easter baskets. I’m focusing this year on practical, lovely things that won’t fill our house back up with junk. Each child is getting a new pair of shoes, a new swimsuit, a couple religious or outside toys or books, and some candy.
Monday is the day that St. Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with nard perfume. We have this little Catholic All Year bottle of actual nard perfume, which allows us to smell the same smell that Jesus did on this day. I think that’s SO cool.
Try It! Tidy a couple rooms of the house. Because it’s tradition. Buy candy and toys for Easter baskets.
Tuesday of Holy Week
Clean the House Part II: On Tuesday the cleaning continues with sleeping spaces. We tidy up upstairs desks and bedside tables and clean out the closets. The method that works best for us is to pull ALL the clothes out of each closet, and only put back in a reasonable amount. Draws that close easily and some wiggle room between hangers makes it much easier for kids to keep their closets tidy.
We do laundry nearly every day, and we have much, much more in the closets than we actually use in a week. It’s time to pass it along to people who could actually use it. AND make our closets a little more manageable. Also, if stained / ripped / cartoon-character-adorned shirts aren’t in their closets, they can’t wear them, which is a plus in my book.
I’ll also finalize the guest list for our Good Friday Fish Fry and Easter Sunday Dinner, and make up my shopping lists for the food we’ll need for the rest of the week.
Then the fun starts on Spy Wednesday, but not until . . .
Clean the House Part III: On Wednesday we will tidy eating spaces. The kitchen will get cleaned including inside the drawers and refrigerator. We’ll also organize the dining room shelves.
It’s called “Spy” Wednesday because it is the day that Judas *sneakily* betrayed Jesus, selling the information of when he would be in a place where he could be conveniently arrested to the high priest for thirty pieces of silver.
We’ll read the story in the Bible. (Matthew 26:1-16)
And I’ll hide thirty pieces of silver (we use quarters or chocolate coins) in one area of the house for the kids to find.
We started doing this a few years ago and it’s always an interesting social experiment. My (somewhat) kind and pleasant kids have been known to turn into a bunch of Judases themselves. They’ve pushed past each other, grabbed quarters that other kids had spotted first but couldn’t reach, and babies have been knocked over. All over 30 pieces of silver.
These days, they kind of know what to expect, so it’s not quite so dramatic, but still fun. And they know that they’ll allow themselves to be convinced to donate the quarters to the poor box and maybe even to save the chocolate to eat on Easter.
For more info, and more photos, see this post.
Wednesday evening is the first night of the very cool and very unique Tenebrae service, done only Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of Holy Week. We do an at home version with this very cool Tenebrae Hearse Candelabra. But you can also use any 15 candles you’ve got in a drawer someplace. Get a free printable version of a modified at-home version here.
Try It! Finish tidying the house. Do your grocery shopping for the rest of the week. Read the story of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus from the Bible to your kids. (Matthew 26:1-16)
Hopefully the three day manic housecleaning was successful, because now things get pretty busy. We do a modified Seven Churches Visitation. This is a Catholic tradition that began with St. Alphonsus Liguori in Italy in the 18th century. After the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the Eucharist is not again consecrated until the Easter vigil. The hosts consecrated at this Mass are removed from the church and placed in what’s called an “altar of repose” in a location outside the church. In order to emulate the disciples who followed behind Jesus as he went from place to place after the last supper on Thursday, St. Alphonsus, with his friends, would visit the altars of repose at the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, on foot, after the Mass of the Last Supper.
That sounds really amazing.
But also not very practical for where I live in Los Angeles and my current state of life which includes many small children. So, I remember the advice of my late grandfather who used to say “better is the enemy of good enough” and we do it during the day, in the car. Perhaps someday I’ll do it at night, on foot, in silence. But so far, doing it during the day in a car full of noisy little kids has been great.
Then, we come home and prepare our Last Supper Dinner. For dinner, we’ll approximate what Jesus and the disciples ate and have lamb chops, a bitter herb salad, flat bread, applesauce, and knishes. See here for the recipes.
On Holy Thursday we commemorate something happy (the Institution of the Eucharist) along with the sad (Jesus’ agony and arrest). So in addition to our bitter herbs, of which the kids must have a little, we also have a Rice Crispy Lamb Cake.
