ST. PAUL, Minn. — It’s a Holy Week like no other.
No in-person Masses, Holy Thursday processions to the altar of repose, communal veneration of the cross, or gathering with fellow parishioners outside, in the dark, faces lit by fire as the Easter Vigil begins.
But that doesn’t mean it still can’t be incredible, said one Catholic author and mom who has guided her family through marking the Triduum with traditions at home.
“Part of the beauty of it is that you’ve got the rhythm of the church here, where things come around again and again,” Kendra Tierney, a wife, mom of 10 and writer in Los Angeles, told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The author of The Catholic All Year Compendium: Liturgical Living for Real Life, Tierney, 43, literally wrote the book on how to celebrate the church’s feasts and fasts in the home. She has been doing so for about 15 years as a way to teach her children the faith and has detailed her family’s traditions on her blog, “Catholic All Year.”
Even without the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, it can be difficult for families with young children to participate in special liturgies at their parishes, which is why — with kids ranging in age from 5 months to 17 years — Tierney focuses on bringing the liturgical year into her home.
“It just really makes our faith so much more alive,” Tierney said. “It’s just a practical part of our day-to-day life in our family. It’s just really been so fruitful for our family to have church not be something that you (only) ‘go to,’ that it’s something that is part of your life.”
That’s especially true this year, she said, as Catholic families across the U.S. are under stay-at-home orders and cannot attend the customary Triduum liturgies.
“To me, it would feel crazy to just skip it, you know, just say, well, no Holy Week this year,” Tierney said. “I want the Holy Week this year. I want the Triduum. … This can be a really special, memorable time for us and our families.”
Her website, catholicallyear.com, includes helpful resources for Holy Week meals, Stations of the Cross and even a Passion play script. She created some resources specifically for this year’s unusual Triduum.
But for the Tierneys, many things during Holy Week are familiar. Her family uses the first part of Holy Week for spring cleaning, as a way to prepare the house for Easter.
On “Spy Wednesday” — the day Judas betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin for 30 pieces of silver — Tierney hides 30 quarters around the house for her kids to find. As her kids knock each other over while looking for them, she turns the squabbles into a lesson about how money can motivate people “not to be our best selves,” she said. They also read from the Bible about Judas’ betrayal.
On Holy Thursday, the Tierneys have a meal inspired by the Passover Seder: Lamb, salad with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. They shape Rice Krispies treats into a lamb for dessert. They talk about how Jesus used the Last Supper to give the church the Eucharist and institute the priesthood. They sing “Pange lingua gloriosi,” St. Thomas Aquinas’s hymn about the Eucharist, which is traditionally sung on Holy Thursday as the Eucharist is processed from the church’s tabernacle to the altar of repose.
“How poignant that’s going to be this year as so many of us are separated from (the Eucharist),” Tierney said.
On Good Friday, the Tierney family eats hot cross buns, and while they have frosting and are somewhat sweet, Tierney keeps them small and restricts each person to two, which is where the sacrifice comes in because it’s tempting to have 10, she said. They also venerate the cross, each taking a turn to kiss a large cross. It doesn’t have to be fancy, Tierney insisted: Take a crucifix off the wall. Make one out of sticks. Whatever works.
“You can lay it down with the top on a step or something, a pile of books, so that the top is higher than the bottom,” she said. “And you just say, ‘Behold the wood of the cross.’”
The Tierneys also use the same words traditionally used for Stations of the Cross: “I adore you O, Christ and I praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
They spend noon to 3 p.m. in quiet and prayer. Kids color Stations of the Cross pictures. Tierney recommends talking a walk, praying the rosary, reading about the crucifixion or doing the Stations of the Cross.
On Holy Saturday, the Tierneys don’t join community Easter egg hunts, preferring to wait until Easter actually arrives. But they typically dye eggs and replace Lent decor with Easter decorations.
On Easter Sunday, the Tierneys begin a celebration that lasts the entire 50 days of the liturgical season. The kids enjoy treats and the things they gave up for Lent, and they continue to have Easter egg hunts. They also sing Easter hymns.
For all the effort Tierney puts into “liturgical living,” she said it is still a concession.
“I don’t want ever to come across as saying that this is as good as these celebrations in a parish and community,” she explained. “These celebrations are intended to be used in a community, in a whole parish, in a whole town, in a whole city, in a whole country.
“These celebrations of patron saints, celebration of days during Holy Week, there should be big parades down the main street of the town. But when that’s not possible — and it’s the least possible right now that it’s ever been — we have recourse to doing these things in our homes, so that we don’t forget, so that they are real for our families.”
Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.