how to, holy week, liturgical living, catholic lent
A Brief History
Holy Week is the period of time just before Easter Sunday that commemorates the events leading up to and including the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Tradition tells us that this used to be called the "Great Week" and it included Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. We can confirm that by the 4th century, Christians were making pilgrimages to Jerusalem to celebrate this week, that which we now call Holy Week. Interestingly enough, the Church found the writings of an early Church Christian woman named Egeria that dates back to 381AD which explain the prayers, liturgical experiences, and devotions from that week. As you can see, Christians throughout centuries have observed Holy Week and throughout the history of the Church it has only grown further. The profound aspect about this is that now it is our turn to partake and carry on the traditions that many have done long before us.
Understanding the Triduum
Triduum is a term that is used to express the solemn three days of prayer that commemorate the Paschal Mystery. It begins at sundown on Holy Thursday through Sundown on Easter Sunday. It is the most significant part of the liturgical calendar and while this does span three individual days, it is considered one consecutive liturgy. From Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday we see the fulfillment of the Jewish Passover and the redemption offered through Christ's great sacrifice for the human race. He is the Paschal lamb, the spotless victim, that is offered for our sins. We receive and partake in the Paschal Mystery every time we receive the Holy Eucharist.
Let's Get Started
If you are subscribed to my e-newsletter "Liturgy Collective" or you follow me on social media, you may have seen this graphic. It is certainly great for a quick glimpse, but there is so much more that I wasn't able to include, so that is why we're here. 😃
The purpose of this post is to share with you all the liturgical living traditions that come with each day so that you don't have to sift through the internet to consider what might be good for you or your family. I've got it all right here, and if you know of a tradition that I missed, comment on the post and I'll add it. This liturgical living endeavor is communal so feel free to jump in! And the other thing that is worth considering is what tradition will help you grow closer to Jesus. This may look different from person to person or family to family, and that is okay friend!
Monday of Holy Week: Extravagant Monday
The "Why": In the Aquila home this day is titled, "Extravagant Monday" because in the readings Mary takes a liter of costly perfume and anoints the feet of Jesus with it. She offers an extravagant gesture of love for Christ that is meant to be an imitation of the offering that Christ makes of Himself.
To Do: In honor of this profound act, we do an EXTRAVAGANT dinner! I usually print menu cards, do the table up all fancy like, make bread from scratch, serve a multi-course dinner, and invite as many friends over as we can. Just as Mary serves Jesus, we serve our beloved friends and family.
This was the menu from a couple of years ago that you can use as is or play off.
1. Focaccia bread made from scratch
2. Fresh mozzarella bruschetta
3. Brown sugar rub slow bake ribs
4. Garlic butter rice
5. Fresh salad
6. Roasted brussels sprouts
7. Chocolate chip cookies from scratch
For drinks I usually serve water, tea, wine, and a specialty cocktail.
Tuesday of Holy Week: Ten Commandment Tuesday
The "Why": The Tuesday of Holy Week is what I call, Ten Commandments Tuesday. This tradition comes straight from my younger years. As many of you might know, I did not grow up in a Catholic or even religious household, but I was always drawn to things relating to God and faith.
Right before Easter, a local channel would air the old Charlton Heston version of the Ten Commandments and I used to watch it every year on my own. This may sound strange for a child to sit down and watch this by themselves, but I did. It was my own little tradition and I loved it. It's funny to end up here sharing Catholic tradition after going through life's many twists and turns, but upon writing this it looks like I ended up back at my roots. And little did I know at the time, but it actually ties in perfectly with the Holy Week and the Easter vigil.
During the Easter vigil, we sit and listen to all of those Old Testament covenants in the dark. It’s actually one of my favorite parts because it shows how Christ came to fulfill all of the promises that were made before Him that man could not keep. It also reminds us that God has had a plan to pursue us and save us from the very beginning.
To Do: Today we will watch the Ten Commandments and pray the Litany of Old Testament Saints, you can find that here. You can also make tablet cookies out of Nutter Butters or Madeleines (pictured below) or just go crazy and pick 10 snacks to go with your 10 Commandment movie night. I'm a little "extra" when it comes to these things but you gotta keep life fun, right? There is no special recipe for this, just cookies, white chocolate coating (you can see this in the first picture), and icing to pipe the numbers.
Wednesday of Holy Week: Spy Wednesday
The "Why": Spy Wednesday is the day that Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, and is traditionally known in this way because of his sneakiness in talking to the high priest. We all experience betrayal in some way, but Jesus understands this very well as it was His very own friend that turns Him over for a price.
We too betray God to the things and people in our lives, myself included, sometimes without even thinking about it. In a way, we all have a price. On this day when we reflect upon that free decision of Judas to let Satan enter him, I have found it so important to think of something that I too need to let go of that stands between me and God and to not let that be the reason that I turn my back on Him.
To Do: Today we watch a film noir Spy Movie (my favorites), go to confession, and donate an additional $30.00 to our parish. If you have children, you could also play I Spy or hide 30 coins in your home for them to find. And more than anything, I think it’s important on Spy Wednesday to try to spend time in prayer; reflecting, asking for forgiveness, and also encouraging our children to think about how we can remove any barriers that may be standing between us and Christ. Seeking forgiveness and reconciliation are major themes for this day.
My top five vintage spy movie recommendations:
1. Charade (1963)
2. North by Northwest (1959)
3. Notorious (1946)
4. Ministry of Fear (1944)
5. The 39 Steps (1935)
Thursday of Holy Week: Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday
"The Why": Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, commemorates the feast of the Last Supper where Christ gave His mandate, "mandatum," to love one another as He has loved us. There are several important things that we partake in on this day such as the Mass of the Lord's Supper where the priest performs the washing of feet, the tabernacle is left empty and the Eucharist is put in repose for adoration, and the altar is completely stripped. It may look like the Mass has ended, but it actually hasn't, and won't until Saturday evening.
