Celebrating Holy Week with Young Children


by Lindsay Schlegel

Children are captivated by the rhythms of the liturgical season. The anticipation, the feasting, the colors, and the music all speak to something deep at the core of being human. During Holy Week, perhaps more than any other time of year, the example we set as parents is key as we form our children in the Faith.   

Holy Week is a time set apart. Easter Sunday isn’t just any Sunday. We celebrate it as an octave, eight days that are celebrated as one. The Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes Easter as the “‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities’” (CCC 1169). It makes sense that we ought to spend extra time preparing to celebrate it — silencing the calls of the world, embracing the stillness that allows us to better hear God’s voice, and making sacrifices in reparation for our sins and in gratitude for the gift of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  

Celebrating Holy Week with young children may seem daunting — how do I explain the scourging at the pillar to a three-year-old? — but when done well, marking this holiest week of the year as a family can lay the foundations for a lifetime of faith. Whatever you choose to do in your home, do it with a spirit of peace, calm, and hope.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday is one of the easier days of the week to invite children into. They love having a palm branch to hold during Mass (or a printed palm branch to color and cut out at home, if you’re livestreaming Mass). Praising Jesus as King comes naturally, as we praise him so often during the rest of the year.

Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Spy Wednesday

These last days of Lent are times to focus inward to prepare for the Triduum. For young children, this may look like less screen time, more quiet play and story time, cleaning up the house to prepare for Easter, and spending a few extra minutes in prayer each day. You might offer coloring pages for children to work on while adults and older children read aloud from the Gospels or reflection guides or pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary aloud.

Any of these evenings, you might serve a meal that draws on the foods Jesus would have had at Passover. We do store-bought matzah and homemade lamb meatballs, since ground meat is considerably less expensive than chops.

Holy Thursday

Introduce Holy Thursday as the day Jesus gave us the Eucharist. If your parish’s Mass is too late in the evening, livestream a portion of it at home. You might also choose to wash each other’s feet as a family earlier in the day.  

From tonight until Sunday morning, try to free your home from outside distractions. Gather the Catholic books from your shelves and read together. If you are going to watch a movie, choose one that tells a story about the Faith.

Good Friday

We start Good Friday with a “crown of thorns” breakfast, since our children are too young to fast. This is a bagel (or mini bagel) spread with nut butter and studded with broken Chex cereal. It’s a reminder of what Jesus suffered and what we’ll remember later in the day.

You can pray the Stations of the Cross at home with a kid-friendly reflection guide in hand or at an outdoor set-up, if one is local to you. Invite your children to act out the scenes. We’ve found that praying through three or four stations at a time helps kids to stay focused. You might start this earlier in the week and plan on finishing today.  

Holy Saturday

Today is one more day of quiet before the celebration begins. We choose not to attend local Easter egg hunts before Easter Sunday, as that contradicts what we’ve been trying to live out all week. Instead, we spend this day together and often, outside. Taking a walk helps us appreciate the sounds of nature and the many plants and animals God, in His goodness, has created. Use this opportunity to show children how signs of spring represent the hope we have for all our lives in the Lord.

Easter Sunday

The best day of the year! Rejoice in singing that “Alleluia” you’ve kept inside these last forty days! Even if it must be small, create a celebration that touches all the senses: include joyful music, yummy treats, fragrant flowers, beautiful decorations, and lots of warm hugs.

As the first teachers of our children, we parents show them every day what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Today — and every day — let’s remember the words of Pope St. John Paul II: “We are an Easter People, and Alleluia is our song!”

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