Holy Week presents a perfect opportunity for catechists to change what might be the usual format for the session and create a retreat-like atmosphere to explore themes from this climax of the liturgical year. I do that in my seventh-grade classroom by focusing on several prayer experiences and activities aimed at helping the young people grasp the story of Jesus’ Passion and Death. I’ve written before about Preparing for Holy Week in Junior High, but today I focus on three strategies that could be used in any grade.
Start with the story.
The children need to know what the story is that we remember in a special way during the days of Holy Week. By the time we reach our session about Holy Week, we’ve already explored the Last Supper in a previous session and have certainly talked about Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection in basic terms at many points throughout the year. We will explore the full Gospel from Palm Sunday, so the young people can encounter the story in the context they’ll hear at Mass just a few days later. To help students process the story, we sit in a circle without the distraction of tables or our usual class materials and use some active listening techniques that invite young people to stop the narrative at various points. We follow the reading with a prayerful reflection sheet. The effect is experiencing the Passion narrative without explaining too much.
Use art to tell the stories of Holy Week.
Finding God Art Prints are a great place to start here. For instance, the seventh-grade art includes a mosaic of Jesus washing Peter’s feet, Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and Michelangelo’s Pietà. I turn to each of these at the appropriate points in this session to help tell the stories without too many words. We may use the art to inspire a short prayer.
Incorporate prayer as a major teaching tool.
While prayer is always an essential element of our sessions, Holy Week presents a chance to “turn it up a notch.” After the prayer sheet helping the young people with the whole of the Passion story, I use a guided reflection from Christ Our Life, Grade 7, Chapter 21, focusing on the Agony in the Garden. Other catechists might choose to use the prayer service in the seasonal session of Finding God or lectio divina with a section of the Passion. The Stations of the Cross or the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary are traditional devotions that find a natural introduction during a session on Holy Week. (Look at the back of your textbook for help in teaching these devotions.)
As Joe Paprocki points out in his series How to Be an Evangelizing Catechist, we can’t avoid the Cross. A Holy Week session that explores prayerfully what the Cross means is a service for the young people that can invite them to continue their prayer in the Holy Week liturgies and beyond.
How do you use story, art, and prayer in teaching about Holy Week?