The altar of repose is an altar other than the main altar where the consecrated host is kept for adoration and reserved for use on Good Friday.
To Do: On Maundy Thursday we typically go out to eat Mediterranean food, an intentional choice made in remembrance of the Last Supper. From there we go to the Holy Thursday liturgy and following that we partake in the 7 churches tradition. This is credited to St. Philip Neri and his friends who would prayerfully join together to go on a "pilgrimage" to seven churches. It came out of a desire to increase prayer and keep with Christ's request to "remain here, and watch," hence why it is called Night Watch (Mark 14:34). By keeping with this custom we become pilgrims staying with Christ in the garden and consoling Him in His agony.
Three prayer recommendations to use for this evening of adoration:
1. Anima Christi
2. Tantum Ergo
3. Pange Lingua
Friday of Holy Week: Good Friday
"The Why": On this day we remember the Crucifixion of our Lord who died for our sins. It is a somber day, challenge yourself to meditate upon this great mystery and take time for silence. The communion service is typically held at 3:00PM, the hour that our Lord took His last breath. We walk into our parish with the altar completely bare, the Eucharist is not in the Tabernacle, and the door is left open for us to see its emptiness. Today is the only day in the year in which the Mass is not celebrated, we are still partaking in what began yesterday on Holy Thursday.
To Do: A time honored Good Friday tradition is to venerate the cross. This comes from St. Helen who was said to have discovered the wood of the True Cross. After sharing this with the Church, faithful Catholics would journey to see it and honor the cross by kissing the wood. We imitate this practice by kneeling before the "instrument of salvation" to kiss it as a way of showing honor and reverence. In addition to venerating the cross with our parish we go to Tre Ore and Tenebrae. Afterwards, we come home and seek to make our home a little monastery of quiet reflection. To practically do this we try to observe one full hour in silence. Usually while we are doing that I make traditional hot cross buns. The other form of prayer that is highly recommended for Good Friday are the Stations of the Cross. Many parishes will offer it on this day, and some even arrange the Way of the Cross, a procession of praying through the Stations. My family usually does this prayer at home, so I encourage you to pray them in whatever way makes sense for you. If you would like more explanation and ideas for Good Friday, you can read more from me here.
Other Prayers for Good Friday
1. The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
2. The Prayer to Be Joined With Christ in Death
3. Prayer Before the Crucifix
Saturday of Holy Week: Holy Saturday
The "Why": We Wait. We sit next to the tomb of of Christ, mourn His death, and imitate Mary in faithful anticipation of the Resurrection. Today we also commemorate the harrowing of hell, when Christ goes down to Sheol (the abode of the dead “hell”) to free the just souls who had gone before Him when the gates of heaven were not open yet. You may have noticed that we say this in the creed, which seems like a rather peculiar event. The Catechism of the Catholic Church 633, explains this further to us if you would like to reference it. Through this act the holy souls are delivered to Heaven. We are also taught that this is the last phase of Jesus’ Messianic mission.
To Do: You can honor this day by praying the Liturgy of the Hours, cleaning and decorating for Easter, dying Easter eggs, baking or preparing for Easter lunch tomorrow, and by going to the Easter Vigil this evening. For many, myself included, this is a day to slowly and intentionally prepare our hearts, homes, and families for the Resurrection.
What is the Easter Vigil?
Tonight we will encounter the most gloriously dramatic liturgy of the entire year which takes place in the evening to celebrate the triumphant Resurrection of Christ. The vigil has four parts: the Liturgy of Light (Lucernarium), the Liturgy of the Word, the Baptismal Liturgy, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We also welcome the catechumens and candidates who will enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.
The "Why": Jesus has Risen from the dead, ALLELUIA! We celebrate the empty tomb as a real event and encounter. We praise God for fulfilling the covenants, for confirming His promises, and offering to us the resurrection of our body and life everlasting. Remember, Easter is a 50 day season, the feast proper is celebrated for an octave, and then Eastertide goes until Pentecost. This is a beautiful time to rejuvenate our dedication to prayer and living liturgically. "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:14).
To Do: For Easter we spend the day with family eating, drinking, playing games, dying Easter eggs, and doing an egg hunt. I usually make an Italian Easter Bread that I bring to share and you can find that recipe here. We do the best we can to extend our traditions and joy out over the season. I have a list of 50 fun Easter ideas for you here. This is the beauty of the Catholic faith, there's no need to rush or try to cram everything into one day. For us, Easter is a lifestyle! On Easter, the tradition of the Church is to bring back the Alleluia that we buried on Shrove Tuesday and to begin singing the Regina Caeli. You might also consider using the Blessing for the First Easter Meal, see below.
Blessing of the First Meal of Easter
A minister who is a priest or deacon says the prayer of blessing with hands outstretched; a lay minister says the prayer with hands joined.
God of glory, the eyes of all turn to you as we celebrate Christ's victory over sin and death.
Bless us and this food of our first Easter meal. May we who gather at the Lord's table continue to celebrate the joy of His resurrection and be admitted finally to His heavenly banquet.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
I hope that sharing this makes the meaning behind each day of Holy Week more clear, and gives you enough options to take and/or adapt as you need. At the heart of it all should be praise, that is a liturgical life. So remember, as you are trying new traditions, prayers, and experiences think to yourself, "is this helping me to give God praise?" If yes, then keep it, adapt it, do it again next year too. If not, then ditch it and try something else.
Praying for each of you as we step closer to the cross.