I take my kids to Triduum. Yes, I am crazy enough to drag three rambunctious boys, ages five and under, to all three days of marathon church services. I put my fears of “parenting in church” aside to share with them the rituals of our holiest of Catholic days. I should say, rather, that I am in love enough with the celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, his passion, death, and resurrection, that I will brave any worldly challenge – including the inevitable disaster of bringing children to church. …But I’m being dramatic.
Triduum happens to be one of the easier times of the year to bring children to church, and it paves the way for making every Sunday a more enjoyable experience with your children. The three-day celebration begins on the evening of Holy Thursday with the remembrance of the Last Supper, followed by the veneration of the cross on Good Friday, and finishes with the Resurrection late Holy Saturday night. It is an entire catechetical teaching rolled into three days, and it is something different, something special, that has the ability to hold my kids’ attention. It’s filled with epic stories of love and sacrifice and it’s sprinkled with special rituals including darkness, fire, water, silence, music, smells, bells, and stinky feet. And it brings us to the core of who we are as Catholics. I refuse to let my kids miss out on such a cornerstone experience of our faith.
Children Love Stories
My little boys love stories. They follow along, learn the plots and often times act them out. They constantly pretend to be one of the characters in whatever book or show has captured their attention. The Triduum liturgy provides three days of jam-packed biblical action. We journey with Jesus from the last supper to his passion, death and resurrection. While each day’s readings do not build chronologically, they do include fabulous biblical events – from the Israelites fleeing Egypt to the washing of the feet, from the story of creation to the women at the tomb.
Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week, when we welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. We hear one of the synoptic Gospel passion readings in full, a perfect way to hook the interest of our little ones. When my son Micah was 2 years old, he was following along with the Passion in his children’s Holy Week book. I had given him some goldfish crackers to keep him still. During the Gospel, his older brother tried to sneak a few for himself. Micah did not feel like sharing which resulted in some disruptive squealing. To keep the peace, I snuck some crackers to Jesse, and I began to quietly point out the palm branches in the church. “See how they match the palms in your book? Look, Jesus is entering Jerusalem and everyone is waving palms to show him how excited they are to see him.” Micah was pleased that he also had his own palm branch. The Gospel continued through the Last Supper and the carrying of the cross. We got to the point where Jesus is crucified, and I pointed up to the crucifix in our church and down to the picture in Micah’s book, “Look at Jesus’ hands: He has two owies. Look at Jesus’ face: He is hurting.”
This was the first time that Micah ever realized that Jesus was “sad” on the cross. The image of the crucifix was not new to him by any means, but I don’t typically focus on the fact that Jesus is in agony. Without hesitation and recalling how Jesus just shared his bread with his disciples, Micah reached into his snack container, pulled out a goldfish and attempted to feed it to the Jesus in his book. Maybe my two year old wasn’t able to share with his brother that day, but there was something about this passion story that moved him to feel empathy for Jesus. This is the beginning of a child’s relationship with Jesus. The beginning of seeing Jesus in other people, especially those who suffer, and maybe even in his big brother.
Maybe my two year old wasn’t able to share with his brother that day, but there was something about this passion story that moved him to feel empathy for Jesus. This is the beginning of a child’s relationship with Jesus.
Triduum is Interactive
Children need to move. They need to be engaged. Triduum is interactive more than a normal Sunday liturgy. The special rituals of these three days assist in telling the story and invite us to participate in meaningful and powerful ways.
On Holy Thursday, we remember Jesus’ last supper and how he gave us a tangible example of how to love and serve one another through the washing of his disciples’ feet. Each parish will celebrate this ritual differently, but many communities will invite anyone who wants to participate to come forward and have their feet washed. I recognize that some people are totally opposed to having a stranger touch their feet, let alone even look at their feet, but most little kids don’t have that opposition. They would love to have some supervised water play in church. Last year, I made sure to prayerfully model washing my son Jesse’s foot, and then I invited him to assist in washing the next parishioner’s foot. Jesse took great pride in having the “job” of pouring the water over the older gentleman’s foot and drying it carefully with a towel.
The Holy Thursday portion of Triduum concludes with the entire congregation processing the Blessed Sacrament to a side altar, leaving the tabernacle in the church emptied for Good Friday. Movement is always good for little ones, and walking as part of the “parade” is always exciting. But the somber procession invokes a sense of wonder and awe.
Movement is always good for little ones, and walking as part of the “parade” is always exciting. But the somber procession invokes a sense of wonder and awe.
We walked with our boys to the church hall where the Blessed Sacrament would remain overnight. Tantum ergo and candle light filled the hall, followed by silence as everyone knelt in adoration in front of the large ciborium atop of the altar. I wrapped my arms around Jesse, pointed to the Blessed Sacrament and whispered softly in the dark, “There’s Jesus”. Jesse squinted, scanned the room, and called out loudly, “Where’s Jesus? I don’t see Jesus!” I pointed again at the ciborium at the altar. Again Jesse replied, “Where’s Jesus? I don’t see him!” I could hear quiet giggles in the crowded room. His desire to see Jesus — to know he is there, without a doubt — is so relatable. No matter how old we are, we can be invited more deeply into the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist.
Stations of the Cross on Good Friday can provide movement and prayer as we walk along Jesus’ path and meditate on each moment of his passion. Sometimes the stations are acted out by grade school or high school students, bringing the story to life and capturing the attention of the younger kids. When I was a child, seeing the stations portrayed by confirmation students at my parish was really powerful and put flesh and feelings around the friendship I had begun to create with Jesus. It made me feel compassion for Christ and deepened my connection to him.
The Good Friday Triduum service includes the veneration of the cross where we are invited to process forward and honor the cross of Christ. Typically we process forward to receive the Eucharist or to receive a blessing. This day we are moving forward to give. To faithfully touch or kiss the cross with reverence in prayer creates a tactile encounter that is lasting.
To faithfully touch or kiss the cross with reverence in prayer creates a tactile encounter that is lasting.
We save the best for last: The Easter Vigil! The ultimate liturgical celebration which starts with a bonfire! It’s this holy paschal fire outside of the church that begins the celebration where we proclaim that Christ has victory over death. Walking into a dark church with the beauty of hundreds of taper candles is a sight to behold. We hear the story of our relationship with God unfold from creation and remember God’s unending faithfulness and love throughout salvation history. We hear song and bells, and see bright lights at the Gospel. We hear of Christ rising from the dead. We welcome new members of the church and witness their sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist as we renew our own. And if our little ones are still awake, we celebrate afterwards with Easter cake at 11 pm. This doesn’t happen every night…because this night is extra-ordinary. Christ has Risen! Let us Rejoice! Alleluia!
This is who we are
These are our holiest of days. As Americans, we celebrate 4th of July with parades and fireworks. As Catholics — disciples of Christ — we pray these three days with our parish community because they encompass the richness and beauty of the Paschal Mystery in a way we don’t experience any other time of the liturgical year. We journey with Jesus from the Last Supper to his passion, death and resurrection. We are reminded of our own personal paschal mysteries, and how God continues to bring forth new life from death in our everyday. We are people of hope; we always will be. This is what I want my children to hold on to when the going gets tough. Although my little boys may not fully understand what that means now, I pray that the Triduum liturgy becomes a part of the fabric of who they are, and that it shapes them in explicit and subtle ways…all in God’s time, in God’s doing.
Do you take your kids to Triduum? If so, what are your favorite aspects of Triduum to share with them?