How to Celebrate Holy Week at Home During a Pandemic
Holy Week is the best time of the year to be Catholic. It’s a tour de force of incredible liturgies. It’s my favorite week of the year and this year…well, it’s going to be different.
I’m grieving the loss of our Holy Week Masses. A Holy Saturday without going to the Easter Vigil? Until a pandemic swept the globe it really seemed unimaginable.
But here we are. It’s an Easter for staying home. The Domestic Church is more important than ever.
If you’re not familiar with the phrase “Domestic Church” it’s actually a simple concept. It’s the home. It’s the life of faith in the family. How can we walk beside Jesus through his Passion and celebrate his Resurrection in our little domestic churches?
I have a few ideas and I’m sure generous folks will contribute more ideas in the comments, so here we go!
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“Go” to Mass. Yes, I know. Most of us can’t go to Mass but we can either livestream a Mass (we’ve enjoyed watching Mass from Bishop Barron’s chapel and for the Extraordinary Form, Mass at St. John Cantius). If watching a Mass isn’t appealing (I find watching Mass really comforting, but some people just really don’t like it) you can do the Mass readings as a family.
Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week and the Gospel reading is really powerful, so don’t miss it! You can even assign different “roles” to your family members to read aloud with a narrator, Jesus, Judas, Peter, Pilate, the crowd, etc. If you have palm branches handy, then wave those palms. If not, you get one year’s reprieve from children poking their siblings with palms. Congratulations!
It’s time to get your home ready for Easter. That means spring cleaning, meal planning, etc.
Play some good Holy Week music like Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion, or The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles’s Lent at Ephesus. (You can find them all on Spotify.)
More of the same, folks. Give the kids chores to do. Figure out what you’re going to eat Wednesday-Sunday. There’s not really any rules here because it’s a pandemic!
Okay, now things really get rolling. Spy Wednesday is the day we remember that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Holy week is like walking through the story in real time and that is cool, folks.
My friend Kendra Tierney recommends hiding 30 coins in your home for your kids to find and then reading aloud the passages in the Holy Scriptures about this event so that’s our plan. (Kendra’s book, The Catholic All Year Compendium is a treasure trove of ideas, by the way).
Spy Wednesday is also the day that parishes have Tenebrae services (when we don’t have to social distance). Tenebrae means “shadow” or “darkness.” It’s a beautiful and haunting service. The Liturgy of the Hours is chanted and with the completion of each reading, a candle is extinguished until the church is pitch black.
So what about having a Tenebrae at home after dark? You can light the candles, do the readings (chanting not required) and extinguish a candle with each one, then have the kids spearhead the strepitus at the very end. This is the loud banging and noise representing the confusion, panic, and fear of the disciples during the arrest of Christ and the earthquake that accompanied his Crucifixion. In a parish it’s usually made by banging hymnals on the pews but I’m sure your children will be resourceful noisemakers!
If you’re looking for a good resource to have a Tenebrae at home, here is a great free downloadable order of service.
Holy Thursday is the beginning of the Paschal Triduum. Most years we’d be at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper celebrating the Institution of the Eucharist and the command Jesus gave his disciples to love one another. But even if we have to stay away from Mass, we can watch the Mass or do the readings as a family. And how about washing our family member’s feet?
If you’re going to make hot cross buns with that sourdough starter that quarantine convinced you to set up (do you know ANYONE who isn’t making sourdough right now?) you’ll want to get them started Thursday night to be ready for Good Friday!
The good news about Good Friday is that coronavirus doesn’t interfere with our ability to fast and abstain.
Okay, so maybe that’s not GREAT news, but what’s a little more mortification during the worst Lent of our lives, right? Anyhow, fasting definitely makes Good Friday feel like Good Friday.
You can also pray the Stations of the Cross as a family. My favorite prayers for Stations are by St. Alphonsus Ligouri and you can find them online. Catholic Icing also has printable Stations of the Cross.
And this recipe for hot cross buns looks really good (but don’t forget to start it on Thursday night!)
Holy Saturday always makes me think of the awful silence of Christ in the tomb. Easter hasn’t yet arrived, but we are inching closer! This is the day that we do the last minute meal prep for Easter Sunday and quiet activities like dyeing eggs (if there’s any to be had this year! Eggs have been unavailable at our grocery store for awhile). Or print out these images for home altars by artist Daniel Mitsui and let your kids color them.
We also often watch a religious film to keep kids occupied for a couple of hours. The Gospel of John is on Amazon Prime and it’s a good one for Holy Saturday because it’s the entire Scriptural text dramatized (and it’s not as gory as The Passion of the Christ).
After dinner, get all dressed up in your Easter clothes even though we can’t wear them to Mass and watch a livestream of the Easter Vigil Mass (ideas for celebrating Easter Sunday Mass at home in the next section). If your local parish isn’t livestreaming the Mass, there are many options available. I asked for resources on Twitter and was flooded with replies!
We always let the kids open their Easter baskets right after getting home from the Vigil Mass so we’ll do the same at home and let each choose a piece of candy before brushing their teeth and heading to bed!
Time to celebrate! If you didn’t watch the Vigil Mass, you can watch an Easter Sunday Mass OR have a “dry Mass” at home with Kendra Tierney’s amazing resource.
We all hate that we can’t be together on Easter this year, but at least we can make merry in our own homes. In fact, despite all the darkness, we have to observe the feast. If the right groceries are available we’ll be feasting with ham, mashed potatoes, deviled eggs, green beans, and our traditional Stewart bunny cake.
The kids will probably sneak candy from their Easter baskets all days and we’ll pretend we don’t notice. We’ll try to set up some kind of Easter egg hunt in the backyard and we’ll call extended family to say hello.
Yes, I know it’s not perfect. This isn’t the Easter any of us wanted. But don’t forget that we are an Easter people and Hallelujah is our song, as Pope St. John Paul II reminded us. Maintaining and observing our religious rituals and traditions will help us get through this difficult Holy Week and remind us that while the whole world feels like it’s stuck in Good Friday, Easter is coming.
Please share additional ideas in the comments!
And if you’re interested in more of my liturgical living resources, my two books on the Christian Year are 50% off through the end of April with the code EASTER2020!