While Easter — with its egg hunts and candy- filled baskets – is a logical representation of Christ’s Resurrection, the solemn meaning of Holy Week can be more difficult for children to grasp.
Still, the solemnity of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the days leading up to the glory of Easter provide important lessons for Catholic families.
Catholic schoolchildren have an advantage, of course, because they learn about Holy Week and Lent in their classrooms. But parents can use a
number of books, lesson plans and other resources – many of them available online for little to no cost – to help children of all ages understand Holy Week.
It helps if parents and their children began Lent with confessions and participation in Ash Wednesday ceremonies, so that lessons of the 40-day period have a clear beginning.
When I was in Catholic school, we attended Stations of the Cross each Friday. Today’s families can virtually attend the service through various phone and computer apps. The repetition of prayers and chanting, as well as the bite-sized stories at each of the 14 stations, provide a Lenten road map.
Each day during Holy Week offers worship opportunities for families including services only offered on those days – the year’s longest service and distribution of palms on Palm Sunday; the Chrism Mass is traditionally celebrated on Holy Thursday morning but will be celebrated in the Diocese of Orange on April 11 (Holy Monday); the celebration of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday.
Attending these offers opportunities for parents to teach children about Lent and Holy Week, and also the chance to model prayerful worship in church. I remember many Lenten services when I was challenged to keep my three children attentive and quiet.
There are other ways parents can make the lessons of Holy Week come alive. Family prayers can focus on readings from the Gospel about Jesus’s passion. Quiet time and meditation can include drawings of Lenten stories.
Activities available at cathfamily.org bring meaning to the triumphant procession of Jesus on Palm Sunday, the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, and the Last Supper on Good Friday.
Some examples include:
– Palm Sunday: Making palm wreaths or crosses, or if palms aren’t available, using fingerpaints to make green wreaths from little handprints. Both are symbols of the community’s welcome to Jesus on Palm Sunday.
– Holy Thursday: Using Scripture as a guide, reverently wash each other’s feet. Make unleavened bread using an easy-to-follow recipe included on the site.
– Good Friday: Create a cross from sticks and twine or nails and wire and reflect on how each person carries a cross that is unique. Ask each person to think about their sin and nail it to a simple wooden cross.
– Holy Saturday: As the world waits in darkness, eat the family dinner by candlelight and drape the family crucifixes with sashes.
Of course, the best time of Holy Week is the celebration of Easter Sunday. When I was growing up, that was the day we dressed in our finest clothes and had someone take our annual family picture. We attended morning Mass and I was allowed to eat candy from my Easter basket in the morning. Often our extended family joined us for an afternoon barbecue.
However you celebrate, make Holy Week memorable and instill lasting lessons in your children’s hearts.