How to Keep Holy in Holy Week

Suggestions for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 173v. The Entry into Jerusalem the Musée Condé, Chantilly.
Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 173v. The Entry into Jerusalem the Musée Condé, Chantilly. (photo: Register Files)

“Hi mom!” Came a cheerful voice at the other end of the line. “We’re eating out and catching a movie.”

Instead of my usual, ”Fine, don’t be too late,” I hesitated. Although it was our usual Friday night conversation, this wasn’t just any Friday night. It was, as Archbishop Fulton Sheen expressed it, ‘the Friday we call Good.’ After a brief reminder that this was Good Friday, much to my relief, said child returned home. My relief was tinged with a touch of sadness. The others, all Catholic, chose otherwise.

My mind traveled back to my own teen years. Dinner and a movie would have been unthinkable. It was a day of prayer, fasting and reflecting on what Our Lord had done for us. Stores closed from noon until 3 p.m. in remembrance of Jesus dying for us. Evening found everyone I knew packed into church like the proverbial sardines we ate on Fridays.

So what happened? We have not only lost the Holy in Holy Week, but Thanksgiving has become Turkey Day and St. Valentine’s Day has become plain Valentine’s Day. Holiness has drowned under a tidal wave of secularism. Try asking about the Agony in the Garden. People think you mean weeding!

But what a Holy Week we Christians have! We have heard the bleating of the donkey that carried Our Lord in His mother’s womb to Bethlehem and then to safety in Egypt. We also heard its bleating as it carried him on His final journey to Jerusalem amid the shouting of Hosannas by the crowd. Then, the bleating of the donkey was heard no more. Are we like the donkey heard no more, or do we continue down the path with Our Lord on His journey to Calvary?

Soon the shouting of Hosannas will become the sounds of preparation for Passover, the clinking of Judas’s silver, the slash of Roman whips, the splashing of water from Pilate’s hands, the crowing of the cock, the pounding of nails into flesh. Who could be indifferent to such a week as this?

The following are some ideas to keep holy in Holy Week.


Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday is a day chalked full of symbolism from start to finish. A meal similar to that served on the Jewish Feast of Passover is what my family has done over the years. Jesus was celebrating Passover the night before He died. What a great way to connect the Old and New Testament and share with Jesus the last meal before He died.

You can make this as simple or complex as you like. I made it fairly simple by incorporating the traditional foods associated with Passover and explaining their meaning. Here are the foods I use:

  • A boiled egg for the symbol of new life instead of the traditional roasted egg symbolizing the sacrifice in the Temple;
  • charoset, (the Jewish word for clay,) symbolizing the mud mixed with straw during the time the Jewish people were slaves and builders in Egypt and consisting of apples, nuts, cinnamon, raisins and honey (honey is for hope);
  • parsley dipped in salt water symbolizing the sprinkling on the doorposts with the lamb’s blood before they left Egypt;
  • Matzah or unleavened bread symbolizing how the people left Egypt in such a hurry they didn’t have time to let the bread rise;
  • the Elijah cup for the prophet who was to announce the coming of the Messiah which we fill with wine, or sparkling juice, to symbolize the Chalice used by Our Lord.

Don’t forget to have a child ask the question traditionally asked at this meal, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?” More info and the answer to this question can be found on the internet. I served the above meal with baked chicken and chicken broth but no other vegetables.

Then of course there is holy Mass and the symbolism of the stripping of the altar, moving the Holy Eucharist to the Altar of Repose and the snuffing out of the Sanctuary Lamp. Very moving to watch. This is the night Jesus gave us two of our seven sacraments — Holy Communion and Holy Orders. Do the children know at least one they have all received? Good time for a mini Sacrament review.


Good Friday

Good Friday should reflect the most solemn day in the Church year. Our children should observe how we observe this day. Growing up, my brothers, sister and I would come in from play at noon. My mother would take us to the Stations of the Cross. Playing between noon and 3 p.m. was considered an affront to Our Lord.

I liked to take my grandchildren privately to the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday because they were too little to sit through the long service. Luckily, our parish has very beautifully carved Stations. (I love beautiful visual aides to explain the Faith.) Genuflecting before each Station, we discuss it at a level they can understand. What a joy to watched their rapt faces as we move about the church. We then showed them the empty Tabernacle and the extinguished Sanctuary Lamp and discussed the True Presence of Our Lord in our Tabernacles. This was followed by a simple outdoor picnic if weather permitted. This gives the little ones a chance to run around after the quiet solemnity of the church. If attending church is difficult, the whole family can pray the Stations at home. Let a teen lead.

One thing I like to do is decorate my entrance way with a small empty cross for Good Friday. I cover the cross with purple fabric and put the cross in a small box, along with dirt and small rocks or pebbles. If done ahead of time you can plant fast growing grass which you can use on Easter Sunday when you remove the purple fabric and replace with white fabric and add Easter eggs. We Catholics love visual aids!


Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday seems to be the pause between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is the day we can’t wait to rush toward Easter. But like the women who had to wait to anoint the body of Christ until the Sabbath was over, we too must wait. Early Holy Saturday morning we make small bird’s nests out of marshmallows chocolate and chow mein noodles. These we fill with jelly beans and put in small white boxes. There is a jelly bean poem on the internet that ties in the colors of the jelly beans with Christ. I glue the poem on the top of the box. After inserting a holy card depicting the Resurrection we deliver them to neighbors before going to the Easter vigil. (In today’s PC culture you have to choose which neighbor to give them to.) If we want to maintain the solemnity of Good Friday we must start our family on the path that begins on Palm Sunday and leads through Holy Week. How else will our children decide whether or not to eat out and catch a movie on the most solemn day of the Christian year?

Then on Easter Sunday we can say with one voice, “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!”


Sandra McDevitt writes on Catholic culture. Her program, ‘Stories From the Heart’, can be heard on EWTN Radio Saturday and Sunday. Listen to her Easter Special on EWTN Radio Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. She and her husband, John, are the proud parents of five children and four grandchildren.

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen celebrates the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret on May 25, 2024.

Nuncio in Kenya: Church in Europe is Losing ‘its Inner Compass’

The Nairobi-based Vatican diplomat, who has also been representing the Holy Father in South Sudan, highlighted the need to seek God’s mercy as important and implored: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”