I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of that part, but it’s fun and tasty.
In whatever order works with the Mass schedules, we’ll also attend a Holy Thursday Mass and do a family foot-washing extravaganza. We draw names and everyone washes and gets washed. We’ll do the at home Tenebrae service again.
If we can find the time we’ll also watch The Prince of Egypt. It covers the ten plagues and the Passover, so it’s especially appropriate for the day. It is a really wonderful movie, it’s available here streaming.
Posts to check out:
Good Friday is meant to be a day of fasting and of solemn reflection. My kids aren’t very good at that. And, frankly, neither am I. But we do our best.
In the late morning we usually walk to our local parish, visit the empty Adoration Chapel and venerate the cross either at church or at home. See this video for how we do it.
We have a fasting “collation” lunch and read aloud from the Bible the story of the Passion, Crucifixion, and Death of Our Lord. One version is Matthew 27:11-66.
During nap time, I’ll give the older kids a quiet craft or project, like Stations of the Cross coloring pages.
After naps, in order to encourage quiet, I often put on a movie for the kids, called “The Miracle Maker – The Story of Jesus”. Available for streaming here. It’s a claymation style and is pretty great. VeggieTales Jonah and the Whale is another option since Jonah, in the whale for three days, is an archetype for Jesus in the tomb for three days. And hey, you’d get to teach your kids the word “archetype”. They’ll be so impressed.
For dinner, we always invite friends over for a simple Lenten Catfish Fry in honor of my mom’s southern heritage, and we do the Stations of the Cross, and the Tenebrae service.
Try it! Fast. Read the story of the crucifixion. (Matthew 27:11-66) Spend the hours of noon-3pm in prayer or doing quiet activities like Stations of the Cross coloring pages. Consider doing the Stations of the Cross at home with this booklet.
Post to check out:
Next up is Holy Saturday . . . a day of silence and waiting.
Here are a few things we don’t do:
- We don’t attend Easter Egg Hunts
- We don’t attend early Easter brunches
- We don’t abandon our Lenten disciplines
- Or otherwise pretend that it’s already Easter when Jesus’ body is still in the tomb
Here’s what we do:
- We dye our Easter Eggs
- We take down all our Lent decorations
- We decorate for Easter
- We begin preparations for Easter dinner.
We do preparation things, but not celebration things.
If we have some extra time, we’ll get out of the house for a hike or a walk to keep the house from getting messed-up again. Which is a real problem around here since everyone keeps eating and wearing clothes even though I JUST cleaned all that stuff.
A grownup will take just the big kids to the Vigil Mass, which is always a big deal for them, especially since it means getting to break their Lenten fast of treats many hours before their sleeping brothers and sisters. And the beauty and majesty of the Easter Vigil and all that . . . but also . . . treats early.
The Easter Bunny comes and fills the Easter Baskets and changes our Lenten Sacrifice Beans into Jelly Beans.
Try it! Don’t attend any Easter Egg Hunts. Dye Eggs. Remove Lent decorations. Decorate for Easter. Begin preparing for Easter dinner. Watch The Robe .
And then it’s Easter Sunday! And there is much rejoicing!
We really hit those alleluias, since it’s been a while.
We find that our Lenten Sacrifice Beans have been turned to jelly beans. We have our baskets and an Easter Egg Hunt, and get all dressed up to go to Mass as a family and have a big lovely Ham Dinner.
And I’m going to be having a couple Dr. Peppers. At least.
So that’s what we do. As I always have to say at the end of these things: it sounds like a lot. I know. But somehow it’s been manageable for us over many years and my kids really enjoy and benefit from these traditions. Even in the midst of Holy Week sacrifices, Holy Week traditions are something we all look forward to. If you’re just getting started, I recommend starting small, with a few things that sounded cool and/or doable for your family.
If you want stuff like this for the whole year, check out my books from Ignatius Press, The Catholic All Year Compendium and The Catholic All Year Prayer Companion. Ignatius Press also has many other lovely books for children and adults that would fit just right in Easter baskets, so check those out.
You can do this! Catholic All Year is here to help.
What will you be doing for Holy Week?