The weeks leading up to Holy Week present us with a unique opportunity to deepen children’s relationships with Jesus Christ through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Rather than teaching about the events of Holy Week, try leading your children through an experience of Holy Week. The liturgies of the Triduum are so rich; we can use elements from them in our classrooms to help prepare children for participating in these liturgies with their families.
Create a new environment.
When children sit at desks, they expect a school lesson. Show them that today’s lesson will be different by arranging the chairs in a circle with a prayer table in the center and dim lighting. The prayer table can contain a Bible, water pitcher, pita bread, crucifix, and large candle. You will have their attention the moment they walk through the door.
Read the account of the Last Supper from John’s Gospel. (John 13) Ask the children to reflect on what it might have been like to be at the Last Supper. Prepare a pitcher of warm water, a large bowl, and several towels. If the children feel comfortable, invite them to wash one foot of the child sitting next to them with reverence and respect. Explain that Jesus was teaching the disciples that they are to be at the service of one another, and we are called to do the same.
Alternatively, you may want to read the account from Luke’s Gospel of the institution of the Eucharist. (Luke 22:15–20) Pass around a piece of pita bread and ask the children to rip off a small piece to eat, and pour a small cup of grape juice for each child.
Read the Crucifixion and Death of Jesus from the book of Mark (Mark 15:21–41) or pray the Stations of the Cross. Explain the practice of venerating the Cross on Good Friday. Sing a simple, repetitive song such as “Jesus, Remember Me” or “Were You There?” as you invite the children one by one to come to the center prayer table to kiss or prayerfully touch the crucifix. Ask the children to reflect on Jesus’ powerful sacrifice for us.
Light the candle on the prayer table. Read the Easter account from the Gospel of Matthew. (Matthew 28) Explain that at the Easter Vigil the Church baptizes new members, and we all celebrate our Baptism. Turn on all of the lights in the room and sprinkle the children with water from the pitcher. Lead them in renewing their baptismal promises.
After participating in each of the three rituals, ask the children to recall the symbolic actions of each: washing the feet, sharing the bread, venerating the Cross, and renewing their baptismal promises. Explain that these actions are experienced together as a parish during Holy Week, and that they can participate in them as a family. Send home a note with your parish’s Holy Week schedule on it, and encourage the children to ask their families to participate.