Just over three years ago, on Palm Sunday, we found out that we were expecting our third child. We were overjoyed. Our secondary infertility had been particularly challenging that time around, and we had long been hoping and praying for this little child. A positive pregnancy test has always been a cause for gratitude for me (having faced secondary infertility twice), but the joy I felt at this one was different. It had just been so long, so very, very long, since we had been able to conceive. I was crying happy tears as I told my husband, and he and I laughed with delight.
That Holy Week was tinged with so much hope and joy. As I participated in the liturgies of the Triduum, I was mindful of the little child that I carried. I dreamed of having him in my arms the following Easter.
Holy Week has always been my favorite part of the liturgical year, and I was so grateful to be able to share this experience with my newest child.
I suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum (a sort of extreme version of morning sickness) during pregnancy, and I began to feel a little bit of dizziness during Holy Week. It seemed like such a small cross to bear, in light of the joy of this new life.
Just a few short weeks later, we found out that we had lost our baby to a missed miscarriage.
Because of this, Holy Week always reminds me of my Gabriel. Before Gabriel, I think I had always been conscious of what I had to do to make Holy Week special for myself and my family. Gabriel changed all of that. I did nothing for him and he did nothing to participate, other than just be present at the liturgies. My little Gabriel simply allowed himself to be carried through Holy Week. If you are only going to be alive for a few weeks, I can’t imagine a more perfect week to be alive for than Holy Week.
In a way, we are all like little Gabriel. Regardless of what we do as a family, regardless of what liturgies we can and cannot attend, our Mother (the Church) will carry us through Holy Week. And, although our lives are much longer than a few weeks, they still pass like a breath in light of eternity. Holy Week is the most important week that ever happened, and our celebration of it is, likewise, the most important thing we can do each year.
However, we shouldn’t feel discouraged if our Holy Week isn’t perfect. We shouldn’t be discouraged if this year is one of the years that we just need the Church our Mother to carry us through. Holy Week will still happen, even if we can’t do all the activities we want to do.
What can we do to celebrate Holy Week with our families?
Attend the Triduum
If you can make it to any of the liturgies of the Triduum…go! If you can make it to all of them, all the better. If only you or your spouse can go, still go!
I have experienced the Triduum in multiple different dioceses and parishes, and while some have been more elaborate than others, all have been beautiful. The liturgies of the Triduum are unlike any other liturgies of the Church year, and they must be experienced to be appreciated. The best experience of the Triduum is attending all the liturgies (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil) and I highly encourage it if you are able.
Watch the Liturgies
What if you or your family can’t be present at the liturgies? It isn’t a perfect substitute, but most dioceses and some parishes stream their Masses live on YouTube (or another social media platform). We usually attend the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at our parish, and two long liturgies in one day is a lot to ask of our children, so we don’t get to attend the Chrism Mass.
I love the Chrism Mass, and last year I discovered that our diocese streams it live! I was able to watch part of it with my daughters, and I look forward to the year that we can attend it as a family.
Pray the Readings
Even if you can’t be present at the liturgies of Holy Week, you can still pray through the readings on your own. Apps like iBreviary post the daily readings, and they can also be found online on the website for the USCCB (here are the readings for Palm Sunday). If you have access to a Missal, you can also read through the rubrics for a liturgy and get a feel for what is happening at that day’s liturgy.
Learn About the Liturgies of Holy Week
Reading through the rubrics for Holy Week (the instructions that the priest and deacon follow when celebrating the liturgies for those days) is a good way to know what to expect at each of the liturgies of the Triduum.
If you don’t have a Missal, the USCCB breaks down some of the basic information you need to know about Holy Week. If you’re looking for a way to introduce the liturgies to your children, I recently made a little video that walks children through Holy Week.
Unite Your Sacrifice to Christ’s
Holy Week is about Christ’s actions on our behalf, and our actions during Holy Week are meant to unite us to his passion, death, and resurrection. Some years, this take the form of attending a week of beautiful liturgies and receiving much spiritual consolation. Other years, sickness or caring for children or loved ones or needing to work may mean that you aren’t able to participate the way you would like to.
Maybe you can attend the liturgies, but you don’t experience spiritual consolation due to anxiety or depression or distraction from caring for little ones at Mass. I’ve had some Holy Weeks that were beautiful and that felt meaningful. But some of my most meaningful Holy Weeks were the ones that didn’t go the way that I had planned them. Like
Lent, sometimes we pick our Holy Week and sometimes God picks it for us. Either way, we are called to unite our sufferings and sacrifices to his during Holy Week. Offering our own sacrifices to him, out of love, is the difficult way to celebrate Holy Week, but it also can be a source of consolation.
Holy Week isn’t about “feelings,” and there is comfort in knowing our idea of a perfect celebration isn’t necessarily God’s idea of a perfect celebration. All God calls us to is to accept his love this Holy Week and enter in to that mystery – even if it means we must be carried through by the love of the Church.
image: AM113 / Shutterstock.com