Where did Lent go? It feels like we just got started, yet here we are, about to celebrate Holy Week! Yes, Easter will be here before you know it. So as Lent comes to a close with us celebrating Holy Week, the holiest week of all weeks for us in the Catholic Church, it’s time to ask yourself some questions:
How did your Lent go? Do you feel like you messed up a little bit (or a lot) during Lent? Do you think you’ve done pretty well? Do you want to step up your game for Holy Week?
But though Holy Week is the most important week in our year as Catholics, our lives don’t slow down one bit. And for some of us (like those who work in a church), they actually become busier. It can be really easy to let the week fly by without any extra focus on Christ’s Passion and Death and suddenly be celebrating Easter in less than two weeks.
So how do you Keep Holy Week Holy?
1. HAVE A PLAN. It seems like a no-brainer, but we can easily find excuses in our daily lives to shorten or skip a morning prayer, to speed-pray a rosary in 11 minutes, to turn on the TV instead of opening up the book we had planned to read during Lent for Spiritual Reading and more. So take some time this weekend to look at your calendar, read your parish bulletin/website/Facebook page/ Twitter feed to see what’s being offered to you to help you prepare for Holy Week. Make a conscious choice to block out time each day during Holy Week. Plan it. It could be 5 minutes, 15 minutes, an hour or more. Plan the what AND the how you’re going to give more to God during Holy Week, and remember, more doesn’t have to be a whole lot more, it could just be slowing down your rosary prayer, or reducing your TV time for a week. So pull out your smart phone on Saturday morning while you’re still laying in bed dreading pulling back your covers and going vertical and make your plans for Holy Week.
2. BE INTENTIONAL. Earlier this Lent on ACNM, Lauren Gulde wrote a great post: 5 Tips for an Intentional Lent. She talks about how a good Lent takes effort, requires purpose and has to be intentional to stay focused. All five of the tips she provides for Lent apply to having a good Holy Week: 1- Remember what it’s all about, 2- Lent is not about you, 3- Choose a few good things, 4- Don’t get distracted by the peripherals and 5- Cling to the Church.
3. CELEBRATE THE SACRAMENTS. Don’t just be present at the celebration of the sacraments; take time to prepare your heart, mind, body and soul to truly celebrate the sacraments. Kick-start your Holy Week by cleansing yourself of sin and repairing and reconciling your relationship with God by celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance/Confession). The Diocese of Austin has a comprehensive lists of Reconciliation Services in the Diocese based on Deanery Area, so check it out! And if there’s not a Reconciliation Service listed near you, check your parish website for times at your parish. A word of caution: Don’t put this off until the last few days of Holy Week! During the Triduum (the last three days of Holy Week- Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday), priests are usually pretty busy, so plan ahead! (See Tip #1.) Another way to truly celebrate the sacraments is to prepare yourself for Mass a little bit better. A couple of great ways to do this are to arrive early to Mass to pray, quiet and calm yourself, and to read the readings for the day ahead of time (even on that day when you arrive early to Mass!). Yes, a few minutes taken to prepare for Mass can make a difference in you being able to fully celebrate and participate in celebrating the Eucharist.
To help you (and me!) with planning, being intentional and celebrating the sacraments, I’ve done a little bit of searching for events happening in parishes in the Austin Diocese. I have found that most, if not all, parishes in the Diocese of Austin will offer the following (smaller/rural parishes may be sharing these celebrations with their sister parish):
Holy Thursday, March 28
Mass of the Lord’s Supper
Good Friday, March 29
Service of the Lord’s Passion
Stations of the Cross
Holy Saturday, March 30
Easter Vigil Mass
Additionally some parishes, especially the bigger ones, will also have morning and evening prayers on all of these days. Times of these Masses and prayer opportunities vary, so again, check your parish website, bulletin, etc.
Now, there are also some events that don’t happen at every parish. Some of them only happen at a few, and one very special Mass only happens at one parish:
Holy Tuesday, March 26- 10:30am at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Austin, Tx
The Chrism Mass is an annual celebration of the sacramental life in our Diocese. During this Mass, the holy oils to be used at all parishes in the Austin Diocese for sacraments this coming year are blessed. One of the oils blessed is chrism, a fragrant oil only a bishop can consecrate and that is used during baptism, confirmation, ordinations of priests and more. The other two oils blessed at this Mass are the oil of catechumens, which is used for infant baptisms and in some of the preparatory rites for catechumens as they prepare for baptism and initiation into the Catholic Church, and the oil of the sick, used in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Additionally, most of the priests in the Diocese of Austin attend this Mass and will renew the promises they made on their ordination day.
Holy Tuesday, March 26- St. Louis in Austin at 7:30pm
Holy Wednesday, March 27- St. Louis in Waco at 8pm and St. Thomas Aquinas in College Station at 7pm
Good Friday, March 29- St. Mary Cathedral in Austin at 8pm
A Tenebrae Service is a prayer service traditionally held during the Sacred Triduum (and sometimes on other days during Holy Week). This prayer service uses prayers from the Divine Office of the Sacred Triduum, and is a reminder of the darkness of our sins and our need for the Light of Christ. A Tenebrae Service (tenebrae means “shadows”) includes the extinguishing of the candles in the church, leaving the congregation in total darkness (which is how the Easter Vigil begins!) and silence, which is punctuated by a loud noise (strepitus) intended to remind us of the earthquake that is said to have happened at the moment of Christ’s death. Please note: Small children are usually discouraged from attending due to the darkness, meditative silence, and the loud noise at the end..
Lastly, I leave you with just a few resources for Holy Week preparation. Our very own Kathryn Whitaker was interviewed on EWTN Radio and shared her ideas for celebrating Holy Week with kids. You can read about the ideas she shared on her interview here. Also for kids, Catholicmom.com has some great Lenten and Holy Week resources too. Additionally, Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) put out a free guide on Holy Week a couple of years ago. Click on the image posted to left for a full-sized version of this guide. And Busted Halo has a great Virtual Stations of the Cross set of videos.
I’ve already planned the what’s and how’s of my Holy Week. I know those plans won’t go exactly how I envision them, but at least I have a plan and won’t be haphazardly piecing together everything I do for Holy Week at the last minute, which for me includes no TV, spiritual reading and attending the Chrism Mass and Triduum celebrations.
What are you doing for Holy Week? And do you have any resource suggestions to share with our ACNM readers?