Thank you to Jay and Emelie Thomas for putting together this guide to Holy Week at Home. We are grateful to be able to share something tailored specifically for this year, in addition to the resources we already have. Jay and Emelie are young parents who are constantly learning how to “raise up their children in the way they should go” through the historic rhythms and practices of the Church. They both hold degrees in English Literature from the U.S. Naval Academy. Jay is a Postulant in the Special Jurisdiction of the Armed Forces and Chaplaincy (ACNA), and both Emelie and Jay are resident in the Anglican Diocese of Christ our Hope.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought with it an uncannily sheltered and isolated Lenten season. Many have commented that it is perhaps appropriate that we have endured this societal fast during a season of fasting. Although we do not intend to say the same, we will say that as we prepare for Holy Week, the Triduum, and Eastertide – as much as this season has lent itself to unintentional fasting – we ought to be very intentional about celebrating the greatest feasts and memorials of the Church’s year. We are an Easter people, and our entire calendar revolves around Easter. Even though we are homebound, let us [still] keep the feast!
In the spirit of intentionally keeping the festivals, we’ve provided below a simple guideline for how our family (a family with young children) plans to celebrate this holy season. We pray that it may be an approachable resource as we join together to prepare for this season of rejoicing!
Traditionally, on Palm Sunday, the entire Church would process throughout the parish. In later years, this procession was accompanied by palm fronds. Although you may be unable to obtain palms (unless you live in Florida or the Carolinas), you can still go on a procession. One of the few things we are still able to do during this time is to go for walks and enjoy the fresh air. Although it isn’t a traditional “procession,” our family is planning a prayer walk through our neighborhood on Palm Sunday (and we will be carrying Palms if we can find some!). The idea behind a prayer walk is to dedicate and consecrate the area where you are walking. An appropriate intercession in our current situation might be to pray over our neighbors, that they may be spared the ravages of disease. Another example would be praying that this time of isolation would be an impetus to draw your neighbors to the Gospel. Your neighborhood is your parish, your mission field; consecrate it this Palm Sunday.
Rather than praying extemporaneously for long periods of time, the Great Litany contains a breadth of prayers to meditate upon and mediate while you walk. These prayers are the tried and true intercessions of the Church in times “of solemn and comprehensive entreaty.” The Great Litany can be found in the Book of Common Prayer on page 91 (BCP 2019), page 148 (BCP 1979), or page 54 (BCP 1928). You can grab whatever version you have on hand or find them readily available online in PDF format.
Another common practice of the church on Palm Sunday is to read the entire Passion drama from the Gospels. This lends itself readily to home use. Because we have little children, we will be reading to our kids from the book, Holy Week: An Emotions Primer by Danielle Hitchen and Jessica Blanchard of Catechesis Books. Depending on the ages of your kids, there are many resources available that contain the entire passion account. And if your kids are old enough, they can play a role in the story and you can read the passion account as a drama incorporating the entire family. An alternate approach for engaging with the Passion account would be to read the fullness of scripture as a family, acknowledging that children will tune in and out as attention spans allow (even with shorter versions, there is no guarantee of attention!). The prime benefit of this practice would be the children’s recognition of the solemn importance of this practice, placing this communal act above specific comprehension.
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus celebrated his Last Supper, which becomes our Paschal Feast. Although we typically (for good reason) focus on the Eucharistic celebration on Maundy Thursday, many of us will have to go without the Eucharist this year. This allows time to focus on the other aspects of the day – love of another, for instance. The Prayer Book tells us that this day “receives its name from the mandatum (commandment) given by our Lord: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.’ At the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and commanded them to love and serve one another as he had done.” Thereby, many churches conduct a traditional foot washing. This year, you can wash your spouse and children’s feet at home! Our kids deeply relate to this sensory practice, and we will do it before sitting down to dinner, enforcing the imagery of this day and the symbolic importance of this practice (bonus points for going out in the yard in sandals/bare feet beforehand and ensuring feet are really dirty!).
In addition to footwashing, we will be cooking a traditional Seder (Passover) meal to commemorate the meal that Jesus shared with his disciples. An understanding of the Jewish Seder can deeply enrich our Eucharistic theology. Although partaking of the Eucharist should be the pinnacle of this day, maybe this time without can provide us the space to delve into this other aspect of the feast. Our insight into the inextricably entwined nature of the Eucharist and the traditional Passover festival has been deeply formed by Dr. Brant Pitre’s book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. It is well worth the read, in the days before the feast if time allows, or after.
