By Fr. Brian Barry
When I think back to childhood, the first things to come to mind are not individual experiences, but those repeated annually— Christmas, Easter, our congregation’s annual Missionary Conference, and our annual vacation to Canada. They became, like old friends, anticipated, savored, and remembered fondly.
Holy Week is one of those experiences. We go through the same actions every year, but they are always fresh, touching us in new ways. Like a corkscrew, it goes around and around, but deeper every turn. I want my children to know this richness, too. Sometimes that leaves me feeling pressured—we’d better make this good. Sometimes it calms my anxieties—they have a lifetime to savor this.
So what are those simple things that the Church has done, year by year, that we could do with our children?
Daily Worship– Usually we gather weekly; in Holy Week we gather daily. By the time we leave CTR on Sunday, it feels like the end of summer camp—we’ve just had an experience together and it is hard to return to life as usual. But this nightly routine can be physically tough on children. It’s one reason why we’ve developed Children’s Triduum Services at 4:00PM on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. In these services, we repeat the same actions that occur in the evening services—washing feet, commemorating Christ’s institution of the Eucharist, reading the Passion Gospel together, gathering around the cross for adoration and intercession, lighting the Easter fire. But they are designed to be approachable for children—focused on the essential elements and shorter— under an hour.
Scripture Reading– Whether you have a practice of family Scripture reading or not, this is a wonderful week to do it. It could be at the dinner table, snuggled on the couch, gathered around a cross or a felt story-board. The Gospel readings for these days are rich and engaging for people of all ages, and hearing them together can be an annual experience of joy.
Generosity- Giving gifts to the poor is traditionally a part of Christian fasting AND feasting! Children were given Mite Boxes at the beginning of Lent, in which to collect gifts for Anglican Relief and Development Fund. We will gather these gifts on Sunday morning during the Easter liturgy. Perhaps there is some other way that your family can be involved in gift giving, either in small or large ways. Perhaps there is an opportunity to share hospitality, inviting somebody else into your home to share in your celebration.
Confession- At Christ the Redeemer, we invite all parishioners to make a confidential private confession with a priest on Good Friday (5-6:30 p.m.). All the priests are there to hear confessions and to offer counsel, absolution, and prayer. Some of us make our confession early—the youth and I confessed last week. We encourage it strongly—it is healing, liberating, and it keeps us from walking in unspoken shame. Parents of older children (probably 8 or older), have you considered encouraging your children to do this? I wouldn’t force it, but you can model it and invite them to join you. The process could be simple:
– Pray for help to see where you have failed to love God or your neighbor.
– Read God’s word together. I’d start with the teachings of Jesus—if you ask me, I can get you a great list of verses from the Gospels that we offer to children for this sort of work.
– When you hear a command, ask yourself if you’ve kept it, or broken it. If you’ve broken it, write it down.
– Come in on Good Friday and make your own confession—invite your child to do the same.
Can you see yourself doing any of these things? Can you imagine the experience of doing them every year?