How can families have a richer Holy Week?

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A family looks on as Father Moses Agorjesu washes the feet of parishioners during the Mass of the Lords Supper on Holy Thursday at St. Malachy, 2248 W. Washington Blvd., on April 13, 2017. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Holy Week is the busiest week in the church’s liturgical calendar. It starts with Palm Sunday and concludes with the Triduum — Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, Good Friday service of the Lord’s Passion and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. 

For families it can take a lot of effort to corral the kids and get everyone to church at least four times in one week. How can parents and children get the most out of this special time of year? 

“You simply just have to go. I know that Thursday and Friday and the Easter Vigil seem like a lot to go to, and they are a lot to go to,” said Christopher Carstens, visiting lecturer at the Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein and co-author of “Mystical Body, Mystical Voice: Encountering Christ in the Words of the Mass.” “Let those liturgies teach you. Let those liturgies form you.” 

Carstens, who has eight children ranging in age from 2 to 16, recommends making an extra effort to pay attention during the liturgies, “because there’s some really awesome things that happen in these Triduum liturgies that you don’t see elsewhere.”

“It requires us to really bring our senses to bear too. So be real attentive to the fire that’s lit before the Easter Vigil or the showing of the cross on Good Friday or the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday or the procession of the Blessed Sacrament at the end of Holy Thursday or the hearing of the Passion on Palm Sunday and Good Friday.”

The Triduum is all about the Paschal Mystery of Jesus, which is his suffering, death, Resurrection and Ascension. The words of the liturgy announce this at the beginning of Mass on Palm Sunday. Carstens encourages parents to highlight this part of Holy Week liturgies to their children. 

“If they’re attentive that’s all they’re going to hear about, really,” he said. “This otherwise invisible Paschal Mystery becomes visible through the signs and the symbols and the sacramental expression and the music and everything else.”

If families haven’t gone to confession before Holy Week, he encouraged them to go together as a way to get ready for the liturgies. 

Certain parts of the services that children would notice, like venerating the cross during the Good Friday liturgy of the Lord’s Passion, offer perfect teaching moments. For example, Carstens said he will explain this tradition to his 5-year-old Julia, telling her that she will bend down and kiss the cross or crucifix because she loves Jesus and he died on the cross because he loves her. 

“On the way to the church on Good Friday, you can explain that, or even in the pew as people are going up,” he said, adding that afterward parents can ask the children what they felt or what they were thinking about as they kissed the cross. Maybe the answers will be completely off topic, but it gets the children thinking. 

People don’t need a theology degree or need to work at the parish to fully experience the Catholic liturgy.  

“You just have to pay attention to what the signs and symbols are because that’s where Jesus reaches out to you. A 5-year-old could do this. An 85-year-old can do this, whatever their background,” Carstens said. 

Much like watching a football game and needing some understanding of how the game is played, it does help to have some basic understanding of what things mean when participating in the liturgy. However, much of Holy Week is sensory and easy to interpret — water, fire, incense and the like. 

Parents and children can look for these symbols in the liturgies and discuss their meanings. 

Alice and Walter Sopala raised seven children and have a lot of experience shepherding children, and now grandchildren, through Holy Week.

The couple attend Resurrection Parish, 3043 N. Francisco Ave., and are affiliated with Focolare, a church movement for laypeople founded in 1943 by the Italian laywoman Chiara Lubich. They offered some advice to parents on how to both have a richer Holy Week and how parents can help their children have the same. 

When Walter, who recently turned 90, was growing up, his parents and brother marked Good Friday by practicing silence.

“That was something that was achievable but when tried in our family of seven kids it was totally impossible,” Walter said laughing. 

However, it is something parents can try, even if it is just for an hour before the Good Friday service or in the car on the way to the church. 
Larry Sopala, who attends St. Clement, 642 W. Deming Place, with his wife and three children, remembers going with his family on Holy Saturday morning to have baskets blessed full of food to be used during the Easter meal. 

“Then on Sunday we would go to early Mass then all of our relatives would come over and we would have a big brunch together and celebrate together,” Larry Sopala recalled. “In our family, we have three kids and we’ve tried to continue that. We would explain to the kids what Easter was, a little bit more about Holy Thursday and Good Friday.”

For the Sopala family, Easter Sunday has been the highlight of their Holy Week celebration, but they also emphasize Holy Thursday and how parents can use it as a teaching tool on the Eucharist. 

“Holy Thursday was a very important moment for us and for our children to learn this too because we saw early on the emphasis on the Eucharist and the emphasis on the priesthood. Gradually, as we became immersed in the spirituality of Focolare, we realized it is also the evening where Jesus prayed to his Father for that unity among ourselves and with him,” Alice Sopala said. “The emphasis on mutual love and on that unity that comes as a result of it is one of the strongest moments of that evening of when Jesus was with his Apostles.”


  • holy week
  • family life

Related Articles