Here we are. Palm Sunday and the greatest week of the Church year upon us.

Here’s a secret: if you do Holy Week right, especially the “high holy days” of Holy Thursday thru Easter Sunday, you should find the experience as profound and meaningful–if not more so–than Christmas. (But without all the exhaustion attendant upon last minute shopping, wrapping gifts, and baking 10 dozen cookies.)

So how do you do it right? Just follow these steps:

  • Go to Church as often as possible! If you can’t make it on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy week, at least look up and read the readings of each day.  The gospel readings in particular will immerse you in the last dramatic days of Jesus’ earthly life.   Don’t miss the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Good Friday service and/or Stations of the Cross.
  • When at mass, participate fully! You are not just there to check off the boxes that prove you are a good Catholic. Listen to, and ponder, each reading. Ask yourself what in particular God is is trying to tell you. For example, during the Passion readings, we are supposed to take the part of the crowd, shouting “crucify him.” Meditate on how this makes you feel. Does it remind you of past sins by which you did, indeed betray Jesus? Does it make you want to beg God for the grace to take a public stand FOR Christ (not against Him) should the occasion arise?
  • If you have children, talk to them ahead of time about what to expect during Holy week masses. Yes, it’s hard to stand still during the long readings of the Passion. Tell them to unite this tiny bit of discomfort and/or boredom to the vastly greater sufferings of Jesus. This is their chance to suffer WITH Him!  Suggest that doing their best to pay attention to what is going on, to stand and kneel reverently, to refrain from fidgeting, will be well rewarded on Easter day.
  • Find ways to celebrate Holy Week at home. Here are some thoughts
  • Don’t toss those blessed palms in the trash! They are a sacramental. Make a palm cross     

use the palm cross as part of a centerpiece for your dining room table. Or tuck your palms behind a crucifix or religious picture that is already hanging on the wall in bedrooms or other places in your home.

  • Holy Thursday supper at home might include reminders of the Last Supper, which for Jesus and the disciples was a Passover dinner. In commemoration of this –if you can afford it–serve lamb for dinner. If not, add one or two of the other elements of the passover dinner: bitter herbs (a green salad of romaine, green onion, cilantro, and cucumber with a plain oil/vinegar dressing),wine,  or unleavened bread made with this recipe:
  • Good Friday: this is the most solemn day of the Church year. Make it a day of quiet and fasting, not just from meat and full meals, but from electronic entertainment. Use the morning for household chores, spring cleaning, spiritual reading, or maybe going on a walk while saying the rosary (sorrowful mysteries, of course.) Whether or not you get to church, try to observe the “grand silence” from 12 noon until 3pm in honor of the three hours the Jesus hung on the cross. Tell kids that this means we only speak because of genuine necessity. Believe it or not, most kids enjoy the challenge of staying silent and finding quiet ways to pass the time.
  • Easter Sunday: every family has its own customs for special meals, visiting relatives, etc. but here is something easy to do that will add to the holy joy of this day. Assuming you already say grace before meals, preface it with this:

(Father or Mother): The Lord is risen, Alleluia!

(Family): He is truly risen, Alleluia!

(Father or Mother): This is the day the Lord has made, Alleluia!

(Family): Let us rejoice and be glad, Alleluia!

Print the above on small cards to start out. Say this before grace at every meal during the week after Easter, or even daily until Ascension Thursday.

  • Speaking of the week after Easter, this is known as the Octave of Easter. At daily mass, the liturgy of Easter is repeated each day.   Make this entire week special–lots of fun family activities, trips to parks,favorite meals, delicious desserts–whatever it is that makes you feel “this is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice!” And please try to add some daily family prayer, or sing a daily Easter hymn together, such as “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”

These are all just suggestions. If you have other special customs that help make Holy Week holy, and Easter week joyful, feel free to mention them in a comment.