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A Family Guide to Holy Week

The liturgies of the Church throughout Holy Week are the pre-eminent way to remember the passion of Christ and grow closer to Christ. They are the heart and soul of the week’s spiritual experience. Here are some ways to enhance them by preparing for them
by Editors | Source:

The liturgies of the Church throughout Holy Week are the pre-eminent way to remember the passion of Christ and grow closer to Christ. They are the heart and soul of the week’s spiritual experience. Here are some ways to enhance them by preparing for them also at home.

Palm Sunday

“Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, or ‘Passion Sunday,’ which unites the royal splendor of Christ with the proclamation of his passion,” says the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (No. 138). “Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in his paschal victory.”

One nice custom is to weave those palms into a basket. On Easter Sunday it will hold painted eggs for your table’s centerpiece.


Dating from the fifth century, tenebrae is Latin word for darkness.

The church service consists of three sets of verses from the Lamentations of Jeremiah chanted on each of three nights of Holy Week; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. At the outset, 15 candles are lit on a candelabrum. After each of the readings, a candle is extinguished to represent the darkness of the tomb.

You can adapt the Stations of the Cross to this ancient service, extinguishing a candle at each station with your children at home.

Find a list of the readings and materials needed at

Holy Thursday

Lent ends officially with the beginning of the “Easter Triduum” at the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

Some like to have a special dinner to ease the transition to the fast and abstinence of Good Friday, a sort of modified Passover dinner: lamb, rice pilaf, a raw vegetable plate, matzo bread and haroset salad (9 tart apples, peeled and chopped, 3/4 cup chopped walnuts. 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 3 tablespoons honey, 1/3 cup sweet red wine. Mix well, serves six).

Appropriate psalms for the occasion: Psalm 113, 114, 118.

Two things are important to note: This should be considered a way of introducing one’s family to the customs of Jesus’ time in a very general way, not as a Seder meal per se, since the Seder meal is an important and sacred Jewish ritual that we should not make light of. Second, in the Catholic Church, such a meal should not interfere with our availability for Holy Thursday Mass, which is far more important.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament — available until midnight in many churches — is the best way to end Holy Thursday. “Because of a long historical process, whose origins are not entirely clear,” says the Directory of Popular Piety (No. 141), “the place of repose has traditionally been referred to as ‘a holy sepulcher.’ The faithful go there to venerate Jesus who was placed in a tomb following the crucifixion and in which he remained for some 40 hours.”

Good Friday

The “Easter Fast” that many begin after Holy Thursday Mass is obligatory on Good Friday.

Regulations for Fast and Abstinence: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of both fast and abstinence from meat. Fast binds all over the age of 18 and under the age of 59. On days of fast, one full meal is allowed. Two other meals sufficient to maintain strength may be taken according to each one’s needs, but together they should not equal another full meal. Eating in between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and juices, are allowed. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige.

The making and eating of hot cross buns on this day of mourning is a very old tradition, dating from before 1225. The superstitions surrounding the practice aren’t helpful (like the one that causes some people to save one hot cross bun on their mantelpiece for a year’s worth of good baking), but there are some very nice legends and stories to share on this day.

Among them is the legend of the dogwood tree: At the time of the crucifixion, the dogwood was comparable in size to the oak tree. Because of its firmness and strength it was selected for the cross. The crucified Jesus in his gentle pity for the sorrow and suffering of all, said to it, “Because of your sorrow and pity for my sufferings, never again will the dogwood tree grow large enough to be used as a cross. Henceforth it will be slender, bent and twisted, and its blossoms will be in the form of a cross, two long and two short petals. In the center of the outer edge of each petal there will be nail prints, brown with rust and stained with red, and in the center of the flower will be a crown of thorns, and all who see this will remember.”

Mass isn’t offered on Good Friday; but a Communion service and veneration of the cross is. When possible, Catholics take a break from work between the hours of noon and 3 p.m., the time Christ spent on the cross. This is also prime time to participate in the Stations of the Cross. (The Divine Mercy Novena also begins; see sidebar on this page.)

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is an empty time of waiting. No Mass is offered, not even a Communion service as on Good Friday. It isn’t an official fasting day, but many Catholics eat modestly this day as we wait to celebrate the Resurrection.

The Office of Readings offers an ancient homily called “The Lord Descends into Hell” this day. Here is an excerpt:

“Something strange is happening — there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

“He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ Christ answered him: ‘And with your spirit.’ He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’“

It’s a lovely way to prepare for Easter … the greatest feast of the Church, which we’ll write about next week.

— Register staff

Divine Mercy Novena Starts Good Friday

The message of divine mercy that St. Faustina Kowalska announced to the world has been given a great deal of honor by the Church. Pope John Paul II canonized the Polish nun and named the Sunday after Easter “Mercy Sunday.”

An important aspect of St. Faustina’s Mercy was the Divine Mercy Novena, which begins nine days before Easter Sunday — Good Friday.

In apparitions she experienced, she reported Jesus asking: “On each day of the novena you will bring to my heart a different group of souls and you will immerse them in this ocean of my mercy ... On each day you will beg my Father, on the strength of my passion, for the graces for these souls.”

Here are the first three days’ intentions. To find the rest, visit Click “Devotions” and “Novenas” under the “Faith” icon.

First Day “Today bring to me all mankind, especially all sinners, and immerse them in the ocean of my mercy. In this way you will console me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges me.

Most merciful Jesus, whose very nature it is to have compassion on us and to forgive us, do not look upon our sins but upon our trust which we place in your infinite goodness. Receive us all into the abode of your most compassionate heart, and never let us escape from it. We beg this of you by your love which unites you to the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Eternal Father, turn your merciful gaze upon all mankind and especially upon poor sinners, all enfolded in the most compassionate heart of Jesus. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, show us your mercy, so we may praise the omnipotence of your mercy for ever and ever. Amen.

Second Day “Today bring to me the souls of priests and religious, and immerse them in my unfathomable mercy. It was they who gave me strength to endure my bitter passion. Through them as through channels my mercy flows out upon mankind.

Most merciful Jesus, from whom comes all that is good, increase your grace in men and women consecrated to your service, so they may perform worthy works of mercy; and that all who see them may glorify the Father of mercy who is in heaven.

Eternal Father, turn your merciful gaze upon the company of chosen ones in your vineyard — upon the souls of priests and religious; and endow them with the strength of your blessing. For the love of the heart of your son in which they are enfolded, impart to them your power and light, that they may be able to guide others in the way of salvation and with one voice sing praise to your boundless mercy for ages without end. Amen.

Third Day “Today bring to me all devout and faithful souls, and immerse them in the ocean of my mercy. These souls brought me consolation on the Way of the Cross. They were a drop of consolation in the midst of an ocean of bitterness.

Most merciful Jesus, from the treasury of your mercy, you impart your graces in great abundance to each and all. Receive us into the abode of your most compassionate heart and never let us escape from it. We beg this grace of you by that most wondrous love for the heavenly Father with which your heart burns so fiercely.

Eternal Father, turn your merciful gaze upon faithful souls, as upon the inheritance of your Son. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, grant them your blessing and surround them with your constant protection. Thus may they never fail in love or lose the treasure of the holy faith, but rather, with all the hosts of angels and saints, may they glorify your boundless mercy for endless ages. Amen.

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