After we put our children to bed, we will be keeping a prayer vigil from 9pm until midnight as we remember Jesus praying in the garden after the Supper. We will be utilizing the Tenebrae service from the Book of Occasional Services (page 65), but praying the Great Litany at each of the hours also works really well (as previously mentioned). If you are the parent of children, you will probably be desperately tired and would prefer sleeping over this practice; perfect! It appears that Jesus’ disciples also preferred sleep over praying — but keep watch!
We parents normally fast from all food until 3pm on Good Friday; however, this year, in light of pregnancy, we will not be able to keep the strict fast together, but will eat bread and water in a similar vein. The strictness of this diet forces us to experience the difference of this day. It is truly the day from which all fasts derive their meaning. We will be specifically observing the hours between noon and 3pm as we remember when Christ hung on the cross. During this time we will make pretzels in different shapes that remind us of the passion story; pretzels were actually a traditional monastic food since the customary form of a pretzel is reminiscent of arms folded in prayer. Once the pretzels are baked we will reread the Passion story which we read on Palm Sunday, remembering that repetition is the foundation of learning.
3pm will culminate our Good Friday observance. It marks the 9th hour when Christ gave up his spirit. At this time we will take Jesus down from the cross by literally taking all of our icons and crosses down from our walls (alternately you can veil them). This action leaves a blight on your home, creating empty spaces which will markedly stand out during the rest of this day and Holy Saturday.
There is a deep significance to the day Jesus rested in the tomb. It is the Sabbath day, a culmination of those past and a starting point for those to come. We love listening to Andrew Peterson’s song, “God Rested,” getting us into the mindset of God’s work done in death and the beautiful work that springs forth from our death to self through rest. We emphasize this for ourselves and our children in observing a day of rest and quiet. This will present its challenges after a season of isolated and quiet quarantine, but is worth the intentionality. The Eighth Day makes so much more sense when you’ve rested with Christ on the Seventh.
Devotionally, as husband and wife, we read an ancient homily pertaining to Christ’s harrowing of Hell on Holy Saturday. If you are looking for something to guide your rest, meditation, and contemplation on this day, we commend this homily to you. It is perhaps beyond the grasp of our children, but reading it aloud might be beneficial with older children. It is a phenomenal reminder that even though the world is resting in an uneasy tension (similar in some ways to our current isolation/quarantine), Christ is still carrying out his redeeming work.
For most of us, sundown is near our children’s bedtime; as such, we will be doing a short celebration right before bed. Once the sun is down we will light every candle in the house, sing one of the many hymns of the Resurrection, and unveil all of the crosses and icons while proclaiming “Christ is Risen, Alleluia!” After the icons are unveiled we will have a feast of treats (e.g. cookies and ice cream) before bedtime. Once the kids are in bed, we parents will be reading through the appointed lessons for Easter Vigil. The meaning of Easter is strikingly reinforced as we walk through the stories of the Old Testament which point us to the Resurrection of our Lord. Afterwards, we will end our night with a celebratory night cap.
Easter Vigil Readings from the 2019 Book of Common Prayer (page 722):
Genesis 7:1-5,11-18; 8:6-20; 9:8-13
Alleluia! The Lord is risen! Throw a feast, have a party! Make Easter morning a time to remember. Sing hymns, have a wonderful, delicious, and scrumptious feast! These are our guiding exclamations as we approach the culmination of this Paschal Feast. We won’t necessarily stick to the “traditional” foods (ham, for instance). Rather, we plan to make ours and our kids’ favorite foods. Depending upon bandwidth, we might even bake a cake and go all out! May this be a morning and a day to remember. Like previously stated, we are Easter people; “This is the Day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
Especially in this time of uncertainty, we all need the certainty of the Resurrection. We need Easter. So let us proclaim from our rooftops, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!”
 The Book of Common Prayer, The Great Litany, (Huntington Beach, CA: Anglican Liturgy Press, 2019), 99.
 The Book of Common Prayer, 2019, page 559
 Psalm 118:24