SummaryJeff Minick has tips to help us more fully receive the special graces available to homeschooling families through the challenges and demands of Holy Week.
Our Catholic holy days and seasons of penance and celebration rouse within us all manner of emotions.
Christmas, for example, brings Advent with its prayer and preparation, the joy and awe of Our Lord’s birth on December 25, and the festivities of Christmastide. Holy days of obligation honoring Mary—the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, Mary, Mother of God—cause us to reflect on the incredible events in the life of Our Lady and on her special place in heaven and in our prayers.
Of all these celebrations, Lent and Easter surely create the broadest emotional spectrum: the somber season of Lent with its prayer, fasting, and alms-giving; our gratitude for the gifts of the priesthood and the Eucharist; our grief over the death of Christ; the shining jubilation of Easter and the Resurrection.
Holy Week, the last week of Lent and the reenactment of the Passion of Our Lord, lies at the heart of this roller-coaster ride of emotions. When we participate in Holy Week, we walk beside Jesus and His disciples, watching His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, commemorating the establishment of the Eucharist, observing in horror His condemnation and crucifixion, grieving His death in darkened churches, and then, with lights, bells, music, and Mass, celebrating His resurrection.
For Catholic homeschoolers, as for all Catholics, Holy Week can become a time to deepen our faith, to reflect on its many gifts, and to journey through the days that forever changed human history. As homeschoolers, we have the freedom in terms of time and opportunity to share in these monumental events and to receive the special graces they bring to us. In this week lies spiritual gold that can enrich all of our hearts.
Seton mom Marsha Clarid, for example, reports that “our family visits seven churches on Maundy Thursday as a pious observance. Saint Philip Neri started this tradition in 1553 when friends would gather to do their walk to seven chapels. They would do this before dawn to counteract the carnival noise and bad behavior around them.”
Battle of the Pews
Homeschooling parents also know, of course, the challenges and demands of Holy Week. To get all the kids dressed and in the van for Holy Thursday Mass, to take them to services on Friday, to return yet again for Easter Mass, to stop them from fidgeting during these many hours in church, to deal with little Mikey’s fever while still trying to drive Catherine, Tommy, and Josie to Friday’s Veneration of the Cross. Some of us may end Easter Sunday spent and exhausted, worn thin by obligations rather than renewed in joy.
If you have toddlers, or if you have a squad of children to dress and then transport to church—and many Seton families do—then you are a veteran in the “battle of the pews.” You know the ordeal of dealing with the four-year-old who keeps pinching his three-year-old sister, the baby crying for no apparent reason, the six-year-old absentmindedly humming Disney tunes during the consecration.
You know as well many tricks to help your children, particularly the little ones, through these hours at church. In the vestibule or cry room, Dad holds the newborn and keeps an eye on two-year-old Daniel while Mom sits with the other children in church. From her purse, Mom brings out religious books for the little ones when they are getting rambunctious. The teens are now mature enough to shush the little ones or escort them to the restroom.
Because Suzan von Stultz and her family “are literally 3/4 of the choir at our church,” her family attends all masses and services of Holy Week. As practical helps in this rigorous schedule, she recommends crock-pot meals and naps before the Vigil Mass on Saturday. (Her youngest, an eight-year-old daughter, added that choir members should have water available since “singing is thirsty work.”)
All well and good. Here are four other tactics that can help us persevere in the “battle of the pews.”
First, use the days of Holy Week as an opportunity to enhance your children’s understanding of Lent, Easter, and Eastertide. Raise questions and discuss the answers before attending certain Masses or special services.
Why, for instance, is Easter called Easter? Why did people wave palm branches to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem? Why do some Catholics refer to Wednesday of Holy Week as “Spy Wednesday”? What is the meaning of the word veneration? What is the significance of Holy Thursday regarding the priesthood, the Eucharist, and service to others?
What “new commandment” did Christ give his followers? Why is there no Mass on Friday of Holy Week? Why was it necessary to remove the bodies of Christ and two criminals from their crosses before sunset on Friday? How was Christ’s body prepared for burial? What spices in that preparation harken back to his birth?
What is the meaning of the words from the Apostles’ Creed “He descended into hell”? Why does the Church declare that on the third day Christ rose from the dead, when by modern reckoning that time would be two days? Why is Holy Saturday traditionally a day of quiet and meditation? Why, in many parishes, are fires lit outside the church as a prelude to the Holy Saturday Vigil Mass? Why are converts typically received into the Catholic Church during this Vigil Mass?
Second, we might remember the graces received by walking with Christ toward His death and resurrection. Whether we are wrestling with a two-year-old or reminding a teenager to pay attention to the homily, does not negate the fact that we are in church. We are present. We are there. We are making the attempt, however distracted we may be, to absorb the sorrows and joys of this emotion-packed week.
Another tactic: Immersion in Scripture. During Holy Week, we hear passages from the Old Testament prophesying the coming of the Savior. We participate in the long communal readings from the Gospels. Opening our Bibles to these readings and going through them with our children before setting off for church can boost their interest and attention in that day’s commemoration.
Finally, Christ called all of us to be witnesses to our faith. Often we forget that we can offer witness simply by attending Mass. That twenty-something stockbroker who comes to church only at Christmas and Easter may take note of your family’s devotion, and decide he wants the same for himself.
That older woman who last month lost her eleven-year-old granddaughter to leukemia may find solace in the reverence of your children. That man who feels himself beyond all hope of redemption, who came to the Easter Vigil Mass as a last resort, may observe your family, remember the devotion of his own boyhood, and appear in the confessional line the following week.
Does Holy Week present some special challenges to homeschooling families?
But challenges bring rewards, and in this case, those rewards can be enormous.
This Holy Week, give yourself over to Jesus and His Church.
For a print out of Jeff Minick’s 15 Holy Week Questions (and Answers) click the button below:Download Jeff Minick’s 15 Holy Week Questions